The Art of Remaining Calm
I can’t over-emphasise the importance of parental own self-care and self-regulation in being able to offer a safe space for meaningful engagement and relationship building. Our kids need to borrow our calm for the (sometimes many) years during which their brains are still developing and integrating to bring them to a place where they can do this for themselves.
As parents we strive toward becoming an authoritative parent – a respectful guide, collaborator, problem-solver and detective as opposed to the traditional authoritarian parent. This is hard to do, as most of us were raised by authoritarian parents, and when we feel stressed, overwhelmed or tired – that is what we default to. Our children don’t always make it easy for us to stay calm. Our children trigger us, push our buttons and when the stakes seem high, we respond with gusto! We want our kids to do well, be well, and find their way – why then do they make it so hard for us to show them the way!! ☺
Always remember: your child mirrors your emotional state. Frustration and anger, anxiety and irritation – all fuel the fire.
If you look after yourself, you have more tolerance for frustration. You don’t go to such strong emotions when your child pushes your buttons. You are much more likely to be able to take a step back, see what you see for what it REALLY is, as opposed to just as the behaviour in front of you. Having a few strategies to stay calm in your back pocket, also certainly help!
Some strategies on how to remain calm:
Step 1: Reality check: Behaviour is always communication. It’s not stupid, lazy, manipulative or wilful behavior. Don’t judge behaviours at face value.
‘Do as I do’ – a wonderful parenting mantra to live by. If you lose it, expect your children to do the same. Cultivate Calm – at the very least – YOU will feel better about the journey. So use the power of the pause before you respond. Notice a trigger and take three deep slow breaths before you respond.
Step 2: Empathy: Don’t take your child’s behaviour personally. Do you best to leave your own emotions about the behaviour out of it. Take a step back to gain this perspective. When big emotions rise within you it is often about pain point inside of you, rather than about your child. Instead of projecting, choose empathy, validate your child’s feelings, even if you don’t think their behaviour is appropriate. This does not mean you ‘let them get away with it’. It means you respect them as human beings who have a perspective. They are showing you their truth. Believe them. Don’t bite, even when they seem to ‘goad’ you. You don’t need to validat ethe behaviour, but you done to validate the feelings. Once they see you that you believe their experience to be real, you have connection. Only then, start to work with your child to find a compromise or resolution. This is setting an appropriate example of modelling emotional regulation.
Step 3: Facilitation: Guide your child through their frustration and in so doing you will be facilitating them to find a way through their emotional dysregulation. They don’t have the skills yet to manage high levels of frustration and so by guiding them through this, you are teaching. You don’t have to give in to your child – but you can be there to help them deal with the big feelings they are having in response to an event, a limit or a difficult situation.
Step 4: Collaboration: If you as the parent act as dictator, someone always loses. Create win-win situations. “How can I help you?” conveys caring and compassion and softens your anger. Instead of ‘get over it!’
Step 5: The Control: you still have control if you manage a situation in a calm and compassionate way. When you start yelling or slamming etc, –you relinquish control and lose a guiding opportunity.
Less harsh parenting means meeting a child where they are. Looking beyond what you see and recognising the brain differences underlying the behaviours you see.
Invitation to Action:
Set a daily intention (see phrases and word ideas below) to help you begin to practice calm. You don't want to do this every day, or it will become more like a chore. Also, you will need to practice and it won't come in just one day.
Decide to take time to sit together and set an intention once per week on a Sunday (or something that works for you) and then practice that for at least a week. You can help this intenion come alive and have regular reminders about it in the following ways:
Sample words and phrases for intentions:
To accept whatever happens as if I had chosen it
To invite gratitude into my day
To gain strength
To develop a skill and improve my parenting
To bring light into other people’s day
To show up for myself
To allow myself grace
To encourage and inspire my child
To go with the flow
To allow myself to be silly with my child
To create more simplicity and peacefulness in my day
To discover who I am and what I enjoy
To give back to my community
To explore something new with my child
To pause before responding + lead with empathy and love.
To be afraid and do it anyway
To dance like nobody is watching
To rise to meet my own standards
To smile more
To make my child laugh today
To surprise my child today
To choose my child over my to-do list
To live authentically and unapologetically
To be selective with my time
To be the person my child can rely on
To find beauty in everything
Hot Dog Hugs: This game includes everyone in the family in a quick expression of closeness. This fun, attachment forming activity raises self-esteem and connection for family members as they feel pleasure at being part of the family. This is a spontaneous game and can be called on anytime you feel the family can benefit from so closeness and deep pressure calming.
Someone in the family – usually the parent calls out: Hot Dog Hug! Family members join in announcing their positions: “I am the bun, I am the hot dog, I am the pickle, I am the relish” and so on. The hotdogs get lightly squeezed together. You may need to check if the relish was spread properly and squeeze and wiggle a little more. The game can evolve however way you like.
Consider one of your heroes or role models. What three things do you have in common with them as a human being?