Managing Your Own Emotions when Your Child is Upset

February 23, 2018

The good news is that if you are asking yourself this question you are already 80% ahead of the game. Sometimes it is easy to be with your child’s upset, you feel like you can hold them and comfort them and soothe them as looooooooong as they need you to. And sometimes it is so... not. Sometimes you would rather crawl out your skin.
 
Guess what? It’s normal. I would bet every single parent on this planet goes through their ups and downs. (Yes, including ‘parenting gurus’ and ‘experts’!!!)
 
Let’s get to it. Imagine a situation: your child would not get out of the car when you arrived to visit the family.
 
How does this make you feel?
 
Frustrated?
Impatient?
Bemused?
Helpless?
Angry?
 
IMPORTANT: If you notice those feelings and can look after yourself first, it will be much easier for you to connect with your child, atune to what they are feeling and help them find a way to navigate this transition.
 
When we don't acknowledge our own discomfort we tend to unknowingly manage that discomfort in not so helpful ways:

- By blaming the child: 'You are making us late', 'We have traveled all this way so that you could see your cousins and now...', ...
- By brushing off what's going on for the child: 'Of course you want to see your cousins, you had great time last time you met.'
 
So, let's say you have noticed that you feel uncomfortable in the situation.
 
What can you do about it? It depends on how strong that discomfort is...
 
If you are feeling mildly uncomfortable, just (!) acknowledging that unease can take the edge off:

  • Man, I find this really difficult...

  • I am about to lose my patience! Breathe...

  • I’ve had enough of asking him to brush his teeth...

 
Talking about it, even to yourself, creates the pause and engages your ‘upstairs brain’ which allows you to access your capacity for empathy, creativity, flexibility = finding a better solution to the situation.
 
Then there are times when you feel like exploding. The times when your ‘downstairs brain’ is in full ‘fight or flight’ mode, firing like a fire alarm. Talking will not be of much use because there are no language centres in the downstairs brain, your downstairs brain is communicating with you through your body sensations. The quickest way to soothe the downstairs brain and to let it know that nobody is about to die right now is by listening to what is happening in your body.

How can you recognise that your downstairs brain is triggered? You will notice your own cues, for me it's that sense of URGENCY - I've got to do something about it NOW and it has to be done MY WAY.
 
It will feel counter intuitive in the moment, as the downstairs brain will be convinced that you need to act right now (= to run away from that tiger). If you choose to stay with the sensations in your body instead, to notice the tightness in your stomach, the tension in your shoulders, the clenching of the jaw or however else this activation is presenting itself, your downstairs brain will get the message: ‘Hey, I’m still alive, so it must not be that bad after all.’ The activation goes down, the fire alarm gets quieter and quieter and you feel more like your normal self and can find the solution from there.
 
The beauty of learning to communicate with your downstairs brain is that you can either do it in the moment when you feel like you are about to erupt or you can come back to that moment later, when you have time, headspace, emotional resources. Remember – your brain is sitting in a little black box, and memories or thinking about what’s about to happen can feel just as real.
 
If you find yourself triggered over and over in a particular situation or if you are dreading an event in a future (like your child’s dental appointment or a family visit) – you can soothe your downstairs brain by noticing and staying with the sensations that come up in your body as you think about those events.

 

P.s. If you would like support to implement those ideas in your day-to-day parenting – head to my calendar to book a consultation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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