In a group of new parents recently, one mom identified she is able to be mindful a lot of the time . . . except when her kids are having big emotions. When our babies or kids are screaming, crying, or upset for no real reason, it can be really hard to stay present. Many of us have a bit of a trauma response that happens when our kids are loud or out of control. If we’re not aware of ourselves, we might snap, yell, or make the problem even bigger. So, how do we stay mindful in the face of our kids’ big feelings?
I propose 5 steps:
- Stop – Just pause. Do not respond right away. If your child is safe, you do not have to do anything for just a moment. Just remembering to pause first separates you from the big emotion that is happening, and reminds you to practice some skills before you do anything else.
- Take a breath – The deeper the better, and exhale fully. This engages your parasympathetic nervous system and helps to re-engage some inner soothing, when you might have the instinct to go into “fight or flight.” Remind yourself as you breathe that you do not need to fight or fly, you can stay right where you are and be okay.
- Check with you – Quickly scan and notice what is going on inside of yourself – what thoughts, feelings, sensations are happening? This allows you to be clear on what part of what is happening is yours, maybe some scared thoughts about your child or old feelings from a past experience. Take a moment to recognize that you are having a reaction to your child’s big emotions.
- Say your strength – Remind yourself that you can handle this. Compile a list of some strengths or things you are working on as a parent ahead of time so that you have something to go to in this difficult moment. Say one of them out loud, like “I know my child best,” or “I am able to stay calm when things are tough.”
- Now you’re ready to respond to your child. Staying centered in your own strength and ability as a parent, speak to them the way that you want to, or act in the way you wish someone would respond to you when you’re having a big feeling. You might just give them a hug, you might cry with them, or you might ask some gentle questions or speak in a soothing tone. Let them know that it’s okay that they have big feelings. Remember that you do, too.
Need more practices like this one? Check out the book, Brave New Mom: A Survival Guide for Mindfully Navigating Postpartum Motherhood.