Positive Parenting: Staying Calm
Thursday, June 16, 2011
As a professional who works with parents of young children, I know that the key to effective discipline is staying calm. As a parent of a 3- and 1-year old, I know this is easier said than done. When people find out I specialize in working with young children, they often say to me, “Wow, your kids must be perfect.” They’re not. They are kids, just like everyone else’s, and they push my buttons sometimes. Even though I know all the things I’m supposed to do to handle the whining or the clinging or the dog food that’s been spilled for the third time in an hour, there are moments when I’m overtired or overworked or just plain cranky, and I lose my temper and snap at the kids. What I have learned from these moments, however, is that it doesn’t feel good- not for me or for the kids. I’ve also learned that the more emotional I become, the more their behavior escalates. So here are a few tips that I (the professional) use to remind me (the parent) how to stay calm.
• Be proactive. Using preventive discipline strategies (e.g., praise and rewards for appropriate behavior, distraction and redirection to diffuse situations) will help your child stay calm and avoid unnecessary battles.
• Know your triggers. There are certain behaviors that just push your buttons and set you ever the edge. Everyone has their own button: whether these are behaviors that just get under your skin and annoy you, or behaviors that trigger emotional reactions from your own childhood, these are things your kids do that inevitably bring out the worst in you. Being aware of your triggers helps you anticipate them and remember to take extra steps to keep calm.
• Walk away. Disciplining out of anger almost inevitably backfires, so when you feel yourself losing it, walk away from your child or the situation and try some of the following techniques to help regain your composure before trying to enforce consequences.
• Breathe. When you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a few deep breaths to help you calm down. Deep breathing triggers a physiological response in your body which signals your nervous system to calm down.
• Laughter is the best medicine. Humor can be a helpful distraction for your child or a good way to lighten your own mood.
• Talk to yourself. Parenting creates a lot of unwanted and unsolicited feedback from ourselves. As you become more frustrated with your child’s behavior, you are likely to be flooded with negative self-talk that can exacerbate your emotions. Some people tend to externalize their feelings by blaming the child or someone else (e.g., “She’s such a brat! I can’t believe she’s doing this to me again!” or “I know he learned that one from his dad!”), while others internalize everything and blame themselves (e.g., “I’m such a bad mother, no wonder he’s acting like this.”) Either way, these thoughts are counterproductive to being an effective parent, and need to be replaced with more calming, coping thoughts (e.g., “He’s only 3, he just doesn’t know how to do this” or “I am working really hard to teach him how to behave”)
• Sub In. Sometimes, its just one of those days. If you find yourself struggling to stay calm, even after trying some of the above strategies, try to find someone else to give you a break, even if its just for a half an hour. Take a walk, listen to music, or do the dishes- anything to distract your mind from the behaviors that were getting you frustrated to begin with.
• Ask for help. Know that you’re not alone. Even the most wonderful children can be frustrating at times, and it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed by being a parent. If you are not getting the support you need from friends or family, you might find it helpful to talk to a professional about what you’re experiencing and to learn some strategies for how to feel more in control.
Column written by Dr. Brandi Henson for SuzySaid Acton.
As a child psychologist located in Acton, Brandi Henson specializes in working with young children who are experiencing social, emotional, and/or behavioral difficulties. Because young children's development is heavily influenced by the parent-child relationship, she emphasizes working with parents when possible. Please contact Dr. Henson to set up an initial appointment to determine the best treatment plan for you and your family.
282 Central Street