You’ve probably heard of the term “flow” to describe a state where actions and thoughts progress smoothly and productively. It is characterized by ”energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself from time to time. I believe I have, on occasion. Other times I find myself in a state I call “undertow.”
For swimmers and waders an undertow is a current below the surface of the water. It isn’t obvious when one looks at the water, and it moves in the opposite direction from the surface current. And it may move more rapidly. I experienced a physical undertow last summer while wading in the surf. Usually ocean surf comes in and goes out with about the same force, on this occasion the incoming waves were strong but the current as they went out was much stronger and almost knocked me off my feet. Undertow is also called rip-tide and can be extremely dangerous.
Metaphorical undertow won’t kill, but it is a waste of time and energy and a source of frustration. It happens when I am working on something and get sucked away from making progress on my task by minor issues. When I’m writing, it might be word choice, phrasing, formatting, checking references, etc. I had problems when I used pen and typewriter but using a word processing program exacerbates the problem ten-fold—there are so many changes that could be made so easily. Case in point: I wasn’t sure exacerbate was the term I wanted or how to spell it; tried spell check with no results and finally used a thesaurus to look up synonyms for exaggerate. Classic undertow.
But undertow happens to me at other times: cooking comes to mind. What do I want to make? Is this the best recipe or should I look for a better one? Oops, missing an ingredient or two—what can I substitute? Did I already add the baking soda?
Sometimes undertow starts because of my distractibility/perceptiveness. Noticing something outside my main focus can lead me away from a project; the further away I get the harder it is to get back just as if I was swimming against a strong current
But undertow is also a cause of distractibility/perceptiveness. It’s like being stuck in a traffic jam: when I can’t make progress in the direction I want to go in, I start to notice my surroundings and pay attention to them and not to my goal.
What does this have to do with parenting?
Our children also experience flow and undertow. And both of those states can make our job as parents more difficult. We’re usually the ones who interrupt the flow with chores, homework, meals, and bedtime. And the ones who have to deal with the frustration, delays, and tantrums which may result from undertow or from interrupted flow.
Flow and undertow in ourselves also affect our ability to cope with the demands of parenting, especially parenting while trying to accomplish other tasks.
What can help? Understanding what is going on in ourselves and in our children. We can do this by taking time to observe both our own behavior and that of our children.
What environments and activities facilitate flow for me? What about my children?
What environments and activities contribute to undertow for me? For my children?
What strategies can I devise for easing the transition when I need to interrupt flow or when it gets interrupted? What strategies will work for my children?
What techniques can help me and my children escape from undertow?
I hope these ideas can help you go with the flow and avoid the undertow.
I remember going to a mother’s group back when my firstborn child was around 2 years old and asking “What do I do with my anger?”
Because I got angry sometimes. When I did I yelled, stomped around, said bad words and/or cruel things. Even when my anger was addressed at inanimate objects, this behavior was upsetting to my daughter.
I don’t recall receiving any helpful advice to my question back in that group. Over the years I learned a few things about managing anger—and sometimes was able to put them into practice! I’m still working on it.
Managing anger is hard. Managing anger at young children or even in the presence of young children is even harder.
One thing I tried was ignoring my feelings. I forced myself to stay calm and tried to be accepting and accommodating. Bad idea. I recall an incident with my second daughter who was in the midst of a tantrum. I was trying hard not to scream at her. I said something like “You are upset about having to leave now.” I was trying to be empathetic but she yelled back at me “Why are you so happy?” All my energy had gone into trying to be calm—and that interfered with my being truly empathetic. My calmness made it appear to her that I didn’t understand her feelings at all. And I wasn’t dealing with my own legitimate feelings.
Forced calmness often led to an even stronger outburst later on my part. I call it snapback—I was like a rubber band that got stretched too far and then broke with a snap.
What helped? Awareness about the factors that contributed to my anger. One big one was neglecting my needs in my efforts to be a “good” self-sacrificing mother. Being tired, hungry, stressed, feeling put upon, not having time or opportunities for doing things I enjoyed . . . all those contributed to the likelihood I would get angry and to the force of my anger.
I did get better at taking care of myself. I learned that the self-sacrificing mother ideal is nonsense. Like athletes, mothers need to take excellent care of themselves or they won’t be able to do their jobs—and the same is true for all parents and people in helping professions. Other things can be sacrificed –not you.
An important part of self-care is paying attention to feelings. Feelings can serve as warning lights reminding us that some need we have requires attention. Anger is a secondary emotion—we feel scared or frustrated or hurt and then we get angry. Karen Young from HeySigmund.com writes that anger “exists to block other more difficult emotions from rising to the surface.” Our mind is trying to protect us from those feelings we don’t know how to handle. For many of us recognizing emotions may need to be learned and may require professional help—and that’s okay.
