By: Cristina Trette
No parent wants to blow up on their kids. Yet, it can happen. Being a conscious parent takes a considerable amount of self-discipline in developing awareness. Despite hectic and busy lives there are ways to enhance your state of well-being and become more responsive. It will take time and it will not happen overnight. But I promise, with some slight changes, you can experience less reactivity and more peace. Read on!
1. Your food affects your mood.
I was a teenager during the fat-free craze so there was a time in my life when I lived on candy, pretzels, and diet coke and thought I was healthy because there was no fat in my diet. Thankfully my knowledge of nutrition has changed and today I focus on eating organic whole foods as much as possible. Instead of avoiding or eliminating the foods you know you should not eat, such as processed foods and sugary sweets, it helps to focus on filling up with foods that you know are good for you. Eat a wide range of organic veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and organic meats, while still allowing yourself to eat occasional treat if you want it. Highly restrictive diets set individuals up for a deprivation mentality making it more likely they will feel edgy and snap at their kids. Diets with high sugar and white flour do not give your brain the nutrition it needs and could make it more likely that you blow up on your kids.
One of the easiest ways to elevate your mood and become more relaxed overall is to exercise every single day. This can be as simple as putting on shoes and walking for 20 minutes. If you have to choose between doing 20 minutes of doing laundry and 20 minutes of walking - please - choose the walking! We have a fantastic Y near my house that offers free on-site child care, a great workout facility, and exercise class schedule. Check to see if something like this exists in your neighborhood. There are plenty of fun ways to bring exercise into your life too. Ride bikes with your kids or go to dance classes. Research solidly backs up many benefits of exercise: people who exercise moderately have lower rates of stress-response, depression. Lower overall stress response means it will be easier for you to keep your cool with your kids when things get hectic.
3. Ask your inner-critic to take it down a notch.
You inner critic can fuel thoughts and feelings making it more likely that you will become very angry and highly reactive. Is your inner-critic loud? I am a recovering self-critic. I used to be very critical of myself when my kids fought. For example, if one kid pushed another, I would quickly jump to thoughts that I was a terrible parent. Or, if I yelled, I would beat myself up, get stuck in a negative mood, making it more likely I would yell again! What a cycle! It took some inner work to unravel all of this, but these days I am much kind to myself when my kids start acting out or when I make a mistake. A fantastic book to read is to help you ease up with yourself is, "The Mindful Path to Self Compassion" by Christopher Germer.
4. Connect with your body
Do you grip the steering wheel when driving in traffic? Do your shoulders tighten when you are rushing to get out of the house ? Do you clench your jaw when your toddler has a tantrum? This kind of tension builds up in your body and can keep you in a state of stress. If you do not do anything to release the tension, you will eventually explode. Become aware of the areas in your body where you hold tension and actively release these areas through your breath or self massage. Or, make it a habit to relax your body at night before going to sleep. One great exercise is the progressive relaxation exercise. Starting with your toes, tighten your toes and then release. Next, tighten your whole foot and release. Continue moving all the way up through your body until you finish with your face and head. While moving through the body parts, allow your breath to flow through and relax each body part. This is a great exercise to teach your children before they go to sleep too. Not only will you be providing them with a stress-reducing skill but connecting with your children at bedtime can strengthen your relationship.
5. Examine your beliefs
What thoughts and beliefs kick-in when things get intense between you and your child? For many parents, the belief that they have to control their child and "be the boss" makes it more likely that the parent and child will engage in power-struggles. You will know if a limiting belief is affecting your relationship with your child if you tend to think thoughts such as: she is manipulating me, she is spoiled, I can’t let him get away with this, or I need to show him who is boss. The beliefs mentioned above fuel autocratic parenting that relies on fear-based discipline to control children. Conscious parents work hard to think thoughts that honor their role as leaders and loving authority figures rather than dictators demanding obedience. The next time you catch yourself thinking destructive thoughts that make it more likely you will punish, or in some other way tear down your child, remember to pause. Spend some time choosing better feeling thoughts and do not proceed with you child until you are moving from a place of respect. To learn more about how to change your thoughts, click here.
