It can be fairly easy to follow the strategies and scripts for being the parent you want to be when you’re feeling calm and good inside, but if you’re like me, it’s those moments when you’re upset that your parenting skills seem to vanish and you find yourself saying and doing things that you regret later. And while it may have felt like a relief at the time, and even perhaps justifiable, you know in your most honest moments with yourself that you want to parent differently. And even more importantly, you want to connect and support your child, not disconnect in frustration.
In this post, I offer some quick and easy ways to get yourself re-centered in those moments, so that you can carry on and be the parent you really want to be!
Why it happens
When you go from being able to consciously and thoughtfully consider your options for how to speak and act during a conflict, to feeling intensely emotional and reacting to your child, you have disconnected from your inner self and ‘knowing’(or intuition). The key to recognizing when you are in this state is the feeling of intense emotion during conflict coupled with the uncontrollable impulse to say or do what is on your mind, even if it is not loving.
When we are stressed or emotionally distraught, the electrical circuitry and blood flow in our brain actually physically changes, impairing our brain function because some of the blood flow and pathways between various parts of our brain shut down. When the reptilian brain is engaged in a fight or flight response, we can only react, and we are no longer making a voluntary, deliberate choice. Instead of pausing thoughtfully, we are more likely to “let’em have it!”
We also lose access to our full capacity for creative solutions in this state, and we are almost certainly destined to stay locked in conflict.
Five Easy Steps to Re-Connect
These strategies will help you re-connect with your inner self and intuition. When you are connected to your inner self, you are now back in control of your own body and responses and able to make a conscious choice about your action, with much more possibility for generating some creative solutions to the issue at hand.
Step 1: If your emotions are out-of-control, even if they feel justifiable at the time, take time out. Right away.
Your child can’t learn how to resolve conflict or find solutions on his own, you need to teach it, and you start by doing it yourself. You must be connected and centered yourself in order to role model and guide your child. Slip into another room if you can, even if it’s the bathroom for a minute or two. If you can’t slip away, you can ask your child to give you a moment or two to calm yourself down. When my son was very young and I couldn’t leave him alone, I used to say “Mommy can’t find her quiet voice. It’s still inside of me, but to find it, I just need a couple of minutes. Are you able to sit quietly for a minute or two while I find it?” This generally gave me a moment or two anyway!
Step 2: Use the following strategies to re-establish a calm body and mind.
Try them and see which one works for you. Your child can do it with you if he wants, but even if he doesn’t want to now, he may change his mind about trying it once he sees the outcome.
a) Take 7 or more deep breaths—in through your mouth, expanding your chest and feeling the breath expand into your belly, then let go fully through your mouth, kind of like a big sigh. It can help to really let go if you wait until you get the urge to breathe before you take in the next breath. Notice where in your body you begin to feel letting go, and where you are still holding on tight. Keep going until you feel your body letting go. Deep breaths actually stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system—the part of your nervous system that counteracts your fight or flight response. This gives your whole body the message “You are safe, you can relax now”.
b) Emotional Stress Release points. Place one hand on your forehead and the other hand on the occipital area at the back of your head (over the 2 bumps at the bottom of your skull). Focus on the distressing event until the intense feelings start to ease. This strategy re-organizes the blood flow in your brain and helps restore “whole brain” function and our ability to see new possibilities.
Step 3: Once the intensity eases, ask yourself: “What am I afraid of?”
Remember intense emotions during conflict herald the presence of a fear. Ask yourself: “What am I afraid of—both now, as related to this interaction, and also in the bigger picture of my child’s life?” Once you are calm and clear on your fear, you can determine whether there is an actual threat, or whether you were over-reacting based on fear from a past experience. See if you can switch from using language that focuses on the fear to language that focuses on what you both need, and what you’d like to create, and then brainstorm together how you can both get your needs met and create what you want.
Remind yourself this is one small blip in the big picture. You have a greater chance of finding a solution when you are calm and your whole brain is functioning in an integrated way. Your child is on her own personal journey and needs your support to follow her path and get her needs met, while at the same time learning to respect your needs and contribute to the family. Underneath her emotion and her need at this moment, she wants to connect with you and feel good about her behavior. She needs your help to find the way. You start by role modelling how to work with intense emotions, and then turn your attention to her need.
Step 4: Be gentle with yourself.
You love your child intensely and want the best for her. When you react, it’s because of a past experience, and part of your journey is to learn and grow too. Use the situation as an opportunity to role model how to have compassion for yourself first, and then your child. You did your best, and there’s always another opportunity to practice doing it differently. And of course, if the situation warrants, you can always apologize as part of the re-connection process. I often use a strategy I learned from Allison Rees. Once I’ve figured out how I would have liked to have handled the situation, I say to my son, “I’m sorry I raised my voice and got so angry with you. If I had a second chance, I would (do it this way instead)”. Sometimes when it feels right, I say “WOOPS!” and we pretend to press ‘rewind’ as if it’s a movie or a film, so that we can do it over again using a new script, and that often lightens things up and makes us smile.
Step 5: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you are unable to ease the intensity of your emotion, and find yourself repeatedly in this situation—especially for a particular issue, you may wish to seek professional help to do so. This often means that your brain has a (subconscious) fearful memory from a past painful experience that is getting triggered, causing you to react more strongly than the situation warrants. There are many different therapies that can help with this. Two examples are Emotional Freedom Technique and hypnotherapy, but there are many others, and they all result in changes that restore your ability to make a conscious, deliberate choice about how to respond, rather than reacting impulsively. I recommend you try whatever you feel most drawn to. Feel free to contact me for more information.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences with these techniques, or similar parenting strategies. Leave your stories and questions in the comment section below.
The most significant thing for a parent to contribute to anyone is their own Connection and their own stability. An effective parent is a happy parent. An effective parent is a parent who laughs easily and often; and who doesn’t take things so seriously.
–Esther Hicks, Abraham-Hicks Publications, Daily Quotes
Thie, John, DC, and Thie, Matthew, M.Ed. (2005). Touch for Health: A Practical Guide to Natural Health
With Acupressure Touch. Camarillo, CA: DeVorss & Company, Publisher
Fleming. Tapas. www.TATLife.com (2007). Taken from workshop materials in a Tapas Acupressure
Technique workshop with Karen Ledger.
 The ESR points I teach are my own combination of the Emotional Stress Release points on your forehead, as taught by John Thie, DC, and Matthew Thie, M.Ed., in Touch for Health (Specialized Kinesiology), and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT) as taught by Tapas Fleming, R.Ac.