Notice, Calm and Comfort your own big emotions and shift from reacting in anger to responding with love.
I had a lot of success with traditional behavior modification strategies as a high school teacher, and then was really disappointed when the logical behavior modification like consequences and rewards didn’t pay off with my toddlers. I combed through all the childhood development and Mindful Parenting books I could get my hands on. I grasped the theories, but struggled to make it work in real life – my anger, impatience and the fact that we had to BE somewhere at a certain time kept getting in the way. It seemed like it was going to take DAYS to brush teeth, get dressed and leave the house if I properly followed all the steps.
It seemed the more I read the further I spiraled. The weight of all the information and expectations overwhelming me with ever more “to-do’s” AND the guilt of failing at something as important as my child’s attachment and emotional well-being.
In this article, I’ve tried to distill the actions and strategies that I cover in depth in my 5-week Mindful Parenting Practices online course. These are helpful in shifting old patterns whenever you feel triggered by your child’s behavior: Notice, Calm, and Comfort your own big emotions.
Spoiler Alert: Don’t expect your kids to change. They will do nothing different, they will keep on doing all the things. YOU will change. Your heart. Your reactions. Your confidence.
Notice consciously what words, actions or situations trigger you. I literally kept a notebook and after I had calmed down, I contemplated 1. the thing that caused me to suddenly lose my mind and then, 2. WHY? I dug deeper and deeper, asking “why?’ over and over until I felt I had fully uncovered the roots of my trigger. Once I was at the place I could see my own unmet needs and offer myself some kindness instead of self-loathing things started to heal.
It looked like this:
Trigger: my child shoving unwanted food off her plate while declaring “disgusting” at dinner.
Why did this bother me? My kids know they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want to, they can just avoid that particular food, no need to be unkind and make a mess.
Another reason this bothered me? I am so sick of planning, purchasing, preparing, then plating food that my kids don’t eat.
Why did this bother me, really? Because I’d sure love to be taking a yoga class, enjoying book club, riding my bike or having an adult conversation, but I’m feeling bogged down in the endless cycle of making and cleaning messes all day long. NOTE: by this “why” I’m usually in tears.
Why? It seems like my needs always come second.
Why? I have such a hard time knowing when I’m overwhelmed and asking for support.
Why? Because I don’t want to come across as nagging or complaining, I want everyone to think I’ve got it all together.
Why? Because I don’t feel worthy enough to accept love and care-giving from others. Ding Ding Ding. This is the heart of it all, and now you can ask the next big question…
What would support look like surrounding this trigger? For me, this question took YEARS to answer honestly. In the end, I asked my partner help with a few meals each week, and to do morning breakfast on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
HINT: your trigger almost always starts in some deep dark cave of the heart that you do not want to go. So you gotta be ready to get real with yourself if you want to embrace your need for love, help, control, freedom, etc. Once you do that everything else gets easier. I promise.
Calm. Now you’re ready to own your baggage and stand in your own power while you welcome whatever comes your way. This means you keep breathing, validate feelings of others and keep yourself calm even when seemingly senseless behavior is unfolding around you. Toddler screaming in anger? Check. Fussy, exhausted infant who won’t nap longer than 22 minutes? Can handle. Seven year old yelling “I hate you, mommy!!” in your face? That’s okay too. I have even found this helpful for challenging situations with adults as well.
You know that big emotions are part of this roller coaster that is life in relationship with others. Especially if they are between the ages of 18 months and 5 years old. So, what can you do to cope when the storm hits?
Breathe. Stop talking, take no action, simply observe what’s going on for you and your child for a moment or two.
Get Grounded – Think of an image, song lyrics, or anything that reminds you of your wholeness and humor. Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot can be particularly healing in times like these. Move forward from a place of calm, playfulness and quiet. It’s common that if you lower your voice and volume your child will too, and problem solving can begin.
It is REALLY hard to shift from fury to comedy, but it’s usually a game-changer, I couldn’t do it until I saw how successful it was when my husband tried it.
Comfort. Cue the self-compassion. This is usually the hardest part for me. I’m too busy for that shit. But… it works, and sometimes you have to explore a bit until you find the words or the actions that feel healing and bring you back into connection with your light.
The noun ‘comfort’ is defined as “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint”, And the verb ‘to comfort’ means “easing of grief or distress”. So how can you move forward with words and actions that will validate all the feelings in the room while easing your own guilt/shame about the fact that you find yourself triggered more than you would like to admit?
Come back to the question “what would help me feel calm, connected, supported, etc?” Once you can list a few actions you could take or reassurances you could ask for, create a plan to make them happen.
This may mean saying No to something that’s not working for you. Maybe it’s saying YES to something you really desire but feel too exhausted or afraid to embrace. What are the ways you can care for and comfort yourself so that you can be the parent who stays calm in the face of parenting disasters? You may need to ask friends or family for help in this department and that’s okay. Do them a favor and don’t be vague; ask them for exactly what you need and when. They can say “sure, I’ve got your back!” or, “maybe next time.”
As I come to a conclusion here, I feel a great sense of awe and accomplishment. I’ve done these things, and they work. Not every time, mind you, sometimes I still blow my top. But reliably, I’m calmer, more compassionate, and able to create a moment to sit with my child when they are struggling and need help problem solving. I did it. And it only took 5 years.
Sigh… this is when it’s probably a good idea to remind you that we’re all on a different path, a different timeline. We all have different motivations. For me this process was messy, and for every 3 steps forward I fell back on my ass and needed someone to help me back on to my feet.
Sometimes it feels like climbing Everest, with so many unsteady footholds, limited oxygen and looming obstacles. So my final word of advice is to connect with your partner or a friend (an entire tribe maybe? I’ve created one here.) that can walk this path with you. Someone you trust who can reach out a steadying hand when you lose your balance. Someone to make you laugh, always remember to pack snacks, and periodically point out that the view just keeps getting better and better.