I had an awful experience recently when I ‘lost it’ at the kids in Bunnings. It was the end of the school holidays and my two eldest had been at each other constantly, arguing in the back of the car. It was late in the day and in a desperate attempt to distract them I took them to Bunnings and we quickly found the kids craft area.
Unfortunately, there was only one painting kit left and two of them, so the bickering started again. And suddenly I lost control and started yelling at them. I noticed their faces wince and I felt ashamed, but I couldn’t stop.
Following this incident, I wondered why I couldn’t stop myself before I lost control. I exercised daily and regularly practised self-care. Then it dawned on me, it was to do with self-regulation when I was highly stressed. I realised I needed new ways to self-regulate now because as the kids were getting older, their bickering was increasing, which was stressing me out.
The reality is, the less regulated we are as parents, the more likely it is that we will react to our kids, letting their emotions overcome us.
As a parent one of the best ways I can teach my child how to calm down when they’re angry or stressed, is to model how to do this myself. In other words, when I self-regulate, I teach my child to self-regulate.
Why Modelling Self-Regulation is so Important for Kids
As your child grows, self-regulation will help him or her behave in socially acceptable ways, because self-regulation gives children the ability to control impulses. It also helps them manage stress – because self-regulation helps them learn that he or she can cope with strong feelings and gives them the ability to calm down after getting angry. Self-regulation also helps kids manage their anxiety.
How to Self-Regulate
The key to self-regulation in times of extreme stress (like kids continually bickering) starts with a pause. A pause will kick you into self-regulating. Following the pause, you can take a deep slow breath and repeat a mantra. Here’s why. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and sends a signal to the nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Research also says that saying a mantra can calm the brain, because the idea behind chanting a mantra is to eliminate the noise in the mind and allow it to transcend to subtler regions of quiet and calm.
Here’s how you can get started
Remember children see how we handle stress and they watch how you deal with your feelings. So when you feel your heart beating faster and your temperature rising from stress, remember these simple 3 steps.
Stop what you’re doing and pause.
The power of the pause cannot be underestimated. When we pause we give ourselves a chance to collect our thoughts and reframe whats going on.
Take a deep breath.
A deep breath of oxygen will send a signal to the nervous system and calm down the brain. Sometimes one deep breathe in and out will do it, sometimes 10. Just take your time to calm yourself.
Say your mantra, over and over.
∇I use the mantra ‘I’ve got this’ but that’s because it works for me. There are so many mantras that work, the secret is creating a mantra that works for you. Maybe you’d like a clear mantra that’s to the point, or perhaps you prefer one that has a deeper meaning. Other mantas that may be useful for you are:
1 – I can handle this and my response right now matters
2 – I am teaching my kids in this moment how I handle stress
3 – This too will pass
Find something that feels like the right fit for you!
After you’ve established taking a mindful pause as a habit, switch up your mantras to keep the words fresh and meaningful. Find words that inspire you, and you’ll feel empowered rather than exhausted.
So the next time you feel rapid breathing in your upper chest, tight muscles, a tight jaw, a sense of urgency – all of these are early signs of stress in the body. When you feel them, take a mindful pause, breathe deep and repeat the mantra that works for you. This all helps with calming down and in the process teaches our children to calm down also.