Emotional Regulation for Parents

May 01, 2024

Parenting is undoubtedly one of life's greatest joys, but it can also be incredibly challenging. From the sleepless nights of infancy to the turbulent teenage years, navigating the ups and downs of raising children requires a steady hand and a calm mind. But we know how easy it is for us as parents to become overwhelmed by our own emotions, which can hinder our ability to effectively support our children. That's where the importance of calming strategies comes into play!

We know that for some, calming strategies can feel way too touchy-feely. We get it. Our goal is not for you to become a yogi or meditate for hours, but to have QUICK solutions that help you become more regulated so you can tackle tricky situations with a clear mind. We all can benefit from taking a break to let our big emotions cool a bit!

Why do calming strategies matter?

1. **Modeling Behavior:** Children learn by example, and parents who demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress and emotions set a powerful example for their children to follow. By incorporating calming strategies into their own lives, parents teach their children valuable skills that they can carry with them into adulthood. We have several posts about mirror neurons – this is a unique part of our brain that allows us to learn by watching. Even toddlers as young as 14 months are able to imitate actions after watching their parents. If we want our children to handle big feelings and respond calmly, we also need to hold ourselves to that standard – but we know it is hard for us and our kids!

2. **Enhanced Problem-Solving:** When parents are calm and composed, we are better equipped to handle challenging situations and solve problems effectively. Rather than reacting impulsively out of frustration or anger, we can approach conflicts with a clear mind and a rational perspective, which often leads to more positive outcomes. We are also able to avoid power struggles and getting roped into arguments or debates!

3. **Improved Communication:** Calm parents are better communicators. We are better able to listen attentively to our children's concerns, validate their feelings, and respond thoughtfully rather than reactively. This fosters trust and strengthens the parent-child bond, creating an environment where open and honest communication can flourish. Remember, we want to establish this early so that our kids come to us with their problems at 10, 13, 17, and beyond! In our parenting course we discuss the importance of being steady and consistent. If we swing wildly in our responses, such as sometimes yelling and flying off of the handle and other times responding as if the situation is no big deal, our kids get confused. Please note, we all make mistakes and lose our cool sometimes – we are human! But the goal is to try to avoid these big swings.

4. **Emotional Regulation:** Parenting is an emotional rollercoaster, and maintaining emotional balance is essential for both parents and children. Calming strategies help parents regulate their own emotions, preventing us from becoming overwhelmed and allowing us to respond to our children's needs with patience and empathy. The more we practice calming our big emotions, the easier it gets!

**Calming Strategies for Parents:**

1. **Deep Breathing Exercises:** Taking slow, deep breaths activates the body's relaxation response and reduces stress levels. Have you ever noticed when you get upset your heart starts racing and you breathe faster? Purposefully focusing on your breathing helps calm this response and gets your heart rate back to normal.

2. **Time:** Sometimes we just need a minute to think and gather ourselves, which is hard to do if your child is in an active tantrum. Walking away for a few moments is always better than responding out of anger! As long as you go back and address the problem, you can give yourself some time. You can even say, “I’m getting really upset and need a few minutes so I can handle this in the best way. I’ll be back and then we can talk about how to solve this.”

3. **Distraction:** Doing a small activity to distract yourself from the big emotions can be incredibly powerful. We like things such as putting lotion on your hands, counting to 30, splashing water on your face, squeezing an ice cube – it could be almost anything!

4. **Physical Activity:** Engage in regular exercise to release tension, boost mood, and promote overall well-being is helpful for so many aspects of our life. When we have big feelings, sometimes we need some sort of release (which is why people resort to screaming or throwing things). Consider activities like talking a walk, doing a few jumping jacks, or even squeezing your fists 10 times in a row.

5. **Support:** Have you seen our video about Tap In/Tap Out? If you are getting really overwhelmed and have a partner, develop a non-verbal signal where you can notify them that you need them to step in for you. For us, we also allow the other person to place their hand on our arm when they feel like they NEED to step in as the other parent is starting to get too emotionally invested. We have agreed to not take it personally and view each other as supports, rather than one of us criticizing the other.

**Research on the Impact of Regulated Adults on Child Development:**

Numerous studies have demonstrated the profound impact that regulated adults have on child development. Research published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that parents who effectively regulate their own emotions are better able to provide sensitive and responsive care to their children, leading to improved social-emotional development and fewer behavioral problems.

Furthermore, a study published in Developmental Psychology found that children whose parents exhibit high levels of emotional regulation are more likely to develop strong self-regulation skills themselves, which are crucial for academic success, emotional well-being, and positive social relationships. Studies have consistently shown that having strong emotional functioning is linked to academic and lifelong success more than grades.

By prioritizing their own emotional well-being and incorporating calming strategies into our daily lives, parents can create a nurturing and supportive environment that fosters their children's growth and development. As the saying goes, "When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to care for others," and nowhere is this more true than in the journey of parenthood.

Want more like this? Transform your home with our Parenting 101 Course, and weekly tips from two Child Psychologists. 

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