The moment you become a parent, your emotions are involved, and probably more strongly than they have ever been involved in something in your life. And while these strong emotions make the good moments even better, they can become problematic when children are challenging — whether they are a few months old or well into their teenage years. When challenges arise as a parent, strong emotions can quickly become difficult to control. And, when these emotions are negative, the consequences can be detrimental to your child’s well-being.
When thinking about regulating your emotions as a parent, it is first and foremost important to realize that so many of the ways our children challenge us are simply part of growing up. As intentional as they might seem when acting a certain way, most of the time they’re just testing and learning, which is why it’s so important for us to stay calm and model good behavior.
It can be all too tempting to get angry and yell when a child is challenging you, but that is the exact opposite of what they need. In these moments, your child needs you to be calm and supportive, not angry and unreasonable. By showing your child that you can regulate your own emotions, you set a powerful positive for them to model.
Below are three helpful tips for keeping your emotions in check when parenting…
First, stay connected to your feelings. Feelings ebb and flow throughout the day for your child — and for yourself. It’s so important not to attach to how you’re feeling, otherwise you get stuck in that feeling longer than necessary. Whether positive or negative, learn how to realize how you’re feeling without judgment or critique. As you start to change your relationship to your feelings, you can better understand why you’re feeling a certain way, which will allow you to detach rather than react.
Second, change your reaction. In those moments where you feel like you’re going to yell or get upset, it can be powerful to do something completely different — like offering your child a hug rather than raising your voice. Not only does this shift your emotions automatically, but it decreases the tension in a situation, letting your child know that, even in spite of their behavior, your love doesn’t waver. A lot of parents resist this idea because they feel like their child needs to “learn a lesson” or “realize what they’ve done”. The beauty in this strategy is that it doesn’t mean you have to give in to your child’s demands or behavior. You can still offer a hug or make them laugh while explaining why a certain behavior or action needs to stop. This doesn’t make you a “weak” parent, but instead demonstrates to your child that you have the ability to maintain control while still addressing a difficult situation.
Third, take a break. When you feel like your emotions are getting the best of you (or are going to get the best of you), do yourself and your child a favor by taking a break from the situation. Letting your child know what’s happening (and making sure that they’re in a safe, secure situation for you to step away) can help them see an example of what should happen when you start to get frustrated or angry. This type of modeling is powerful for children of all ages because it lets them see that you’re “walking the walk” not just “talking the talk”. When you take a minute or two to yourself, let your child know that you’re going to come back to address the situation, but that you just need to collect yourself and your emotions before you talk to them.
Regulating your emotions as a parent takes practice, but it’s a good reminder that staying in control when you’re feeling angry, upset, or frustrated is difficult — so imagine how much more difficult it must be for a child! The more you practice, the more your child will see you as a great role model, and that’s something every parent hopes for.