I’ve hesitated to share this secret because I worry it seems silly. Then it occurred to me that if I’m really striving to provide a complete parenting “toolbox” on this blog, I can’t not include a practice, however inane, that has been essential to my own sanity and to raising three kids who are healthier and better adjusted than I could ever have hoped.
I’m the kind of person who absorbs and is affected by everyone’s feelings. But I also know that staying calm and centered in the face of even the darkest of my children’s emotions is imperative to their well-being. My boat is easily rocked, and when that happens I can lose perspective, and rather than giving my kids the solid support for their feelings or the behavior limits they need during a tantrum, I can end up losing patience, melting, second-guessing myself, getting mad or frustrated, yelling, doing things that not only don’t work, but also create problems that make matters worse.
When we lose our cool most of what we say or do is completely lost on our children. All they learn when we’re flailing is that they have the power to hurt us or ignite our rage, which unsettles them, creates an unsafe atmosphere, and usually causes them to repeat their difficult behaviors until or unless we find some control.
Or perhaps we say things like, “You’re hurting my feelings!” Our vulnerability creates guilt and insecurity, burdening children with an inordinate amount of power and leaving them bereft of the confident, gentle leadership they desperately need.
But we’re human. We’re never going to like it when our kids are upset, and we’re going to lose our cool sometimes — more than sometimes during the toddler years. How can we control our feelings and responses?
I appreciate the wonderful suggestions offered by parenting bloggers and advisers for helping parents temper their emotional reactions — healthy things to do instead of yelling or spanking when we’re triggered. A few of my favorites are breathe, call a friend, do jumping jacks and eat dark chocolate (preferably all at once). But in the frenzy of a difficult moment, I know I need something more immediate, powerful and proactive.
So when my kids are angry, sad, frustrated, winding up or melting down, I imagine myself donning a superhero suit equipped with a protective shield that deflects even the fiercest, most irritating emotional outbursts. It makes me feel confident and capable and inspires me to rise above the fray. Just reaching for my superhero suit helps me to take a step out of myself and gain a clearer perspective. I realize:
This is a VIPM (very important parenting moment). Releasing these feelings is so good for my child. This explosion will clear the air and lift my child’s spirits. Staying present and calm, sticking with whatever limits I’ve set and being a safe channel for these emotions is the very best thing I could ever do.
Some of the superhuman parenting powers my suit provides:
1. I understand that difficult behavior is a request for help — the best my child can do in that particular moment.
2. I remember to acknowledge my child’s feelings and point of view. The importance of this can’t be overemphasized.
3. I have the confidence to set and hold limits early (before I get annoyed or resentful) and do so calmly, directly, honestly, non-punitively.
4. I know that my words are often not enough – I must follow through by intervening to help my child stop the behavior.
5. I’m not afraid of what others think when I need to pick up and carry my crying, screaming child out of a problematic situation. My child comes first.
6. I have the courage to allow feelings to run their full course, without trying to calm, rush, fix, shush or talk my child out of them. I might say, “You have some very strong feelings about that” rather than yelling “enough!”
7. I move on without the slightest resentment, once my child’s storm has passed.
8. Rather than feeling angry, guilty or dejected for the rest of the day, I hold my head high and congratulate myself for being an awesome, heroic parent.
Occasionally (though it’s pretty rare) my superhero perspective even allows me to recognize the romance in these moments. I’m able to time travel at hyper-speed into the future, look back and realize that this was prime time together. It didn’t look pretty, but we were close. I’ll remember how hard it was to love my child when she was at her very worst and feel super proud that I did it anyway.
I offer a complete guide to gentle leadership in my new book:
For The Love Of A Tantrum by Darci L. Walker, Psy.D., Core Parenting
Losing Control by Vanessa Kohlhaas, Deep Breath Of Parenting
Help! My Daughter Is Out Of Control by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
(Photo by TheodoreWLee on Flickr)