Even with the best self-care parents will get angry. And that anger should be acknowledged –in ways that don’t hurt or scare others. In order to do that successfully we first need to recognize the physical signs that indicate we are getting angry. If we’ve never thought about anger in this way, identifying what led up to an outburst (or to a cold simmer, or a stone-faced withdrawal) may take some reflection. Authors Susan Beekman and Jeanne Holmes [Battles, Hassles, Tantrums & Tears] recommend looking back at a recent incident and remembering where, what, and particularly when you started to lose it.
A lot of times parents tell their children, “use your words,“ but words may not be adequate to manage the physical sensations of anger. (Not to mention that the words that come to mind may be ones you don’t want your children repeating.)
Taking deep breaths, briefly walking away, and counting to ten are some things that can help us calm down enough to use appropriate words. Doing something physical but safe—my son recommends hurling ice-cubes into the shower stall—is another approach.
Then simply saying “I’m angry” is a good place to start. Describing what triggered your anger in non-accusatory language can be helpful as well: “When we are late for an appointment, I get frustrated because I like to be on time.”
Nancy Samalin, author of Love and Anger (yes, I stole that title) also suggests: Avoid physical force and threats; Keep it short and to the point; Put it in writing; Focus on the essentials.
And finally, apologize for any hurtful words or actions. This can be a good time to reflect on what triggered you and make plans for handling future situations.
April 8, 2019 published on ParentingSuccessNetwork
Saying “no” is a challenging part of parenting (and grandparenting). Here are some ideas that may help
When you have to stop an action about to happen or already in progress:
- “STOP” or “Danger” “Hot” “Hold it” “It is prohibited” “Access denied” or other phrases besides “no”. With toddlers say “Not for [child’s name]”
- If at all possible, be physically present to block, catch, grab, etc.—especially with toddlers.
- Reserve yelling for when it is really needed—dangerous situations. A stern look, frown or headshake can get your point across.
- Refer to the rule or ask the child what the rule is. “The rule in our family is no hitting.”
- Tell the child what he or she CAN do. Teach and practice with your child the safe/respectful/socially acceptable way to do things.
- Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings as you act on the “no”—often without actually saying the word. “You want your ball back. I will help you when it is safe to go get it.”
- Give information or describe the problem. This gives the reason for the “no” without needing to use the word. “Those cookies are for the party” “The problem is I don’t have any money for toys today. We’ll have to put that back on the shelf.”
When your child resists doing something that he/she has to do:
- Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings as you act on the “no”–without actually saying the word. Example: “You’ve really liked playing at the park. We’ve had a good time (while taking the child’s hand to leave). Should we come again tomorrow?”
- Acknowledge and accept the child’s feelings and grant them in fantasy. “You’ve really liked playing at the park. You wish you could play here for another hour—for the whole day—you wish you could live at the park!” “You don’t like being in your car seat. You wish you could fly to the store.”
- State what needs to happen. Stay calm and wait quietly nearby for the child to cooperate.
When your child asks ahead of time:
- “Yes, later” or yes with a condition. Barbara Coloroso points out that if you say “Yes, later” “later” can be 10 seconds from now—it’s still more effective than saying no and then changing your mind. Examples: “Can I go to Sally’s house?” “Yes, as soon as your room is picked up.”
- Give yourself time to think—either don’t respond right away or say, “Let me think about it.”
It helps to be clear on what you really want and why—when you know that, it is easier to set a limit and stick with it.
- “Convince me.” This makes the child do all the talking and thinking.
- Let the environment say no by childproofing and avoiding tempting situations. Use the clock or a timer to signal when to stop an activity or leave a location.
- Go over the rules ahead of time.
- Nobody likes to hear No. Accept that your child will probably be mad at you. Try to stay calm and confident yourself. Remind yourself of the need to set limits and protect your child and others.
- Learning can’t take place when child is upset or in the midst of a tantrum. Later, you can explore ways to help prevent future problems.
- Notice cooperative behavior and thank your child
Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork May 8, 2013http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2013/when-no-is-necessary/
What do you need?
What do you need as a parent? Probably more sleep, right?
Often as parents we get lots of information about things we ought to be doing—or not doing. We don’t get as much information about HOW we might actually be able to do or not do those things. We don’t often concentrate on what WE need.
As a parent with young children I remember thinking, “If I wasn’t so tired right now, I might be able to respond to my whining child in an empathetic and firm manner—the way I want to respond.” It took a few more years for it to dawn on me that a major part of my job as a parent was to take care of myself. Nobody else was going to make sure I got enough sleep except me. Even then, though, the prevalent philosophy I ran into was that I could only take care of myself by neglecting my child’s needs. That approach didn’t meet my needs as a person or a parent.
Finally, I began to see parenting as a form of sharing. By learning how to share I could meet my needs and those of my children in ways that would be affirming and beneficial to both of us. After all, as a biological mother to three children I had shared my body and all its abilities and resources with them during pregnancy. I nourished them then by nourishing myself. After their births I shared my breasts, my arms, my legs, my voice, and my brain as I cared for them. I had to keep nourishing myself to have something to give. I had to have something in order to share it.
Focusing on sharing helped me realize how many things I had that I could share—I had strengths that I could use to guide my children. When I viewed what I had as strengths, I could also work on getting stronger. How do you make a muscle stronger? By using it, by pushing it a little harder, and then giving it a rest.
