Self-soothing for parents—Part 1
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?
Originally published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 11.8.12
Next time: Calming yourself down when your child is upset.