One of the most damaging myths that has circulated in parenting and early childhood education settings is the assumption that you have to take discipline action immediately in order for a child to learn a lesson. This concept may work well when we are training rats in a lab. But humans are complex and so many factors go into shaping behavior. The truth is, we do not tend to learn when in a state of fight-or-flight. To put this into perspective think about how you learn best. We can all recount experiences when true learning took place after having had time to think, reflect, and process. It is OK to save the discussion until you have both calmed down. Sometimes the very best form of discipline is to tell your child that you will discuss the poor behavior or disruptive incident later. In the case of handling a child that is in the midst of a tantrum or emotional overwhelm or there is never anything wrong with gently bringing your child into a private place or waiting until the storm has passed to address something.
7. The heart-connector
Susie Walton, the creator of Joy of Parenting, taught me an effective parenting tool called the heart-connector that I use on a daily basis when interacting with my children and loved ones. The next time you find yourself getting really upset with you kids, place your hand over your heart and breathe deeply. First acknowledge your own feelings. Are you angry? Are you sad? Your feelings are valid. It is important that you feel. Continue to keep your hand on your heart while you breathe and honor your feelings. It may help to name your feeling out-loud. Once feeling centered, and connected to your heart, take action with your child.
8. I-am statements
One of the most powerful tools I have learned from Pam Dunn, founder of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company, is the use of I-am statements. In your journal, write down qualities and strengths that you already possess, as well as, qualities and strengths that you would like to cultivate. Here is an example of an I-am statement that could benefit my parenting: I am responsive, confident, thoughtful, and loving. Repeating this phrase in my mind before I engage in a challenging situation with my child makes it more likely that I will remain centered. It also makes it more likely that the outcome will be in my best interest and the best interest of my child too. Yesterday one child of mine was being disruptive at lunch. It took him ages to come sit and eat. Once he got to the table he would not sit still, refused to eat his salad, and dumped half the jar of cheese on his food. I was very hungry myself so I had a hard time handling the situation. Yet, I managed to say responsive and address the behaviors in a kind and firm way. I was able to do this because my inner self talk went like this: "I am loving, respectful, and firm". I said this in my head numerous times, while placing my hand over my heart, which enabled me to take action while staying connected.
9. Start meditating
It takes self-discipline to commit to a meditation practice. In my early twenties I meditated most days of the week. At some point I abandoned the practice because I thought that I did not have enough time. Recently started meditating again and it has had a profound effect on my parenting. I feel much more responsive overall. Start by finding a quiet place in your house that is free from distractions. Set your phone timer to let you know when 20 minutes ends. Sit up straight, crossed legged, resting your hands gently on your lap with palms up. Begin by focusing on your breathe. Allow yourself to breathe in the way that is most comfortable for you. Then, it helps to recite a mantra, or a phrase, over and over again. There are also many Sanskrit phrases you can use that will instantly bring about more peace. The phrase I have repeated since I was a child is "om sai ram". Or you can repeat, "I am love". When meditating, your mind will wander and various thoughts will come, this is normal. If you start to notice thoughts, gently bring yourself back to your breath or mantra. Having a daily silent meditation practice is the most effective way to become a more responsive parent overall.
10. Connect with nature
Nature is soothing. My personal opinion is that we all have a need for nature. Connecting with nature can be as simple as basking in the sun for a few minutes on the balcony, gardening, or watering the flowers. My love of nature mostly consists of being in the ocean and running on the beach. But I also find joy in listening to the birds sing and in being outdoors with my kids. The ways to connect with nature are endless. Find peace in hiking, swimming in a lake, or having a picnic at a grassy field. There has been evidence suggesting that the increase in ADHD symptoms is associated with more and more children lacking time in nature. Let your kids climb trees, get muddy, and roll around in the dirt as much as you possibly can!
Many children respond positively to being touched. A hand on the shoulder, a quick neck rub, or even picking your child up and holding him with love and strength are all wonderful ways to sooth your child and yourself. I used to be a massage therapist and had years of experience working with a variety of clients with a wide range of issues. Through this work I learned important and simple truths: touch is healing and humans have a lifelong need to touch others, to be touched, to hold others, and be held. If you are finding yourself moving into a place where you are about to lose with your child, try reach out and connecting through physical affection instead. Physical touch allows co-regulation to unfold.
Have you been able to transition from being highly reaction to responsive? What suggestions do you have to help you remain conscious and connected to your