Please join me in welcoming MamaOT’s newest guest blogger, Kassandra Brown! Kassandra is a parenting coach who provides support and training to parents to help them be the best parents they can be. She is offering a special deal to MamaOT readers (details at end of post). Today she will be addressing a topic that I know affects every single one of us parents: how to handle your own feelings when caring for a fussy child. I hope you learn as much from Kassandra as I have and are able to apply her tips the next time you find your emotions about to bubble over in the midst of a tough parenting moment.
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The clock on the nightstand reads 5:45pm. Baby starts to squirm and fuss. You offer her your go-to moves but she seems disinterested. Within a few minutes, the fussing has turned to outright crying and you are reluctantly waiting for it to turn into ear-piercing screams. Many of us have dealt with colicky babies, toddler temper tantrums, or slamming doors and “I hate you!” yelling from older children. Yet this post isn’t about how to stop them from screaming or crying. This is about figuring out what’s going on for you and how you can get parenting support for yourself during those times of stress.
Here are five steps to handling hard moments:
Step 1. What are you feeling?
The first step to handling your own fussy feelings is to acknowledge that they exist. What happens in you when your child cries, whines, hits a sibling, or does his/her classic acting out behavior? Do you feel angry, sad, hopeless, ‘at the end of your rope’? Every parent comes to moments where they feel this way. What we do with those feelings is important. Pretending they aren’t there or distracting ourselves with food, TV, shopping, or conversation will just make it more likely that they will slip out sometime when our defenses aren’t up-to-snuff. Those slips are the times that are more likely to lead to behaviors you’ll regret later – like yelling or hitting. So take a deep breath and let yourself feel.
Step 2. What are you thinking?
“I’m going to crawl out of my skin if you keep screaming!” or “Kara’s baby never cries,” or “THIS IS NEVER GONG TO END!!!.” Do you think about running away, hiring a babysitter, or getting professional help from a therapist? Do you wonder why you ever had children in the first place? Do you tell yourself everyone else is a better parent than you or that their children are easier than yours? Acknowledge what you’re thinking in order to gain a better understanding of where your mind is.
Step 3. Where are you?
Ask how much of you is present and how much is in imagination (past, future, or someone else’s life). For example: A child doesn’t want to go to sleep and uses everything in his toolbox to stay awake and keep you with him. Is your reaction just about tonight or is it about all the nights he’s every resisted sleep and all the ones you fear are coming and about how your marriage is shaky and you need time with your partner and you only have these two hours from when you expect your son to go to sleep until you have to go to sleep so you can function the next day and his plea for water just cost you five more minutes of that precious partner relationship healing time? And you just know your partner is pissed that you aren’t doing the ‘cry it out’ method?
Step 4. Have empathy.
First, for yourself. Second, for your child. Third, for everyone else who you imagine has opinions about your parenting. Allow your thoughts and feelings to be acknowledged without having to judge, fix, heal, or troubleshoot them. Take a leap of faith that everything your system is doing in response to your child’s fussiness is happening for some reason that’s grounded in trying to meet some need like safety, ease, or feeling loved. Then take the leap to feel into what’s behind your child’s crying. What does he want? What might his needs be? In the example above, when your child doesn’t want to go to sleep, is his need really to mess up your evening? Is that what he’s trying to do? No. He’s trying to meet some need of his for love and reassurance. Does that mean you have to stay with him all night and give up your plans to be with your partner? Maybe…Probably not. But good boundaries are much easier to find and set when we’re empathic with ourselves and our children.
Step 5. Listen deeply to yourself and to your child.
Once we listen deeply to those inner voices, those inner needs, it almost magically becomes easier to sit with and listen deeply to the expression of your child’s inner longings and unmet needs. Even when these needs sound like crying, screaming, and yelling. We begin to know through experience that the voices of unmet needs start out as raging or crying. It hurts to have big needs that go unmet. Yet after expressing these emotions, we are then able to talk and share in more reasonable ways. This is true for our children and for ourselves.
If, after completing these five steps, you are still having difficulty with your own emotions in relation to your child’s behavior, try walking yourself through the following exercise to help you find empathy with your child. You can access it by clicking here.
Taking time to be listened to deeply is amazingly healing for everyone I’ve met. We ache to be understood and to have someone see value in us by their deep, compassionate listening. Almost no one I know wants to be “fixed”. We know we’re not broken. We ache to be heard as we feel into what’s hard, dense, or clouded in our lives. A good friend can offer this support. And so can I.
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Kassandra Brown is a parent coach offering deep listening to allow parents access to their own inner worlds. She believes the best way to help children is to support parents. She loves to practice yoga, snuggle, and garden.
Learn more about parent coaching via phone or Skype at parentcoaching.org and receive a special offer!