As a children’s book explains it: when you share, you give something and then you get it back. I shared what I had. And I got something back—new skills, new insights, a better understanding of who I was and what I was capable of, and, best of all, three unique wonderful individuals who are still willing to share with me about their adult lives. I was not the world’s best parent (I am still not the world’s best parent), but I shared what I had and I got a lot back.
What do you need as a parent?
Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 9.22.12 http://parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2012/what-do-you-need/
Children get upset.
It takes experience and maturity to realize that Dad will be back at suppertime or that that really wanting a cookie does not create cookies in the cupboard (adults tend to get upset by that harsh fact as well).
Children also get mad.
So many things they want to do are out of their control.
Children usually let their parents (and sometimes the whole neighborhood) know that they are upset and angry.
How can you stay calm or calm down when your child is upset—without adding to your child’s distress?
The first thing is to accept that strong emotions are part of life. It’s okay that your child gets upset at times. It does not mean that you are a bad parent. It does not mean your child is a spoiled brat.
It often helps to acknowledge the emotion and identify it. Tentative identification is best—“wow, you sound really angry.” Say it with meaning and respect.
Dismissing your child’s reaction (“it’s nothing to get upset about”) or completely ignoring it can upset your child further.
Remain available and empathetic. If no one is getting hurt or unduly disturbed by the noise you may want let the storm rage. A dramatic (but safe) release of energy can actually aid everyone.
If you were raised in an environment where any strong emotion was repressed or expressed in dangerous and hurtful ways you may benefit from some professional help to learn and be comfortable with safe ways to express emotion.
It’s disturbing when your child is upset. Frequently, you are the cause of the upset. You said “No,” or “It’s bedtime.” You stopped your toddler from sticking a key into an electrical outlet.
Nobody likes being yelled at—especially not for doing the right thing! Here you are being a loving, responsible parent—and your child does not appreciate it!
Getting yelled at for our responsible parental actions can lead us into irresponsible behavior—we may become unduly harsh with the child or we may back off and allow the child to go on misbehaving. Both are completely understandable but not advisable.
Full disclosure: yes, I have done both, and the results were not pretty.
How can you respond?
- Give yourself empathy—silently or out loud. “Wow, it hurts to be yelled at for trying to protect you.”
- Remember you are the adult and the parent in the situation. This is part of the job. Helpful phrases from author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka include: “I do not fear your anger.” “I will help you follow the rule.”
- Let your child know that feelings are acceptable but that actions may not be. “You are angry with your sister. It is NOT okay to hit her.”
- Offer an acceptable action: “You may punch the couch cushion.”
by Esther Schiedel
Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.27.12
I got upset the other day and it took me a while to calm down.
Now I am a middle-aged grandmother. I have experienced some bad times in my life; compared to those, the incident that upset me was trivial. Nevertheless, it took me a while to calm down.
Children get upset a lot. They tend to express their grief, anger, hurt, and/or frustration with loud vocalizations and violent actions. Loud noises—crying, screaming, whining–are stressful for most adults to listen to. Violent actions—thrashing about, hitting, biting, throwing things–can be dangerous to self, others, and property.
Helping your child to deal with grief, anger, hurt, and/or frustration in ways that don’t unduly annoy or hurt others is an important part of your job as a parent.
The problem is that you are very likely to be upset (or to get upset) when your child is upset.
Not to mention that you, as a human being, get upset yourself for reasons unrelated to being a parent.
Learning (and practicing) healthy ways to calm down is a lifelong endeavor.
Fortunately, when you calm yourself down you model that process, thus making it easier for your child to learn ways to calm down as well.
Note that there is a difference between shutting up and calming down. Shutting up is a valuable skill—particularly in social situations—but it doesn’t give the benefits of actually calming down. Shutting up is like putting out the flames of a fire but leaving the coals still glowing—ready to flare up at any time. Calming down includes dousing the coals and making sure they are all out. Once you are calm, you can access your thinking brain and, if necessary, problem-solve any underlying issues or strategize ways to prevent future occurrences. But first you need to calm down.
What helps parents to calm down? Here are some ideas for when you are the one who is upset.
Breathing: If you learned any breathing techniques for coping with labor, even if you never used them then, they can work well for you now.
Movement: channel the adrenaline in your system by pacing, walking, throwing things that don’t break, working, etc.
Empathy or validation of your feelings—silently or out loud: focus your attention on yourself and what is happening in your body and mind. Tell your body you are listening to it.
Positive self talk—silently or out loud: “This is a challenging situation but I can handle it.”
Drink water, eat nutritious food: dehydration and low blood sugar contribute to being upset.
Provide a place to make noise—the classic going into the bathroom and screaming. If it is safe to do so AND your child is not upset, excuse yourself—stating that you are upset and need to go outside or be alone for a moment. Simply changing the setting can be calming as well.
What helps you to calm down?
Next time: Calming yourself down when your child is upset.
Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.8.12