It's fine to learn tools for ways of handling the behaviors that drive you crazy, but what about the driving you crazy part? What do we do when we know what to do, but can't seem to do it? This post is a list of ways to deal with your big emotions when a child does something that pushes your buttons.Tension builds up in a child, and that’s what usually makes them weepy, whiny or explosive. Tension builds up in adults, too, and we can get weepy, whiny or explosive as well, particularly in reaction to kids. As adults, we can find more constructive ways to release tension than to take it out on kids, and almost all of us are trying not to take it out on kids.
Have you noticed? White knuckling doesn't work that well. Here are a few ideas that might.
I recommend choosing more than one.
Just as most children don’t do well if they don’t get plenty of fresh air and exercise, we adults don’t either. If you want to have a sense of equilibrium when you’re dealing with a child, find a way to fit your workout into your regular routine. Getting frequent aerobic or resistance exercise (or better yet, both) isn’t just good for your health, it blows off steam, making it good for your relationships with children.
A daily walk, running three or more times a week, yoga, weight-lifting, cross-fit, ballet or bar—find whatever works for your personality and lifestyle. And while you're at it, eat well, too. Food and mood are inextricably linked. If your own health isn't motivating enough, maybe who you want to be with others can be.
Children need your staylistening to heal, and you could use it as well. Find a friend who will listen to you talk without giving you advice or interrupting with their own experience. Let them know, “I just need to unpack something. Could I do that with you for 10 minutes? We’ll set a timer, and then you can talk when I’m done.” Releasing pent-up tension by pouring out pent-up thoughts can be done with a friend or therapist, and if you don’t have either available, you could try pouring your troubles into a journal.
Another great release is to yell, scream, cry, punch, kick, sob and laugh hysterically. If you feel the need to do this in private and can’t find a place where you live, a car is relatively soundproof—just drive it someplace secluded. Yelling, screaming, or crying into a pillow over your face can also be used to muffle your sounds. If you do it in front of a child, let them know what you are doing and encourage them to join in.
Investigate Memory Links
Understanding the link between current behavior and emotional memories can help reduce your triggers. Linking the child’s behavior and what they may be experiencing is one way to help you get calm; another is to link their behavior to your own experience at that age. Often, what triggers us most are the ages we had the hardest time. If your whole childhood is tough, you can expect triggers throughout your child’s growing up. If you had a specific year that was traumatic, the child’s age that you were at that time might be the most maddening.
Heal the Trauma
Recognizing the memory links to your triggers may be enough. If not, healing the trauma is sure to clear the triggers. There are many modalities of trauma healing. I use The Work of Byron Katie and Heart-Centered Hypnotherapy.
Treating yourself better in your own mind will help you treat your child better. A first step to this is to notice how you treat yourself in the first place, and then to notice how much it hurts. Become aware of the words in your head. If you feel depressed, start listening to the messages you are giving yourself about yourself.
If you are angry, listen to the messages you are telling yourself about others, and look for how it is that you believe that about yourself. If you are anxious, do both. Noticing these messages might feel painful, but your continued awareness of them can stop your mind from continually hurting yourself.
For a class on this and more steps to treating yourself with more kindness, sign up for Re-Parenting Yourself: A Subquestion Deep Dive into the Work of Byron Katie.
Next post: Tips for calming yourself in the moment.
Egalitarian Relationship Tool #7 is Self Care
The more stressed you are (tired, hungry, rushed) the less clearly you can think and respond to challenging behaviors. The more stressed children become as a result of your stress, the more they will challenge you with behaviors. Self-care gives you the energy to meet your obligations and aspirations in parenting and beyond.
What to Do?
Monitor your energy. Notice when you feel run down, hungry, sleepy, or hurt. Respond as you would for an adorable child.
Lessen the schedule to lessen the stress and to have time to meet your needs. (That may mean reducing housework or outside activities, and it may mean getting honest with yourself about what can or should realistically be done in a day.) Take parenting breaks if you can.
Have self-compassion: focus on progress and not perfection, appreciate mistakes as learning opportunities, and always treat yourself no harsher than you would want to treat a two year-old.
Solve problems head-on: Allowing problems to go on and on is emotionally draining, and that creates a physical drain as well. When you find yourself getting angry with a child, it probably means you haven't been setting firm enough limits.
Prioritize sleep, rest and downtime. Spend more time doing nothing much.
Fill your emotional bank: find ways to give yourself what you need, or create or use a support system and get it from others. What's your love language? Give yourself that.
When to Do It?
Until self-care becomes a regular habit, here are some times that can cue you to give yourself some love:
As a celebration for every time you have done well or a problem has been resolved with your child
Whenever you feel sad, discouraged, tired, or in need of comfort
What are your self-care tricks? Share them in the comments below.