"Make a habit of bringing your awareness to your breathing frequently throughout your day. Our breath connects us to feelings of peace and contentment. Take a minute to deepen your breath from shallow, tense chest breathing to relaxed, deep belly breathing. When you feel totally overwhelmed, stop whatever you're doing, close your eyes if possible, take three deep breaths, and let your body and mind relax." -- Jan Marie Dore
We all know that we're more likely to snap at our child when we're stressed. That's because we're already half-way to fight, flight or freeze, so any childish behavior pushes us over the edge.
But life with children will always include childish behavior, and life in the modern age is full of triggers that make us stressed.
Of course, those triggers, be they tantrums or traffic jams, don't actually make us tense. We make ourselves tense in response to them. It's a choice. It may be hard to believe, but it's entirely possible to feel at peace during a traffic jam -- or even a tantrum.
The easiest way to remind yourself to let go of tension in those stressful moments is simply to breathe. Seems impossible, right? How could breathing be an effective antidote to those big emotions that grip us?
But deep breaths actually decrease the "fight, flight or freeze" neurotransmitters in your body. That's because if a tiger were chasing you, you wouldn't stop to take a deep breath! So slow, deep conscious breathing gives your nervous system the message that the situation isn't really an emergency. You start to calm down.
That pause to breathe gives us a choice about how we respond. Wise teachers through the ages have observed that the moment between perception and action is where we have the choice not to get hijacked by our automatic responses. Noticing your breathing brings you back into your body, back into the present moment, back into balance.
In fact, if you want to change your relationship with your child, this is one of the most powerful levers you can pull. Imagine how your relationship would change if you could gradually become less reactive, so that you could respond with emotional generosity and empathic limits to all behavior from your child. You would become a much more effective teacher for your child. You would be role-modeling constructive responses to tough moments. And you would be a happier person.
This isn't easy -- in fact, it's very hard! -- but it is possible. And like most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Here's the secret. When you start to lash out, for any reason, try to remind yourself to simply Stop. Drop your agenda (just until you calm yourself.) Take a deep Breath.
If you can calm yourself down before you respond to your child, you'll find that the entire interaction is different. You're more relaxed and emotionally generous, even when you guide and correct. So the drama de-escalates.
Because all behavior is communication, you'll find yourself understanding your child better. A child who feels understood is more likely to cooperate, even in the face of limits they don't like. You being less reactive won't "cure" any special challenges your child has. But it will change the tone of your bond with your child, making it sweeter and stronger. Your child will feel safer. All of which will help your child to reach for their best self, more often.
Remember that when we bring more mindfulness to our bodies, we sometimes begin to release stored-up tears. After all, the body keeps the score in our emotional lives. Breathing opens the door to more awareness of the sensations and stored emotions in our bodies. If this happens for you, welcome those tears. Healing those old hurt places is a step toward a happier, healthier you -- and therefore a better relationship with your child.
Today, I encourage you to stop and breathe throughout your day. Every time you're upset. When you find yourself in traffic. When anyone in your house begins a meltdown. (Especially you.)
Breathing seems so simple that you may find it hard to believe its power. But as Sam I Am said about Green Eggs and Ham, "Try it, try it, and you may!"
This is post #5 in our series on self care: The Secret of the Full Cup.
The full series: