Primary Blog/Managing Our Emotions

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Managing Our Emotions

I often hear or see advice being given to parents that sounds like this: “…and when you get really frustrated, before you yell at or put your hands on your child, take three deep breaths.” To be transparent, I am a transformed yeller. When my daughters were young, I would lose my sh** at the drop of a hat, and then lie awake at night in a shame storm as I contemplated my failures, the ways I wanted to be different, and that I wasn’t being the mom I desperately wanted to be.

I often hear or see advice being given to parents that sounds like this: “…and when you get really frustrated, before you yell at or put your hands on your child, take three deep breaths.”

To be transparent, I am a transformed yeller. When my daughters were young, I would lose my sh** at the drop of a hat, and then lie awake at night in a shame storm as I contemplated my failures, the ways I wanted to be different, and that I wasn’t being the mom I desperately wanted to be.

​I read and studied and asked for help. I went to counseling. I was told I was a good mom and not to be too hard on myself, while also reading about the damage yelling does to kids’ brains. What I didn’t learn until much later was the effect that both the yelling and the shame was having on me.

I didn’t get any effective solutions, though I tried many. In case you’re wondering, “three deep breaths” is not an effective solution. Trust me.

My kids sat through countless sessions in the car on our drive home from my stressful job where I told myself repeatedly and out loud “I am calm and relaxed,” and practiced so many rounds of three deep breaths that I’d need to pull over, dizzy and frustrated.

I’m a voracious reader and read not only hundreds of books in the self-development and parenting sections, but also studies and psychological papers. I stitched together a bit from this and a bit from that. I listened as my counselor shared that telling myself I was calm was not the same thing as being calm.

I tried meditation, but sitting still with my racing, whirling mind made things feel worse.

Then I tried yoga. Alone in my third baby’s room, with a book of photos of yoga poses and having firmly instructed my husband to watch the kids and not bother me for an hour, I started a practice.

I still say that yoga saved my life. I learned to be in my body. I learned to feel what I was feeling, not what I was trying to force my body to feel. I learned that the only way out is in. And I discovered my own inner wisdom, and how it was being drowned out by the incessant noise of the world.

Yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the lessons I learned – not about yoga, but about myself – have framed everything I use when coaching parents and kids about managing our own emotions.

Today I coach families how to navigate their world with less distress and frustration by feeling their emotions, listening to what that emotion is trying to teach them, and assimilating the lesson so the emotion can move on. I show them how to befriend their bodies and their nervous systems, and how to move their bodies in ways that release the tension and emotion. Do we use deep breathing? Absolutely. But as a tool within the process, not a band-aid that we can slap on to cover the deep gash of a difficult feeling.

When we show up as parents fully resourced and with a vault of energy, it’s much easier. But as parents how often are we fully resourced?

If parenting were only parenting, how much more emotionally available to our children and ourselves would we be? But parenting is also: Housing, working, paying bills, laundry, dishes, cleaning, driving (so much driving), shopping, cooking, coaching, navigating our relationships with our partners and/or child’s parent, school meetings, volunteering – whether as field trip supervisor, PTA member or coach – and so many other things. Many of those things we can’t get rid of (though some we can negotiate, delegate or decline). So how do we make sure we’re at least 75% resourced?

Over the past dozen years that I’ve been working with parents whose children struggle with behavioral health difficulties as well as parents whose children have been removed by child welfare, I’ve melded multiple interventions into one training that’s become my go-to for coaching parents through managing their emotions in order to feel less stressed and more able to manage the bumps that occur along the way.
• I coach parents through the process of understanding what they’re feeling, we create levels or stages for their emotion, and use body sensation recognition to learn to recognize their emotion at an earlier stage.
• Simultaneously, we’re working on figuring out what helps them feel joyful. We work to overcome the barriers of “I don’t have time” and feelings of not being deserving of joy.
• We combine these two practices while also determining the antecedents for the emotion. In other terms, what are the triggers? And how can we de-amplify them

When I’m working with parents who have had their children removed by child welfare, they tend to have deep levels of shame about having “failed their child” in society’s eyes, and we work through the shame and re-establish their own sense of safety and value.

We use movement, tapping, breathing and other techniques to help sit with the emotion and work through it. Note that if there is significant trauma that is revealed or strong emotions that aren’t resolved, we refer or recommend working with a licensed therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist.

It’s helpful to know that I first started using and teaching my team to use a scaled-down version of this technique with preschoolers. I’ve always been a strong advocate of family work, and when I was walking the parents through how to practice it with their kids, parents would come back and let me know they were using the techniques themselves and it was really benefitting them. I had parents ask me for more training for themselves, so I adapted the techniques to use with adults – using a numbering vs color system for emotions, more advanced descriptions, and other adaptations – and I incorporated it into a nine-week parenting course as the first three weeks, replacing the other version of self-regulation I was teaching in that course.

From there I realized that it really needed to be a stand-alone 8-10 week course if I was teaching it in a group environment, so that’s what I created. Additionally, I continue working with some parents one-on-one as they work through this process.

Gaining all of this knowledge and learning how to do this process on my own helped me create tools to share with families who are struggling. There was value for me in finding and putting the information together; however, if I’d had someone come alongside me in my 20s and walk me through the process, I would have been grateful.

If you’re a parent with big emotions and would like someone to walk alongside, deliver the information and coach you through implementing it, don’t hesitate to reach out. Also stay tuned for a training schedule, which will be coming soon.



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