By Karen Hickman
If I pass you on the street and ask, “How are you,” what might be your likely response? “Fine,” “good,” and “okay” are common.
If you and I know each other fairly well, and you aren’t “fine,” you might say, “Honestly, I’m a little upset.” How well do we really know our own inner states? In order for our children to become more aware of their emotions, we must first become more aware of ours.
In regard to our emotions, a lot of us haven’t come very far since we were toddlers. In my previous blog post, I talked about pressing the pause button when we feel triggered, S.T.A.R. breathing and modeling the Skill of Composure for our children. It is during the pause that we can begin to identify the emotion we are truly feeling. Is it anger, frustrated, sad, disappointed, scared, anxious, happy or calm we are feeling? This handful of primary and secondary emotions starts our journey into better understanding our own self-regulation.
The healthier our ability to handle our emotions, the more we can help children develop their self-regulation skills and emotional health.
First, we must learn to manage our emotional upset; we must learn to discipline ourselves. Sometimes that means sitting with uncomfortable feelings. It is in sitting with our feelings, while calming ourselves, that we can begin to identify them. Once we have identified our feelings, then we can begin to discipline (teach, guide) our children. I introduced the Skill of Composure last month by suggesting the practice of pressing the pause button during conflict moments and using the de-stressing strategy of being a S.T.A.R. (Smile, Take a deep breath And Relax). This is an important step in handling our emotions and resolving conflict.
Children watch how we handle conflict. When we act a like a nut, they learn to act like a nut. Instead, teach them how to regulate their emotions by regulating yours. Teach the Skill of Composure by modeling it. Consciously calming ourselves—so we can choose how to respond instead of reacting—is one of the most influential teaching opportunities we will have, time and time again. As children watch you, talk through your process: “I am going to take a few deep breaths and calm myself down. Then I will speak with you.” After calming, when you are able to identify your emotion, share it: “I am feeling frustrated.” As we deepen our ability to identify our emotions, we become more attuned with children’s emotions and model how to handle conflict in emotionally healthy ways.
Second, we must give children specific strategies for calming down. Teach them how to S.T.A.R. during playful moments and gently S.T.A.R. with them during upset moments. Children are more likely to transfer strategies to real life situations if we introduce and practice them in a playful manner. As real life situations arise (and we know they will!), start by managing your upset first. Then, breathe for your child if he/she is too upset to breathe for him/herself. Add the language of safety by saying, “Breathe with me. You can handle this. I am going to keep you safe.” Continue breathing with your child as he/she begins to calm. A calm adult and deep breathing are the first steps to teaching children self-regulation. I highly suggest visiting ConsciousDiscipline.com for additional resources on the subject, including free webinars with Dr. Becky Bailey.
Composure is a state that often requires conscious effort. Be gentle with yourself when you find it difficult. Parenting is not an easy job, but it can be a very joyful one if we encourage each other and ourselves. Next month, I will focus on the Skill of Encouragement. Until then, I wish you joy in your parenting.