3/29/17

Giving Your Kids the Gift of “Calm”

calming techniques for parents

Giving Your Kids the Gift of “Calm”


“It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos." ~Donna Karan


In the busyness of our daily lives, calm seems to elude us. As we witness the chaos in today’s world, calm seems foreign to us. Our nervous systems are on overload. And reactivity seems to be the norm. We observe individuals crying out--- wanting to be seen, heard and acknowledged. Yet, as their voice gets louder, their true essence seems to diminish.
As parents, it’s easy to react to your children when not aware. You may react to their behavior rather than respond to them as individuals. If you see this pattern in your interaction with your child, be gentle with yourself. You are human and probably overwhelmed with the pressures of everyday life. What often gets lost in the overwhelming state of “busyness”, is connection. Connection with yourself and your children. While focusing focus on your daily agenda (Did you do your homework? It’s time to take a bath. Don’t forget to clean up your room!), it’s easy to miss seeing your child for the unique beautiful being they are.

In my work with many families, parents often lament that they don’t have time to just be with their kids---they’re so busy doing. Parents are over scheduled and overwhelmed---and we’re now seeing the effects in children. Reactivity has become the byproduct, in both children and adults.
How well you manage your own emotional reactivity is related to how well your children will handle their own. Have you ever noticed that your child’s behavior worsens when you become reactive?  I’ve worked with many parents who’ve noticed this same phenomenon. I remind them that emotions are contagious.  And when you open your mouth before allowing yourself to calm down, chances are your words convey anger. The emotions behind your words make a huge difference in the message that your child receives. Anger and negative messages can lead to disconnect in your relationship with your child.
Research has shown that children who feel connected to their parent are much more willing to comply with a request, than children who do not.
When you’re child’s emotional reactivity is out of control, how do you manage your own? Are you able to remain calm when your child cannot?  When you’re able to calm yourself before engaging with your child, you’re much more likely to be an effective parent. Especially when you feel the need to discipline (teach) your child. By being calm, you’re able to be empathetic and help guide your child.
When you’re able to manage your own emotions, you teach your children to handle their own. You teach your child to become emotionally responsible. Just imagine how different the world might be if there were more individuals who were able to manage their emotions. Individuals who responsibly responded rather than emotionally reacted to everyday events?
Have you ever noticed how easily your children push your buttons? Almost as if they knew exactly where those buttons were? As Hal Runkel, author of ScreamFree Parenting, reminds us that every time our kids push our buttons, they provide us an opportunity to grow. To examine why we’re being triggered, and to choose to act differently. To respond to the situation rather than react. Chances are the buttons that your kids are pushing, are the exact same buttons that others push in your life. Buttons that are related to your unresolved childhood emotions (feelings of not being heard or respected) or your own anxiety as a parent (What if they don’t study for the exam? What if they don’t play soccer when they’re younger---will they ever make the high school or college team? All the “what ifs”) It’s important to examine your own triggers. This alone will help you to be able to choose to respond rather than react next time your child pushes your buttons.
Can you be the one who is calm in spite of how your child is behaving?
Your child needs you to be there to help guide them through their emotional upheavals. However, to be able to do this, you must first be able to handle your own emotions. Parents often tell me that when their child or teen is emotionally out of control, they feel the same way. They admit to either suppressing their own emotions (out of fear of losing it), allowing them to fester, or letting loose in an emotionally big way. At this point, both the child and parent are out of control! Suppressing your emotions or exploding does not serve you or your child. Expecting your child to remain calm while you’re out of control also does not work. Remember that your actions speak volumes. Your credibility as a parent is on the line when you yourself lose control of your emotions. In the past, when you’ve become as reactive as your child, has that helped or hindered the situation? Most parents realize early on that their out-of-control behavior has helped only to fuel their child’s explosive behavior.
So how do you learn to respond instead of react? You make the choice---moment by moment, day by day. It’s a practice, just as working out at the gym, eating healthy or meditating is. And it’s a daily reminder to choose to respond to your child rather than react to their behavior.
For “full” emotional communication, one person needs to allow his state of mind to be influenced by that of the other.
—Dr. Dan Siegel,The Developing Mind                       


Creating the Calm Within


Although it’s important to discover hidden feelings that trigger emotional reactivity, it’s also vital to learn to calm yourself down in the moment. That’s easier said than done sometimes. Being able to calm yourself down is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. There has been a lot written about how to create a state of calm in our lives, and there are many tips and suggestions as to how to do this. Although many of these tips found in books, in magazines, and on the Internet are helpful, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s up to you to find what works for you and to realize that finding your place of calm comes from your intention and willingness to practice.


