In this season where we've been so focused on finding the perfect presents to light up our child's eyes and bring magic to their lives, it's worth remembering that the real magic is something closer to home.
After all, no matter what material gift our child thought would make them happy, the present they really wanted is an emotionally
generous parent, who has a sense of humor, sets limits calmly, stays patient even when the child misses the mark, and encourages the child when they
feel blue. A parent who puts down their phone to listen to their child. A parent who is committed to their own growth, so they're able to calm the
storm instead of making it worse when their child pushes their buttons.
How can we become the parents we want our children to have? We can take responsibility for our own healing. Here's how.
1. Pay attention.
Whenever we get "triggered" we've stumbled on something that needs healing.
Yes, children always seem to know how to drive their parents crazy. But the craziness is still ours. After all, if you didn't already have a button there, your child wouldn't be able to push it -- and you would be able to set limits without losing your temper.
I know that can be hard to accept, but if your buttons are getting pushed, they're YOUR buttons. Not that kids don't act like kids -- they always do! Often their behavior is off-track and needs to be redirected. But if you didn't have a hot button there, you wouldn't take it personally -- so you would be able to respond more calmly and effectively to your child's behavior.
2. Break the cycle by using your inner Pause button.
When your emotions are "triggered," you're in fight or flight -- so your child looks like the enemy. You can't be the parent your child deserves at those times. So when you notice your anger escalating, even if you're already well down the wrong path, STOP. Take a deep breath and hit the pause button. Don't be embarrassed; you're modeling good anger management. Reserve your embarrassment for when you have a tantrum. (See Handling Your Own Anger.)
3. Acknowledge the emotions without taking action.
This is otherwise known as mindfulness. Notice the sensations in your body, but don't take action. Just feel it; that's what heals it. This doesn't mean thinking about what happened and getting all tangled up in the story line, which will just mire you in the muck. We feel emotions in the body. So noticing the feeling simply means noticing the sensations in your body. When you welcome what you're feeling but resist the urge to act on it, while holding yourself with compassion, the emotions begin to dissipate. That actually dissolves the old emotional trigger. Every time you do this, you're rewiring your brain.
4. Get support in working through your baggage.
Miraculously, we as parents always seem to be gifted with the perfect child for us, meaning that somehow our children always seem to awaken whatever we need to heal. If we can accept that gift with an open heart and work on ourselves, we transform. If we resist, and blame our child for "misbehaving," it's almost like blaming the mirror for our reflection. And we burden our child with our own unfinished business.
Parenting support groups, coaching and parenting courses can be invaluable in supporting you to re-frame your parenting. There is no shame in asking for help. The shame would be in reneging on your responsibility as a parent by visiting your own issues on your child. If you think you need help, please don't wait. Give yourself the support you need.
We all have a harder time self-regulating when we’re stressed out, so it's our job to contain the stress. Just say No to electronics when you're with
your kids, given that you're much more likely to yell at your child if you're trying to focus on a screen. Develop a repertoire of habits that
help you de-stress: regular exercise, yoga, hot baths, meditation. Can’t find the time? Involve the whole family. Put on music and dance together,
go for a walk in the woods, listen to a guided meditation together, put everyone to bed with books early on Friday night for a quiet evening and
catching up on your sleep. Maintaining your own well-being is one of your most important responsibilities as a parent, because otherwise you can't
be the parent you want your child to have.
When we aren't carrying a full backpack of our own tangled-up emotions, we become more accepting of our child's emotions. That's important, because research shows that when parents are able to accept the full range of their child's feelings, the child becomes better able to manage his emotions and soothe himself. Naturally, he's more able to manage his behavior. So the gift comes full circle, making parenting easier.
No matter how much we work on ourselves, we'll never be perfect. That's okay; we're human. Kids don't need perfect parents, because they aren't perfect either. What they need is a parent who models how to handle big emotions responsibly. We can only do that if we work on healing our own triggers, so they don't hijack us. It's hard work, but if we pay attention, use our inner Pause buttons, and keep our stress at manageable levels, we can usually manage ourselves well enough to liberate ourselves -- and our children -- from our own pasts.
And breaking that cycle is the greatest gift we can give our children, any time of the year.