Many Others Are with You
There are so many times throughout the day as a parent I need a pause. A moment to find calm and reset my mood. I find myself caught up and stuck in frustration, irritation, anger, or worry. I can see my thoughts have sort of gone off line, become less than rational, and I find myself beginning to react to the situation in a way that I can see is making things worse. It feels like I’m crashing but somehow being aware of it does not bring enough clarity to get things back on track.
This happens to nearly every parent in lots of different ways with lots of different kinds of habitual reactions. One of my biggest struggles with my kids is early in the morning. Some mornings I am tired. Not having gotten enough sleep, my fuse is short. At breakfast, my three children are whining and fussy, because they just woke up and are demanding because they are toddlers. I get frustrated when one of them does not follow directions to leave their food on their plate but instead throws it.
I can feel the frustration bubbling, the tension rising. When I snap at them to leave their food on their plate tears and crying begin. Now, I’m mad at the situation and myself for not staying calm. I know it’s not their fault and when I can stay calm the situation always goes better.
Meanwhile, I am now tired, frustrated, and angry and it’s only 7:30 am so the whole day begins to have a dark cloud cast over it. The overwhelm and frustration I feel in this moment do not feel temporary. My emotions feel fixed and permanent. My now negative outlook casts over the moment, the day, and how hard things are in general. (Wow! Talk about diving off a cliff.) This is a difficult place to come back from in the moment, but not impossible. As Daniel Segal explains in his book, The Whole Brain Child, I have “flipped my lid.” I’m now operating out of my reptilian brain in a fight or flight response. All of my calm and reasoning has gone off line along with my “upstairs brain.”
Your parenting situation might look very different but feel similar at times. We all have situations with our children of any age that hook or trigger us. A situation where we can be good and then something really gets to us. We begin to feel angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, or panicked. Each time we tell ourselves this time will be different. I’ll stay calm and centered. I won’t let them or it get to me. In real-time however it’s exceptionally hard. And before you know it logic and open mindedness are gone. The reptilian part of our brain has taken over and we are just reacting.
As a parent it is really important to me to react to my children in a calm supportive way regardless of the situation or circumstances. But I find this to be one of the toughest challenges I have ever faced so I use lots of tools I have learned to help me. I address my mind, body, and brain using C.A.L.M. to help reset my mood and bring me back to equilibrium.
Check In with Your Body
This may sound strange at first but it’s pretty common knowledge we carry stress in our body. The stress in our body effects our thoughts and the two create a feedback loop which keep us stuck in reactive mode, causing the first time I snap not to be the last. Just by acknowledging what’s happening in our body we slow down our reactivity. We slow down and can begin to come out of our fight or flight response.
Check in with your body by noticing where in your body you feel frustration, for example. I notice my back and chest feel tight and tense. I start to feel warmer all over. I think to myself, “This is how frustration (annoyed, angry, overwhelmed, or worried) feels. No wonder I want to react it is pretty difficult to sit in.” Acknowledging the physical discomfort of an emotion helps calm our nervous system helping our “upstairs brain” come back on line.
Awareness of Your Thoughts
Be curious of your thoughts. What goes through your mind at times like these?
Right about this time I am probably thinking, “Why is this so hard? I should have gone to bed earlier. Why are they so fussy? Should I be stricter with them? I need to read another parenting book.” And on and on. Nothing very helpful. My thoughts are just sort of racing. At times we might believe the thoughts we think when we are in this struggle. In reality these thoughts are just our mind desperately looking for a way out of the struggle we find our selves in.
Loving Kindness to Yourself
Usually the tone of our thoughts in these situations is pretty harsh. These are not things we would say to a friend. For me I get upset with myself and my reaction even before it’s happened. It’s like I’m kicking myself while I’m down.
I try instead to acknowledge it’s a tough situation. I’m doing my best. This moment will pass. If I react in a way I do not like I apologize to my children for getting upset and try to forgive myself and let it go.
Many Others Are with You in the Struggle
You and I are not alone. Millions of parents have been in an almost identical spot with their child, no matter what spot you are in. There are probably other parents in Katy, in Houston, all over the world doing their best with their children and feeling the same simultaneous despair and desperation right along with you.
Almost all of us have experienced this because we are all human. It can sometimes be difficult to notice we are triggered and need to reset our mood to make a different reaction to our children possible. It’s not bad habits or lack of will power at work here. Our brain has learned this outside trigger equals this reaction. Our brain and body sort of high jack our good intentions. Therefore, changing our habitual reaction takes time and practice. We can’t expect to make big changes overnight so be patient with yourself & give yourself grace when you sometimes fall back into old habits when reacting to tough situations with your children.
If you want to learn more about Dan Siegel’s work or are looking for a good parenting book I highly suggest the following:
Michelle Puster M.Ed., LPC, CCTP
Katy Couples & Wellness Counseling
Helping couples grow close
Couples, Marriage, & Individual Counseling Serving Katy | Houston West
This blog is brought to you by Hold Me Tight | Houston. Hold Me Tight is a couple’s workshop developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. I will be putting the workshop on in Katy with colleague John Dietrich March 1st and 2nd 2018. Couples will learn were they get stuck when trying to communicate and what is leading them to distance, tension, or fighting. Partners will also learn how to communicate in a way that pulls their partner closer. Please click here for more information.