One of the biggest challenges that parents are faced with is the ability to remain flexible and calm when children “misbehave.” When we are hungry, sleep deprived, angered, frustrated, or disappointed, we often lose the ability to be reflective, and we can become limited in our capacity to choose our behaviors. Empathy and flexibility tend to go out the window, and yelling can become commonplace. Although it is difficult to slow down and rid ourselves of the “knee-jerk response,” it is not impossible. You have the tools you need to show up for your child, you just have to access them. This article offers five quick tips to help you slow down, and to retrieve the necessary tools. These tools will help you provide your child with the flexibility and structure that they need- without the yelling.
#1 - Down-regulate Using Filtering Questions
Down-regulation is an intrapsychic skill that parents can use to remain calm in the face of disaster. It is a process that involves looking inward, finding the right words for your emotions, and figuring out what you need in order to soothe. For starters, when you are feeling frustrated with your child, it may be helpful to ask yourself: “do I need to check in with myself?” Meaning, are you on the verge of losing control, yelling, or becoming emotionally unavailable? If so, it is important to know what is going on inside. Are you scared that your child is going to fail? Are you frustrated with your child’s behavior? Are your feelings hurt?
Once you are able to identify what you are feeling, ask yourself “do I need to bring myself down?” If the answer is yes, try to connect with your inner needs. You can do this by asking a third question; “what do I need to bring myself down?” Your plan may involve taking a time-out, going for a run, or talking to a friend or spouse to help calm your nerves. The overarching goal is to become aware of your own emotional world and personal needs so that you can be accessible and responsive to your child.
#2 - Make Use of Self Check-ins
Checking in with yourself is very similar to using filtering questions to calm down. Self check-ins involve getting to the core of what is going on within you. I encourage everyone to know your limits, be aware of your triggers, and try to come into contact with your feelings. Take an inventory of your day. Are there times where you feel more inclined to yell? What is driving your yelling? Are there any identifiable triggers? Is there something or someone that can help you return to an unruffled state? The goal of a self check-in is to get you to a place internally, where you can succeed or execute what it is that you want to do, without having to yell.
#3 - Self-Soothe
Let’s talk strategy, strategy, strategy! Before you yell, what can you do to self-soothe? If you don’t have a “plan of attack” or strategy in place, here are some suggestions: 1) do something physical; 2) take a time-out; 3) take a deep breath (or several); 4) go for a walk; 5) listen to your favorite musician; 6) journal; 7) pray; 8) or read a book. Unfortunately, eating doughnuts and shopping online are not considered to be healthy ways of coping.
#4 - Reach out for support
One of the biggest misconceptions that society holds involves the notion of autonomy. Many of us have been raised in families where we are encouraged to be independent, self-reliant, and “strong.” Unfortunately, for some, “strong” involves being able to go the distance alone- it entails living life without asking for too much help or relying on someone too heavily. The problem is, we all need help. Reaching out for support is perhaps one of the most effective ways that we can calm down. It means turning into our relationships- reaching out for our partners- and leaning on others when we simply cannot do it alone.
Talk to your spouse, share your feelings, and stay connected to friends and family. If you do not have a partner, find someone to talk to that you can trust. If you don’t always have the words, cuddling can be useful too. Research has suggested that cuddling kills depression, strengthens the immune system, and relieves anxiety.
#5 - Stay connected to your child
Once you have mastered the first four skills, try staying connected to your child. Eye contact, one-on-one time, and physical touch are important building blocks. Be curious with your child and don’t assume that you know what is going on for them. Try not to minimize their experience or invalidate their feelings. Our little ones are learning and growing- they are sponges. Lead by example and don’t forget to be empathetic.
When these steps don’t work, there may be a hidden block or obstacle. Very often, once these blocks are made known, life gets easier.