It is disheartening to feel you are losing your cool with your children as often as they are losing theirs! Keeping your cool while your kids are losing theirs is challenging when you are tired, stressed, or stumped for new ways to break through to them. We know that teaching self-regulation is most effective when modeling it. However, real life happens, and we are sometimes too overwhelmed or exhausted. Our dysregulation leaks out all over them, and the challenging cycles continue. Other times, we realize we might be parenting a more challenging kid than others.
What is the PARENTS acronym?
In a CreatingaFamily.org podcast on Therapeutic Parenting, Sarah Naish dropped a practical tool on our listeners that deserves our attention. It’s an easy-to-remember acronym – it is who we are! – that walks us through the internal steps of self-regulation in challenging moments with our kids. We recommend you practice using it in calm moments to help it become a new muscle memory for your parenting toolbox.
And a bonus for you: we’re also offering it in a printable tip sheet (click on the link, right-click on the graphic to save it, then print it!) so you can have a concrete reminder to hand on your fridge or somewhere you can see it, to support yourself. We all need refreshers on these practical tools to learn self-regulation skills rather than reacting poorly to our kids’ challenging behaviors.
Practicing the art of the pause is a learned skill for most of us – and a giant step toward learning healthy self-regulation! Learn how to take a deep breath (from your diaphragm, not your chest!) and slow down. Observe how you feel. If you are stepping into a heated moment with your child, what might they be feeling? While breathing in and out slowly, think about how you can choose intentionality in your response instead of a quick gut reaction.
In the moments of breathing through your pause, quickly take stock of the situation:
- Is anyone in danger at this moment?
- Can you access a safe exit if needed?
- Is there anybody else nearby who might be a risk of harm?
- If safety is an issue, what do you need to mitigate it?
Once you’ve assessed the risk for danger and ensured everyone is physically safe, think about where the crisis or behavior originated. Do you see the circumstances that led to the outburst? Can you identify the emotional triggers your child is battling? Ask yourself, “how did we get here?” as a tool to help you be present with your child. Use that information to look for the need under your child’s behavior.
Don’t ask many questions at the height of your child’s dysregulation. Instead, make gentle, empathetic observations about their behavior or the situation. Narrate the feelings you think they are communicating with their behavior with simple statements. For example, try something like these scripts, tweaking them for the circumstances and your child’s age or ability to connect with your words.
- “You look like you are very mad right now. Your face is red, and your hands are clenched tightly.”
- “Your eyes are full of tears. You must feel very sad that you lost the game.”
- “Your face is all scrunched up and you are stomping your feet. I’ll bet you feel really frustrated right now.”
While you empathize with your child’s challenging experience or emotional blow-up, think about what you can do to provide physical comfort to them. Some of our kids appreciate a light touch or back scratch to regulate. Others prefer a cold drink. Even if your child doesn’t tolerate physical contact in moments of high dysregulation, you can offer gentle, empathetic facial expressions and close presence while they seek regulation again.
While offering empathy and nurture, think through the strategies you know can help your child get to the next stage of coping. For example, do they usually respond well to deep breathing together once they have calmed down? Do they benefit from 15 minutes on the trampoline to return to “okay?” Helping our kids experience what “okay” feels like gives them a path to get there again after a meltdown or extreme dysregulation. Co-regulating with your child can lead them to understand what self-regulation feels like.
Ask yourself what led to the extreme behavior and mentally file your observations and ideas. This thought exercise can help you understand how to reduce or eliminate those triggers in the future. You can also consider the support you can offer to avoid this scenario.
Challenging moments like rages, meltdowns, and aggression are fraught with heightened emotions – yours and your child’s. Just as you seek strategies to help your child return to a healthy state of regulation, you need to take care of your own emotions to do the same.
While in the “think” mode, identify how and when you can step away to clear your mind and refresh. Then invest in yourself once the crisis is over by engaging in “essential maintenance.” What refreshes you – even if it’s just a quick reset?
- Do you feel better once you’ve walked around the block for ten minutes?
- Can you take a few minutes away for some yoga stretching?
- Can you catch a short reel of your favorite comedian on social media?
These quick strategies for additional self-regulation in the immediate aftermath of your child’s crisis are just as vital as regularly scheduled self-care.
And speaking of regularly scheduled self-care, pay attention to your healthy habits of self-care across the weekly and monthly routine of your home. Make appointments with yourself to stay accountable for regular, health-focused self-care.Parenting a Child Exposed to Trauma
PARENTS is an Internal, Self-Work Tool
The process of the PARENTS tool is a series of quick, primarily internal steps you can take to remain calm and lead your child by co-regulation. Returning to the peaceful state of regulation for you and your child can be a healing experience – for the needs they were expressing poorly in the meltdown – and for your relationship with them. This type of self-work might be new and uncomfortable for some of you. Give yourself grace and self-compassion while you are on the learning curve. Keep practicing and trying new ways of supporting yourself and your child while learning.