By incorporating calming techniques into your day, you will begin to retrain your body and brain. Rather than remaining in the continuous fear-react cycle, you’ll teach your body and brain to inhabit a calm-respond way of being. Besides creating calm moments each day, whether it be by taking a walk, meditation, deep breathing, or a bubble bath, you help yourself identify ways to calm yourself in the moment. Remember, the first step is to become aware of what you’re feeling when you’re triggered. Are you scared, angry, or frustrated? Acknowledge that first. When a parent becomes angry without pausing and acknowledging their anger, they ignore or sometimes or even deny it. The parent quickly reacts and blames their child for making them angry. We often jump into reactivity without even realizing what we’re feeling. Until you recognize it, feel it, and allow it, trying to make it go away is next to impossible. The shift from your own reactivity to your ability to respond will benefit you and your kids! When your teen tells you to chill out, that is exactly what they’re asking you to do.

Listed below are various strategies to help you learn to recognize
and express your emotions in a healthy manner:


  • Make a list of what triggers your emotions (what makes you
sad, irritated, mad, etc.).
  • Journal about your emotions and associated triggers (e.g.,
Every time my child ignores me, I become angry).
  • Talk about your feelings with a friend, loved one, or
professional.
  • Be aware if you become triggered while journaling or talking
about your feelings; pause, breathe, and take a short break.
  • It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Simply by doing this, you
will begin to notice when your feelings show up.
  • Remind yourself that your thoughts, if held tightly, become
your beliefs (e.g., My child is an angry child; each time your
child becomes angry, this encourages you to see this as proof
and hold onto your belief).
  • Know that emotions are transient—they do not last forever,
neither sadness nor joy.
  • Begin feeling and expressing the least threatening emotion.
(I am sad or frustrated is less emotionally charged than I am
angry.)


Managing your emotions takes practice. You learn to flex your
emotional muscles. Every day you’re given an opportunity to pause
and ask yourself, What am I feeling in this moment?
Although it’s important to discover hidden feelings that trigger emotional reactivity, it’s also vital to learn to calm yourself down in the moment. That’s easier said than done sometimes. Being able to calm yourself down is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. There has been a lot written about how to create a state of calm in our lives, and there are many tips and suggestions as to how to do this. Although many of these tips found in books, in magazines, and on the Internet are helpful, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s up to you to find what works for you and to realize that finding your place of calm comes from your intention and willingness to practice.


Calming yourself down becomes easier after you’ve taken a moment (or two) to pause. This pause allows you the space to slow your overstimulated and overreactive nervous system down.


Here are some calming techniques you may find helpful:


  • Stop and create a pause. The pause will create a space between
what triggered you and your emotional reactivity.
  • Take three calming breaths—inhaling through your nose and
exhaling through your mouth—each to the count of four.
  • Continue to slowly breathe in and out as you notice your
body and brain begin to relax. This will help to calm your
sympathetic nervous system and lessen the release of stress
hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol.
  • If possible, remove yourself from the situation; take five minutes
to allow yourself to calm down.
  • Do something physical which will help reduce and release the
“fight or flight” adrenaline buildup in your body.
  • Include calming activities in your daily life, such as walking,
running, yoga, or meditation.


It takes a great deal of effort and courage to recognize when our children’s behavior as a reflection of our own, partially because we don’t want to see it. But as we courageously take responsibility for ourselves and honor our children’s responsibility for their own behavior, we remove the biggest behavioral problem: our own emotional reactivity.
And as we learn to manage our own emotions, we can model healthy emotional practices for our children, giving them the tools to become emotionally capable individuals.


**The content of this article includes a few excerpts from my book Mothering with Courage.

"What moms often forget, or perhaps don’t even realize, is that at the end of the day they have the answers within. Mothering with Courage provides the tools to help mothers tap into their own knowing. With courage, a mom learns to remain open-hearted, to become self-reflective, and to choose to rise above the ups and downs of motherhood and see her children and herself in a different light.  A courageous perspective will enable her to consciously choose what works best for herself and her children. It is only with courage that she can focus on and reflect on her own way of being as a mom, and then let go of what no longer serves her and her family.  As a result, the courageous mom feels more confident in her decisions, learns to adjust when necessary, and enjoys her journey as a mom."

Pre-order Mothering With Courage.

BONNIE COMPTON, APRN, BC, CPNP, has worked with families for more
than 30 years as a child and adolescent therapist, parent coach, and pediatric nurse practitioner. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of children by giving parents the tools to parent mindfully while inspiring them to wake up to what really matters to themselves and their family.   Whether it is through individual therapy, coaching or parenting classes she offers, Bonnie believes that it is possible to make positive changes in any family situation---and it’s never too late!  She is a speaker, workshop and retreat facilitator and hosts her own podcast radio program, Wholehearted Parenting Radio, which is available on iTunes, Web Talk Radio, Radioactive Broadcasting Network, and Stitcher Radio. Bonnie has appeared as a parenting expert on numerous television and radio shows, and has written parenting articles in magazines and newspapers. She is also a certified ScreamFree Parent Leader. 


Bonnie lives in Charleston, SC with her husband. She is a mom of four adult children and believes that being a mother has been her most important job.  She also loves being Gramma to her three beautiful granddaughters.

No comments: