It’s true! Our kids aren’t the only ones who have tantrums. It may sound funny to say so, but of course parents will sometimes lose control and express their anger in ways they regret. No matter how hard we try and keep it together, staying calm and avoiding anger, we are human and we will make mistakes.
In our own idealized version of parenthood, we would stay consistently kind, loving and calm. Yet, can you think of anyone in your life that you could be with as much as you are with your kids without them sometimes driving you crazy? Plus, as parents we feel responsible for raising good people, which means we cannot give in to our child’s every whim. Every parent needs strategies and tools to help them to deal with the intense and rewarding work of raising children. Here are five tips that I hope you find useful.
Fill Up Your Own Tank
Often, as parents we put our own needs last. Sadly, this can lead to burnout and short tempers. It is important to take your own needs seriously and build some time for yourself into your family’s routine. On an everyday basis, take time to find moments of pleasure and joy, taking time to slow down. This can mean practicing deep breathing, going for a walk, or taking a nap. Sometimes it means not doing a household chore because you need to charge your own battery instead.
Parents also need the support of other caring adults. You know the people who you feel better after talking to—seek out those people—and try to avoid those who make you feel bad about yourself. Making yourself vulnerable to others and acknowledging your parenting challenges can feel hugely relieving and reassuring. Shame is the worst because it eats away at us and makes us feel isolated. Try to remember that things are always changing as a parent. Your child is developing and growing every day, and so are you! Hang on and things will shift soon enough.
Understand Your Brain
Dr. Dan Siegel has a powerful way of looking at your brain called “the brain in the palm of your hand.” Your flat hand stands for your brain. Your palm from hand to wrist is your primitive brain, controlling automatic functions like breathing and heart beat. If you fold your thumb over your palm, that stands for your midbrain. This is the part of your brain that responds to danger with a fight or flight response. It also controls old memories. Finally, if you curl your fingers over your thumb, this stands for the thinking and problem solving part of your brain, including your self-control.
When you get angry, the higher part of your brain flips up, exposing your fight or flight response, and you have no capacity to solve problems or find empathy. You literally lose the ability to use your high order brain when you are triggered.
This is important remember because resolving a conflict is really impossible during when you are upset and you may do things or say things that you will regret later when you have calmed down and your brain is restored to its proper working order.
You can actually teach this language to kids. When you feel yourself getting angry, tell you kids that your lid is flipped and your brain isn’t working well. You need some time to yourself to calm down. You can use the same strategy when your kids are losing it, but it is more powerful when you model it as well! The trick is to recognize when your lid is flipped and to get help or find some space to calm down and regroup.
Use Mindfulness, Whatever That Means To You
Mindfulness is a tool we can use to build a healthy brain. It does not need to mean having a dedicated, time-consuming meditation practice. Instead, busy parents can find ways throughout their day to slow down, breathe, and tune out the chatter of the outside world. Mindfulness is defined as the state of being conscious or aware, focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. You can practice just being, without trying to change anything.
It can be helpful to imagine your child’s point of view. What does it feel like to be her? What might she be thinking or feeling? A shift of perspective can help us to see the situation in an entirely new way or find a new way of dealing with an ongoing challenging situation. We must try and remember that our children are not just extensions of us and may have very different ways of being in the world. This offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to shift their perspective and find practice seeing the world in a new way.
Of course you will make mistakes in parenting your children—you are a human after all! What is important is remembering that the act of coming back and repairing a relationship after a negative interaction can actually strengthen that relationship. You gain credibility with your kids by admitting when you have acted badly and saying that you are working on yourself. This teaches kids that even adults have challenges and that we care enough about our relationship with them to work on doing better in the future. When we take responsibility of our mistakes, we also show our kids that no one is perfect and we model how to handle conflict in a constructive way.
But, it is important to remember that we can only repair when we have time to regroup and calm down. We can’t access the logical or empathetic parts of our brain when we are flooded or flipped.
We are also unable to repair until we forgive ourselves. This, also, is a powerful lesson our kids need to learn. We can make mistakes without being a bad person. We can forgive ourselves and move forward.