By: Cristina Trette
Some parenting moments can be intense. When we are become emotionally dysregulated, our logical brain shuts down making it almost impossible to connect with or discipline our children. We tend to become harsh and punitive at times like this. So, as a means to prevent hostility, I recommend that parents take a break by walking out of the room or stepping outside. Sometime a parent needs 30 seconds in another room to regain composure. Other times a parent may need twenty minutes or more to get back to a space of responsiveness. Breaks are not to be used a punishment. Rather they are wonderful tool for keeping all family members level-headed.
My daughter was in a difficult mood last night. I wanted to offer support but I was wiped out too. Everything I said or did seemed to make her more upset. Once I became angry I knew it was time to get some space from the dynamic.
I told my daughter that I was going to take a break and walked towards my room. Not only did she follow me, but she became loud and disruptive. I tried to reason with her in my bedroom and calmly explained why I needed some space. I walked outside. Again, she followed. Before going back inside, I tried to convince her to stay outside and jump on the trampoline with her brother. This led her to escalate even more.
She would not let me take a break!
I felt so frustrated. Yet, this experience helped me to see that there is a lot to a making a "parent break" work. As much as we would love to say hear our children respond with "ok mom, enjoy your break, I will be right here when you get back", this is unlikely to happen unless you set yourselves up for success before you go. Read on to learn more!
1. Teach the value and importance of breaks
During a time that you and your child are balanced and centered, explain to him that on occasion you feel upset or angry, and that during these times, it is helpful to walk outside or relax in your room. Explain that while you are away you are feeling your feelings, focusing on your breath, and relaxing. Tell your child that that he can take breaks too. It is important that you request that he let you take your break, when you need one, and explain that you are a better mother, more fun, happier, etc. when you take some time for yourself.
2. We all need space
If the only time you take a break is during conflict, or when your child is acting out, she may begin to associate breaks with punishment. Really, we all need breaks on occasion in order to remain present, loving, and engaged. If you are an introvert, you may find that you need alone time more often than others. Yet, extroverts value solitude too. So, start taking breaks even when everything is going good. Move into a place where everyone in the family begins to honor, respect, and value an individuals need for space.
2. During conflict, break before you reach your breaking point
Don't wait until you have smoke coming out of your ears! Think of it as a prevention. If you notice your body becoming tight and your heart rate increasing, these are signals that you are under significant stress. Take care of yourself, and your child, by announcing that you will be taking a break.
3. Connect with your child before you go
Pay attention to your tone. You will want to exude kindness as well as respect for self and child. Get down on his level, look in his eyes, and maybe offer a hug or spend a minute snuggling. Then explain that you are going to your room for a little bit and that you will be back. It may help to set a timer that stays near your child so that he or she can come get you when the timer goes off.
4. Reassure him that you will resume your discussion later
We all get into arguments with our kids. If you and your child are very angry during a discussion you are unlikely to resolve anything until you have moved through your anger. So, if you need to take a break due to tension surrounding an important topic, assure your child that you will be able to discuss later when everyone is calm. Do not walk away without making an agreement about this!
5. Don't just walk away
If you leave your child without explaining what is happening for you, this can trigger an intense fear of abandonment. Be authentic and honest while explaining to your child where you are going, what you will do there, and when you will be back. I know we are only talking about a short period of time but this is very important!
6. Consider taking a break with your child
Sometimes our kids don't want to let us go. They are only young for a short period of time. Sometimes the best way to get a break is to use the tension as an opportunity to connect and relax with your child. So, remember that you always have the option of saying, "I do not like what is happening between us right now. Let's go hang out on the couch and snuggle or watch a movie together". Breaks may look different with older children but may include taking a walk, cooking, or doing some sort of activity together.
7. With babies and toddlers sometimes you just have to go
My kids are all school aged and older now so it is easier for me to seperate from them. But when my kids were younger, sometimes just walking into another room would set off tears. So if this is the situation you are in, sometimes you just have to lovingly and confidently tell your little one that you are leaving and will be back. Give a hug and kiss, leave him in the loving arms of a trusted adult, and go. This is tough to do, I know. But when we communicate our need to break with simplicity, strength, and swiftness, it is much easier on our little ones than dragging out painful goodbyes. This phase will pass, I promise.
Have you ever found it difficult to get space when you feel as if you really need it? What strategies have you utilized to take a break with grace? Let me know about it in the comments box below!