Read on for 6 things you can tell yourself to help you during those challenging moments with your kids.
Remaining "calm" is sometimes super hard to do, especially when our kids are totally not calm. As conscious/responsive parents we know that our children are still developing and are operating, often, on impulse and a nervous system that's still easily dysregulated. But we, as their older, wiser, and more regulated adults, can model self-regulation and be there to provide co-regulation for our children.
Responding calmly, or as calmly as possible, during times of distress is super important in building a deeply connected relationship with yourself and your child.
Being able to pull from a few mantras, or reminders, can help us stay connected to the larger goals we have as parents and help us show up as the parents we really want to be. Not the parent who snapped and scared our child and then feels super guilty and ashamed for doing so. Not that one.
The language we use with ourselves, can help us pause before responding and shift way from seeing our children as being the problem, to seeing our children as experiencing an internal problem that they need help processing.
Here are 6 mantras you can use to help you lengthen that pause (between action and reaction) during your most difficult moments!
Mantra #1 - "This is not an emergency."
For the longest time, my child's big emotions and behaviors triggered a similarly big (sometimes bigger) reaction in me. My child was whining over not being able to do something because it was bedtime? I would huff and puff and stomp around, impatient, and snapping at him because I was annoyed everything I was trying to say or do wasn't helping and only made him more upset. I mean, I'm trying here (that's what I thought...and said....sometimes).
Growing up in a home where emotions were "catastrophic in their impact on others," I often felt like it was an emergency when my child was having big emotions. Like it was my fault and I had to fix it. And because I didn't know how to, or it wasn't working, I was somehow a total failure. Or worse...the problem. Maybe it's me. I'm making this worse.
Our bodies are meant to respond quickly to our distressed child. We are meant to move into fight/flight/freeze in order to protect them. But sometimes, our own nervous system assumes anything that triggers the stress response is an emergency. Life threatening. Catastropic. The end of the world.
And yes, there are defintely times where emergencies happen, much of what we experience on a daily basis (i.e. tantrums, talking back to us, yelling) is not one of those times.
This mantra can be useful in helping us tell our nervous system that we are safe and that we don't have to act right now! That we have time, a few seconds at least, to regulate ourselves and then respond.
Mantra #2 - "I'm not meant to do it all."
You don’t have to ‘break all the cycles’
Wherever you look on social media, there seems to be a focus on being a "cycle breaker" and "healing yourself."
This is often related to an awareness that many of us carry childhood wounds and conditioning that don't serve our children. And while this may be true, it is impossible to heal generations of trauma. It is impossible to create new patterns in every facet of your parenting. You're just one person.
Building awareness, being respectful, gentle and connected is new for many of us. And it will take time to learn how to integrate one, or more, of these into your parenting. And there is no rush to do it all.
You are one person. So soften your expectations that you must heal all the patterns, wounds and trauma and do all the things you've read about.
It's ok not to be able to do it all.
Mantra #3 - "They're not giving me a hard time, they're having a hard time."
I don't know about you, but I used to think "Why is he doing this to me?" "Why is he making this so hard for me?" I would take my toddler's behaviors personally. It felt like he was purposefully pushing my buttons. But then I dove deep into child brain development, child nervous system science, the neurobiology of stress responses, and behavior as communication.
Wow, was I looking at it through the wrong set of spectacles!
Behavior is simply a reflection of what's happening internally for our children. It's the the way they show us what they're struggling with inside. No one chooses to have a meltdown. It's exhausting, scary, and overwhelming for your little kids too. They're not choosing to do it. Their body is overloaded and has moved into a stress response. It's really now about you. At all.
But what we do have is the power to help them with that. When we think of our children has having a really uncomfortable and hard time, we're more likely to come alongside them with empathy and compassion. And safety. Because they certainly don't like the ride they're on. And we can safely get them through to the other side.
Mantra #4 - "I bring the calm and share it with them."
Hate to break it to you, but an dysregulated (or escalated) adult cannot de-escalate a dysregulated/escalated child.
Just as your child’s dysregulation creates dysregulation in you, your own regulation can help your child regulate. This process of co-regulation is how your little one eventually learns self regulation. Using this parenting mantra helps you remember that it is your job to bring the calm to this situation, and that if you focus on your own regulation, your little one will calm down too, feeling safe and secure in your presence.
Mantra #5 - "Breath in deeply, breathe out slowly."
Your nervous system is in a stress response when your breathe gets shallow and your heart starts beating faster. When you get that tunnel vision and inability to make any logical decision.
Taking deep breaths in through your nose, holding for a 4-count, and breathing out slowly, also for a 4-count, can deactivate your stress response. And trigger your brain and body to come back "online" and realize it's safe. When you begin to use deep breaths more often, you will form new neural pathways in your brain that tell it that this is what we do when we start to feel off-balance and dysregulated. Taking these breaths also makes you pause so you can respond in a more regulated, purposeful, way.
Mantra #6 - "I am doing the best I can, and that is enough."
Parents don't get training before becoming parents. We get a ton of training for our jobs, professions, and any hobbies we've picked up. We practice and practice and build our skills. And then we feel pretty confident about what we can do. But parenting, nope. There's no pre-parent training that will be exactly what you need because your child is yet to be known and the parent you will be is still evolving.
This mantra can help you focus in on the fact that you're both (you and your child) doing the best you can and you're still growing. Your best is enough in this moment. The most important ingredient in our relationships with our kids is our love. And our willingness to keep showing up. As imperfectly, but as lovingly, as we do.
Remember, self-talk is incredibly powerful. Let's move it away from how hard everything is and how much we're not doing right...to how much power we have to grow ourselves and be the person we hope our kids will be...one day.
Save and print this graphic so you can practice using these at home!
Let me know how it goes!