What do you do in life when you’ve tried all “the things” – the strategies, the suggestions, the desperate measures – but nothing seems to work. I feel like I face this challenge daily in parenting (more often than not), at least with my oldest child. I’ve read all the books, scoured all the journal articles, talked to all the experts (wait, aren’t I an “expert”?), and still I come up short. When all else fails, and I feel close to ready to rip my hair out, here are my fail-safe, back-to-basics approaches:
- Breath. Deeply. Focus on the exhale. Did you know that the exhalation of every breath helps the parasympathetic nervous system to activate? That’s the part of the nervous system that slows us down. If we think of the sympathetic as the “fight or flight” system, the parasympathetic is the “rest and digest” system. Did you also know that we have these things called mirror neurons that help us to mimic the emotional states of those around us? Cool right? So when we stay calm, so do our kids. Well, perhaps more accurately, so can our kids.
- Validate the emotion, empathize with the struggle (the struggle is real!), reinforce the boundary. Don’t forget, it’s important to mean what you’re saying. Kids are smart, and perceptive. If I’m being disingenuous, my son knows it, and calls me out. “I get why you’re mad. It’s hard not getting what you want. And, 7:30 is bedtime” (*I try to use “and” instead of “but” so as not to override the validation part of the statement)
- Take a time-out. That’s right, you take a time-out! It’s ok to say to your child, “I’m really frustrated right now, I’m going to take a few minutes to calm down and we’ll talk about this in a half-hour”. In fact, this models really good self-regulation for our little people.
I often have to remind myself, it’s ok not to be perfect, and I don’t need to have all the answers. And, when I get it wrong (which I do, often), I get to reset and try again. Parenting, as with life, is a constant journey of self-reflection and revision. (As an aside, these fail-safes work really well with my husband as well – wink, wink)