Staying calm when our kids aren’t is a major challenge even for the most zen parents and even under the best circumstances.
Take a worldwide pandemic, throw in some homeschooling along with a dramatic decrease in downtime to recharge our batteries and suddenly, keeping our cool with our kids goes from a major challenge to seemingly impossible.
We are going to lose our temper sometimes, there’s simply no way around it. Like the other day when my older son was falling apart and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I snapped and desperately yelled, “Why are you acting like this? Why?!”
I felt like I was in one of those “Calgon, take me away” commercials from the ’70s. And I felt terrible for yelling.
The good news is that there are ways to minimize these moments—and there’s something we can do to reconnect with your child. In the therapy world it’s called “repairing the rupture” or, for the rest of us: an apology.
Taking full responsibility for our actions, giving a sincere, heartfelt apology and reconnecting after a relational rupture is absolutely essential in order to maintain a close connection with our child and to ensure he feels seen, safe, soothed and secure.
In fact, making a repair is the single, most important thing we can do after a not-so-great parenting moment. Here’s how to reconnect with your child when you momentarily lose your cool.
The scenario: Your child has pushed your buttons to your breaking point. You’ve yelled, said something shaming or behaved like a tantruming 3-year-old.
1. Take a breather.
Before you do anything, you must first make sure your nervous system has settled down. Trying to make a repair while you’re still in the midst of a limbic system hijack is like trying to fix an airplane while it’s flying; you’ll have much better luck once you’re grounded.
Disengage, take some deep breaths, say a calming mantra, whatever helps you de-escalate.
Once both your and your child’s nervous system is back to normal, move on to the next step.
2. Own up.
Making a sincere, heartfelt apology in which you take full responsibility for your actions is the most crucial step in making a repair. While it’s a simple concept, the “taking full responsibility” part can be surprisingly hard to do.
The biggest mistake we make when apologizing is using the words but or if:
“I’m so sorry I yelled, BUT you weren’t listening and I asked three times to stop hitting your brother.”
“I’m sorry I got upset. IF you had just listened and stopped behaving like a maniac, I wouldn’t have lost my temper.”
Nope! A true apology does not include the words but or if. It does not concern itself with who is to blame, it does not expect forgiveness and it never includes the statement, “I’m sorry you felt that way.” (The worst!)
A true apology has five components:
1. Taking full responsibility for your role in the conflict.
2. Giving a truthful explanation for your behavior.
3. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.
4. Communicating empathy for his experience.
5. Expressing genuine remorse for your actions.
It sounds something like this: “I’m so sorry I got angry, you didn’t deserve that. Sometimes it’s hard for Mommy to stay calm and I need to work on that. I imagine it’s scary when Mommy yells. I love you very much and I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings.”
3. Be curious.
After you’ve apologized, ask your child how they feel. What was their experience like? Did they feel scared when you yelled? Sad? Angry? Get curious about what was going on that caused them to do whatever it was that triggered you.
Resist the urge to rebut, explain or interject. Instead, practice active listening by reflecting back what you hear and validating their experience.
4. Hug it out.
Physical touch is the best way we can reconnect with our child—a warm embrace can often cancel out the negative feelings that arose during the tense interaction. Why? Because tender physical contact releases a hormone called oxytocin which promotes trust and safety.
When we snuggle, cuddle, hold, hug, pat and kiss our kids, they’re reassured of our love and are reminded that we’re always there for them, no matter what.
5. Let it go.
Once you’ve gone through these steps and have reestablished the connection with your child, it’s time to let it go. There’s no use in beating yourself up or ruminating about it.
Modeling self-compassion and self-forgiveness sends a powerful message to our kids. It shows them that we accept our humanness, that we’re not perfect and that’s ok. We’re all works in progress. The goal is to own our mistakes and then learn from them.
When we learn and practice the art of an apology we create a silver lining for our parenting fails. We take our worst parenting moments and we transform them into opportunities to model personal accountability, empathy, and self-compassion- three of the most important things we can teach our children.
Now, more than ever, is a crucial time to put the art of the apology into practice with our kids. They need reassurance that everything is going to be okay just as much as we do.
A version of this post was originally published on SensoryMom.com.