"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
In our last post, we described how to check in with yourself and shift your own state so that you feel better. Tough? Yes! But it gets easier with practice, and what an invaluable skill! Here's how to regain your equilibrium on those tough days.
Then, once you feel a bit less tense, you won't be so annoyed with your child. Still don't feel like re-connecting? We've all felt that way. But you're the grown-up, so this is on you. If you don't reconnect, the distance will grow and your child's behavior will get worse. I know it's hard to give up "being right." But don't you care more about strengthening your relationship with your child? You can do this. Choose Love.
1. Create safety with a "do over."
If things have gotten tense between you, the first priority is always to restore a sense of safety. If your child is acting up, she's usually in "fight or flight." You can help her feel safe again by summoning up all your warmth and compassion. You might begin with a big hug, or at least with a warm smile.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you.... I was getting anxious. Let's try a do-over.... Here's what I meant to say..."
2. Reconnect physically.
Kids often need physical "refueling" to feel connected, so the easiest way to reconnect is often to grab a book and snuggle on the couch reading to them for a few minutes. For an older child, try plopping down on the couch with them and giving a foot rub.
3. Get back in sync with your child using play.
No child can resist an invitation to play, at least once they feel safe. Play reconnects us by triggering connection hormones like oxytocin. And if your child is acting out, laughter is often the perfect way to help her shift the stress hormones that are making her tense and difficult. Every child (and adult!) needs plenty of hearty laughter every day.
Of course, if you're feeling tense, play will be the last thing you want to do. So always start with shifting your own mood first. Then, ease into it. You don't have to put on a circus act. Just aim for a lighter tone:
"Excuse ME, you silly guy, do you think you're a cat with your face in that cereal bowl? What happened to your spoon?"
Sometimes, though, high-intensity kids get really revved up. To re-connect, they need us to match their high level of energy. This can be especially true if they're picking up and expressing the anxieties of the adults around them. With kids like this, you may need to be higher energy, even a bit outrageous.
"What do you mean, NO?! I'm the Queen of the Jungle, and when I say it's time, it's time! You want to hear my loud roar? Rooooaaarrrr!....Bet you can't roar that loud! Oh, my, listen to you!! Oh, my poor ears! You have a mighty powerful roar!!! Okay, but who's stronger? Put your hands up against mine and see if you can push me across the room.... Oh, no! How did you get so strong?"
This gets both of you giggling, gets out a lot of energy, and completely shifts the dynamic so that five minutes later, you and your child are a team once again. After matching the high-intensity, you can even help your child down-shift his energy level:
"But can you do a mouse squeak? I bet you can't squeak as softly as I can... See, I know mouse language... Squeak, squeak, squeak... Guess what I was saying?"
4. Look for a win-win solution
by seeing it from his point of view. Focus on what really matters, not on controlling your child to get your way. If you're in a standoff, reconnect with your child by acknowledging what she wants at the same time that you clarify what you need. If you can actually see the situation from your child's perspective, you've just reconnected, even if you can't give her exactly what she wants.
"Isabella, let's find a way to make this work for both of us. I hear how much you want X....and right now I need Y....What solution can we find so that we're both happy?"
5. Empathize and Listen.
And what if your child doesn't respond to play? It may be that he's beyond laughter right now. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that he's just a kid, looking to you for love and support. Even if you don't agree with him, acknowledge things from his perspective: "You're still pretty upset.... Tell me about it, Alexander." Stay as compassionate as you can, and help him soften into those more vulnerable emotions that are driving him to act out. Tears aren't bad -- they're essential for your child to work through pain. Once he has a chance to cry, he'll be in your arms looking to reconnect. And I guarantee your day will get a whole lot better.
Too hard to do this when you're having a hard day? You're right. That's why you start by shifting your own mood, as we described in our last post: Feeling Irritable? 5 Easy Steps To Shift Into a Better Place.
And what if despite your best efforts, you still feel irritable, and there's no other adult around? When you're having a hard time holding it together until bedtime, bring bedtime on faster. Feed the kids peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks out of the bag, and put everyone to bed early. Especially you. Things are always better in the morning.