Here’s the good thing— when it comes to losing your ever-loving mind with your children, you are not alone. When an intense meltdown erupts, emotions spiral out of control FAST. And suddenly there you are, in the grocery check-out (why is it always in public?), desperate to deescalate the situation when this tiny tyrant triggers your nervous system and you completely lose it. How can someone so small completely destabilize your psyche so quickly?
Listen: we’ve all been there. So why is it so hard to keep your cool when your child has big feelings? This is something that comes up in my practice often when I work with families, and naturally within my own parenting. Drained parents divulge their all-consuming feelings of anxiety, fear, regret, guilt, and shame for the parting techniques they’ve resorted to out of desperation.
I was recently working with a family that was struggling with their 4-year-old’s intense and frequent tantrums. Usually, the typical toddler tantrums diminish by then, but for this family, it didn’t seem to be getting any better. All this mum wanted to know was that she wasn’t creating any negative, lifelong issues for her daughter because of her parenting techniques. And isn’t that what we all want to know? As conscious parents, we can’t help but analyze our techniques and question if there’s some secret we are blind to, while other parents have mastered it. So why is it so hard to manage big feelings? Here are the main threads I’ve observed in my practice with families.
Not enough sleep
- Surprise to no one, we are all sleep deprived. According to the CDC, about 1 in 3 adults in the US report getting less than seven hours of sleep, while parents with children 1 and under-report on average of 4 hours and 44 minutes per night. Fragmented sleep also accounts for sleep loss, as mums reportedly lose over an hour of sleep per night compared to dads’ 13 minutes of lost slumber.
- This is the term that refers to parenting techniques that were often used on us as children. This includes negative techniques such as spanking, harsh consequences, hard reprimands, and other corporal punishment— including inappropriate use of time-out, and coercion. We use these because they were used on us, and often unconsciously follow the same pattern.
Lack of Social-Emotional Learning
- Social-emotional learning is becoming increasingly present in the school system after it’s become glaringly apparent healthy coping skills are imperative to a child’s emotional and academic growth. If you took a quick inventory of your coping skills, would you be proud of them? Are they coping skills you’d hope that your children would use one day?
Lack of resources
- Without the right support from family or childcare, in addition to financial and time constraints— the juggle has never been more real. When they say mums are the master multitaskers you have to wonder if it’s just because it’s the (only way) we can get things done. Without enough support, it can be challenging to give our undivided attention when our kids need it most.
Fear not, parents are in the trenches. You’ll be surprised how much progress can be made by incorporating these tools into your parenting toolbox to ensure you keep your cool when it matters most and create a healthy foundation for your family.
Here are Three Tips To Keep your cool:
1. The minimum requirements
Be intentional with how you build out a structure for your family. This means adequate time for exercise, sleep, nutrition, and rest for everyone. Don’t forget to put your air mask on first, too. Write down what brings you joy and find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine. Consider your coping skills and how they are supporting you. How much alone time do you need to feel fulfilled and how can you manage your time to support that better? Change evolves from small consistent steps and not all at once, overnight.
2. Get curious about your thoughts & build your skills
Aaron Beck, an American Psychiatrist, explains how the thoughts which impact our behaviour also impact our moods. The cognitive triad helps us develop our belief systems about ourselves and the world. We have thousands of thoughts that come up each day. Thoughts are not facts, but we can often interpret them as such. Next time you find yourself in a parenting shame spiral, take a long pause and get curious about the evidence to support your thoughts. Are you possibly engaging in one of the common cognitive biases that is unhelpful? This could include drawing conclusions from insufficient or no evidence, overgeneralizations, exaggerating the importance of an undesired event, or minimization, which underplays the significance of a positive event, or even personalization which attributes negative feelings of others to oneself.
Don’t be afraid to exercise your power to pause. As many of us weren’t raised with an understanding about how to regulate our emotions and nervous system, we can learn this skill to impart to our children.
3. Create a plan
At this point, you have learned the importance of a strong foundation and learned the science-backed, positive & proactive techniques. However, the challenge I often see in my practice is parents being inconsistent in their approach. Creating consistency requires adults to establish new habits in order to see those changes. Using visual support may also be a great behaviour approach to increase your consistency. Here is a practical example for you:
You’re ready to stop yelling as a way to get your kids to listen. The next natural step would be to identify what you will do instead. I recommend a simple “pause.” Grab a sticky note and write PAUSE. Have it placed in the house where there is high traffic as a visual reminder to use a pause.
Parents that yell often have children that yell when frustrated. You can easily create a visual for them with a simple, “Stop, Think, Choose,” next time you and your child are in a situation where things are starting to escalate, point to the chart and practice “Stop, Think, Choose.”
The incredible thing about getting older is taking more control of who we are, who our family is, and the life we want to live consciously. As we guide our little ones to be their best selves, it’s fascinating how it relies on us turning inward to better unpack our unconscious habits and programming from the past. Through that, we can guide our kids to be the best version of themselves and have a successful future with a whole lot less yelling.
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