- Need to know: The importance of staying calm and self-regulated for your children.
- Staying calm in stressful situations
- Staying calm under pressure
- How to stay calm
Stay calm and carry on
“Have children” they said, “it’s a magical experience” they exclaimed. Parenting is indeed a beautiful journey filled with love, laughter, and cherished moments. However, we learn fairly quickly that it also comes with its share of challenges and tests of patience.
There are moments when our child’s behaviour can trigger intense emotions within us, pushing us to the edge. Our ability to respond calmly is directly correlated with our stress levels, and our physical and mental health. Neurodivergent parents struggle significantly more as they balance their own unique neurology with that of their child’s.
It’s important to remember that our children’s chaos is not a premeditated attack on our person. Challenging behaviour is usually a symptom of an underlying neurological difference and related problems like lack of sleep, sensory processing, frustration, miscommunication, missing executive functioning skills, or other undiagnosed physical or mental health ailments.
Why it’s important
Remaining calm in situations where we are triggered is not easy, but the benefits of keeping composed in challenging moments have an immediate and long term positive impact on your child.
It’s the foundation of co-regulation: Children learn self-regulation through co-regulation with a calm adult. Remaining in control of your own emotions before you engage with your child is the first step to diffusing an escalating situation. When you stay calm, you are better able to modulate your voice and movements. A screaming child needs a quiet voice and flailing limbs need steady hands.
It makes you an effective communicator: A calm and composed parent can communicate more effectively. It allows for clearer, more empathetic conversations, where you can guide your child without heightened emotions getting in the way.
It keeps you focused on resolving conflict: When you feel like your child’s behaviour is a personal attack and you allow those emotions to take over, a power struggle often ensues. Staying calm fosters a peaceful environment for conflict resolution. It encourages a problem-solving approach rather than escalating confrontations, which can be counterproductive.
It makes them feel safe: When your child sees that you can handle challenging situations without losing control, it builds trust. They feel safer knowing you’re there to support and guide them through difficulties.
Tips & strategies
Use the power of controlled breath: When emotions flare up, pause and take two quick breaths through your nose, exhaling slowly through your mouth. This technique (cyclic sighing) swiftly calms your nervous system, allowing you to regain clarity and respond thoughtfully. Repeat this process a few times to calm your nervous system, allowing for a more thoughtful response.
Repeat an empathetic mantra: Remind yourself that your child’s behaviour isn’t intended to make your life difficult. Kids typically don’t do things to get into trouble, they want positive attention not negative messages from their parents. Reiterate a mantra like, “My child is not giving me a hard time; they are having a hard time” to encourage a mindset shift and help you respond with empathy.
Put on your curiosity glasses: Imagine donning a pair of glasses that allow you to view the situation with curiosity rather than anger or frustration. Ask yourself “does my child possess the necessary skills to meet expectations?”. Think about their neurology and how it affects their ability to:
- Regulate their emotions and movements
- Control their impulses
- Be flexible with their thinking
- Problem solve
- Predict future consequences
- Remember instructions
- Understand unspoken expectations
Activate the mammalian diving response: Take yourself out of the room, but only if safety is not a concern, and find cold water – don’t worry, there is a good reason! Use the bathroom or kitchen sink to splash cold water on your face for an immediate reset of your hyper-aroused nervous system. This technique triggers a process called the mammalian dive reflex, which quickly calms your body’s stress response by regulating your heart rate and breathing.
Remember, your calm response in moments of chaos is a powerful tool in nurturing your relationship with your child.
- Co- and self-regulation in the caregiver-child dyad: Parental expectations, children’s compliance, and parental practices during early years
- Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal – ScienceDirect
- The diving response and cardiac vagal activity: A systematic review and meta‐analysis – Ackermann – 2023 – Psychophysiology – Wiley Online Library