"Can you give tips on how to stay connected when you feel irritable? I'm not yelling, but I’m not as respectful as I think I should be." – Katherine
We all have irritable days, when we find ourselves reacting to our child with impatience. We know what respect and compassion look like, but somehow we can’t find them at that moment. We might feel so fed up that connecting is the last thing we feel like doing.
As long as you catch yourself, apologize, and get yourself back on track, the humans who love you will forgive you. In fact, the way you repair those small relationship ruptures will teach your child some essential lessons about life and love.
Katherine's question shows that she already knows the answer for those irritable times: Re-connect with your child, so you're more emotionally generous and she's more cooperative. After all, we know that when we get impatient, kids act worse.
The hard part, of course, is that we can't reconnect until we first shift out of that irritable place. So start by shifting gears. Here's how.
1. Notice your own impatience.
You feel irritated, like your child is being a problem. And maybe she is. But instead of using that as permission to get mad, use it as your red flag that you need to stop and shift gears. Remind yourself that when you're feeling really good, you respond to her with more emotional generosity.
What if your child is being really difficult, maybe even impossible? You can't change your child directly, but you CAN change your own reaction. The more you can react with understanding, the more likely your child will calm down, too.
Remember, those are YOUR emotions. Your child may be triggering them, but as you're always telling your child, it's your job to manage your own emotions.
The only choice you have here is whether to make things better or worse. Can you choose love?
2. Summon up all the compassion you can for yourself.
Okay, you aren’t at your best right now. Maybe you’re being brusque or irritable or whining or snappish. That’s not a sign that you’re a bad person. It’s a sign that you need some help. Your job is to be the grown-up in the situation and give yourself that help! (As opposed to taking your upset out on someone else.) That starts with giving yourself some nurturing. Start by speaking tenderly to yourself, reassuring yourself. You might think of this as filling your own cup, or even re-parenting yourself.
3. Just be with yourself for a few moments.
You’ll notice annoyance or impatience, but take a deep breath and look past your judgments (“Why can’t he just behave?!”) to the fears behind your anger (“What if he's still doing this when he's 20?... If I were a better parent, this wouldn’t be happening… Will I ever get my own needs met?”)
Behind our annoyance there's usually fear or grief or hurt or powerlessness. The secret is that once you hold yourself with compassion and let yourself feel those emotions, they start to evaporate. Just don’t take action based on those feelings. That urgent need to set your child straight right now? That means you're in fight mode. Instead, take a deep breath, hug yourself, and allow the more vulnerable feelings underneath to surface.
This is one of the most important steps toward emotional wholeness and healing you can take – just feeling those yucky emotions that come up in the course of your everyday life, instead of hiding in little addictions like screens, food and shopping. Many of these feelings are triggered by baggage that goes back to our childhoods.
Every time you simply love yourself through an emotion by letting yourself feel it without acting on it, you're dissolving it, emptying it out of your emotional backpack. You're actually rewiring your brain.
4. Move your body to shift the emotion.
Take ten deep breaths. Shake out your hands. Jump up and down. Do a yoga stretch. Run your hands under warm water. Put on music and dance for five minutes. If you find yourself yawning or trembling, that's just emotion leaving your body. Think of all that emotion as "energy in motion" and just let it move through you and on out. (Have kids with you? Have a family dance break!)
5. Give yourself a hug.
Acknowledge yourself for your courage in being willing to face those upsets that were making you irritable. Express gratitude for that red flag (your own impatience) that helped you do this small healing and get back on track before a major firestorm erupted. Take a deep breath and remind yourself "She's acting like a child because she IS a child... There's no emergency... What would love do?"
The steps are easy -- Notice, Choose Compassion, Feel, Move, Hug!
But actually doing them is some of the hardest work we do -- choosing to take responsibility for our own reactions instead of taking our mood out on someone else. The good news is that you're rewiring your brain, so it gets easier every time you do it. And you'll notice over time that your irritable moments are less and less frequent. Which gives you lots more room for joyful connection.
And what about Katherine’s question? How do you reconnect with your child, once you shift into a more positive place? That’s our next post.
Want more support to rewire your brain for more calm and happiness? Don't miss Dr. Laura's Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids WORKBOOK! The first half is all about YOU -- how to self-regulate, heal your triggers, work through your own emotional baggage, and support yourself for more happiness. (The second half of the WORKBOOK walks you through setting empathic limits, emotion coaching your child, and deepening your relationship with your child.)