As we grow tiny souls in our bellies, it's much more exciting to take breastfeeding classes, a birthing course, or even DIY wallpaper classes at Home Depot to plan the perfect nursery… but planning for fear, anxiety and anger? Not so much.
At least that's what I always thought before real humans (who quickly turned into toddlers that screamed "NO" with explosive tears and meltdowns), were actually entrusted to my care.
I had always thought I'd handle parenthood with total ease and calm because that's who I was. I had always been great with kids, but we all know it's different once you have your own, a lesson I definitely learned when things took a sharp turn south for me as a mom the year I had my second colicky baby and my first child's strong-willed soul reached its record-breaking peak at age 3.
Fear, anger and anxiety became my everyday go-to emotions, and my back-breaking norm.
After working with thousands of parents through the years, I know that these three strong emotions catch a lot of moms by surprise and it makes sense. Most of us didn't grow up in homes that taught us how to take care of ourselves and act with integrity when we got angry, felt anxious or were scared of something.
We grew up thinking happy was good and sad, angry and scared was bad. Do anything to avoid those and if they did come up, get out and away from them fast.
Building a solid preparation kit for how to identify and manage these strong emotions is essential in finding more peace in parenthood.
These nine tips and tools can help you navigate through these feelings with integrity to get you to a place where even the most challenging of parenting situations are handled with great purpose, intention, confidence and calm.
1. Practice a pause and connect with your heart.
- Take a break from: Reacting like a volcano.
- Try: Responding as an EMT driver would.
Many times, when a strong feeling of anger, anxiety or fear pops up, we have zero space between the stimulus (misbehavior) and our reaction. When we react so quickly, we squash our chances of purposely planning our next steps.
When something triggers you, take notice of your blood boiling, or your urge to yell, or your teeth clenching… and just pause to practice a heart connector. Put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath and find a healthy intention (to teach, to model, to redirect), then respond to the challenging situation.
2. Ask yourself why.
- Take a break from: Assuming you know why your child misbehaved.
- Try: Getting curious and asking questions.
It can be so easy to think we know what is going on, but often, our kids are here to teach us just as much as we are teaching them. When we slow down to "seek to understand" why they're upset, or the reason behind a sibling squabble, or the feelings they felt when they talked back, we open our hearts to working with our kids and many times get surprised by what we learn.Trusting that our kids are not out to get us, but instead just figuring out how to live this thing we call life, leads us to want to understand them versus assuming we know their negative intentions.
3. Dive headfirst into empathy.
- Take a break from: Thinking I would never or seeing your child as so different than you.
- Try: Imagining what it must feel like to be in their shoes.
We were kids once and we've all had those times in life where you just hated having a little brother, or just really disliked math, or really, really wanted to have soda with dinner every night.
Exercising your empathy muscles will cause you to feel connected with your kiddo and will do wonders to soften your heart while also helping your child feel understood (causing them to listen and behave better).
4. State your feelings aloud.
- Take a break from: Internalizing everything and skipping over feelings.
- Try: Saying aloud, "I feel _____"
Our feelings are meant to be felt, but since many of us didn't grow up with this truth, it can be easy to skip over them and move right to actions we regret when we feel angry, anxious or scared.
Slowing down to say aloud how you feel helps your brain remember, This is a feeling and I have a choice with how I process and manage it. Saying your feelings aloud also models to your kids what healthy emotional intelligence and management looks like.
5. Ask for help.
- Take a break from: Thinking you have to do it all alone.
- Try: Asking your kids or spouse for what you want after you've stated how you feel.
When we get angry, we can create a pseudo sense of power with actions like yelling, controlling or forcing, that later make us feel guilty and shameful. Combining verbiage of "I feel like...", with "I want..." will help you feel powerful at the very same time you are feeling powerless (which will lead to you feeling better).
Asking for what you want is important to model for your kids too as we want our children to grow up being able to ask for what they want instead of always telling people what they don't want.
6. Walk away if needed.
- Take a break from: Thinking the problem is a life or death situation.
- Try: Stepping to the side to self-calm.
It's beyond easy to get caught up in the busy rat-race style of life where every day is a rush, every moment of the week is filled, and every situation needs to be handled in a rush. But it's important to slow down and think through the way we show up, especially when challenges arise.
Rushing through conflict resolution doesn't work well. Effective problem solving takes place once we are calm, so be sure you and your children have built a self-calming bag (a tool taught inside of The Fresh Start Family Foundations Course) to use when you feel anxiety, fear or anger rising. Step to the side, do some things to take care of yourself and then come back to the situation when you're ready to be a teacher.
7. Try it again.
- Take a break from: Quitting when things don't go perfectly the first time.
- Try: Consistently trying to look inward and model what you want, even after failure.
Many parents jump off the train way too early when trying new positive parenting tools. Kids (just like adults) often have trouble transitioning to new things. Switch it up and everyone gets a little confused.
First time application can be like a new deer learning to walk with shaky legs. Slipping and falling is part of the journey but doesn't mean it's not working. Expect messiness, embrace messiness, learn from messiness, keep trying.
8. Experiment with silence.
- Take a break from: Believing the myth that sometimes you have to yell to get your child to listen.
- Try: Walking over and using loving touch, a warm smile and silence (or one word).
Silence and fewer words can be incredibly effective at getting kids to listen, especially if they're used to an adult who yells when angry. Raising our voice can be exhausting, so save your energy and instead use it to walk up and look your child in their beautiful eyes and touch them softly on their shoulder or offer a warm hug.
The connection this process brings will help bring you down to room temperature with your emotions while also moving your child to listen and cooperate better.
9. Give yourself credit.
- Take a break from: Berating yourself about the times your fear, anxiety or anger has flared up.
- Try: Keeping track of all the times where your hard work and efforts to learn and grow have paid off.
Beating ourselves up over our moments of complete messiness doesn't help us learn and grow. When you try new things like:
- Empathy instead of nagging
- Silence instead of yelling
- Responding instead of reacting
- Walking away instead of hurting
- Asking for help instead of silently wishing others would change
- Feeling your feelings before jumping into action…
...acknowledge your courage and success. Share with someone how proud you are of yourself and how much work it took to even try some new things with your kids, emotions and parenting.
Writing in your journal each night is a great way to do this, or even saying to yourself while you brush your teeth three things you slayed today will help you see your magnificence and remind you that even amidst anger, fear and anxiety, joy and growth can exist.