07 March 2013
Practical Tips for Keeping Your Cool
Most parents never intend to lose their cool when dealing with children. You’d like to stay connected, be empathic and nurturing. You’d like to set firm limits but still be loving. Maybe you’ve even read about taking a ‘self time out’ during stressful interactions and want to give that a try. But then something happens. Your three year old starts begging for treats at the grocery store, or your picky eater throws a bowl of spaghetti at the wall, and all those good intentions just fly right out the window. Adrenaline pumps, emotions rise (anger, frustration, embarrassment, fear, stress or feelings of powerlessness) and they kick your rational brain to the curb, triggering the fight or flight response.
Fight or flight is a primitive, innate response that prepares your body to fight or flee from a perceived attack, harm or threat to survival.
Tantrums, homework refusal or sibling arguments may not be life threatening, but for parents, these issues can sometimes feel like a saber toothed tiger about to pounce. When the fight or flight response is triggered by modern day childhood behavior, we have four options.
Fight = verbally or physically punish the child (yelling, spanking, name calling, etc.). This teaches the child that the way to get what he wants in life is to be aggressive.
Flight = give in to child’s demands. This teaches the child that the way to get what she wants in life is to be skillful at manipulating people.
Do neither while still high on adrenaline = attempt to control the fight or flight response, wrestle your emotions, negotiate with child, beg and plead, repeat yourself until you end up yelling or giving in anyway.
Do nothing until you get your rational brain working again so that you can make a CHOICE about how you want to respond.
Okay, that last option sounds pretty good, right? But how does one reclaim reason in a moment of absolute frustration?
To the left is a table of suggestions on how to
Redirect the brain
There are a few categories of things to try: meditative techniques, distraction techniques and expressive techniques (because not everyone feels better after counting to 10 or taking a few deep breaths). Some of these will work for you and some won’t. Some will require practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll get and the quicker these techniques will work. So experiment, practice and come up with your own techniques until you find the ones that are right for you.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to practice these in front of your children. You’ll be modeling good skills! Tell them what you’re doing. For example: “I’m angry right now so I’m going to scream into this pillow until I feel better!”
Click on the image for a printable version with detailed descriptions of techniques