Photo Credit: Claudia Wolff for Unsplash
Nothing feels worse as a parent than losing your cool. Yelling or acting out in response to your child's outburst never feels good and never helps the situation. But how can you control something that feels outside of your control? It's easy to feel triggered by a child's behaviors especially aggressive behaviors or seemingly defiant behaviors. Here are some tips to help.
I lost it today and yelled at my daughter. The literal most important person, the paramount love of my life. It feels shameful and shitty.
As an Autistic (and ADHD) parent with a trauma history, I have to work harder to stay calm when everything feels like chaos. And sometimes, I don't. I keep working at it, and my skills have grown. It's absolutely worth the work to increase your calm--as a parent and in every aspect of your life.
Research shows that parent stress increases with child behavior issues and that parenting stress increases child behavior issues! I write about Autism and ADHD, but parental stress, trauma triggers and behavior issues don't need to be disability related to have an impact. In fact, parenting stress has increased since COVID and hasn't returned to "normal." This article is for all parents who feel triggered by their children.
There's nothing worse than the feeling of losing control. Here's how to prevent more of these moments and how to recover.
#1 Attend to your needs.
You are less likely to be able to stay calm when things go sideways if you're tired, hungry, feeling overwhelmed, have missed your meds, or are thinking about all the things you should be doing. I know you can't always be Zen. Sleep isn't always in your control, especially if your child has sleep issues. Not feeling overwhelmed is a pretty tall order, and there's always something you should have already done. I get it. I see you. Me too. Pay attention to the subtle messages you are getting from your body and mind that you need to take some time to meet your own need. Self-care is required to care for your child.
#2 Attend to your child's needs.
Your child is less likely to have outbursts if their needs are met. So, just as for yourself, try to make things happen to address the basic needs and any specific needs they have such as sensory needs.
#3 Cultivate your calm
This is a background task (yes, another thing to add to your to-do list). A daily mindfulness practice can make a difference. I like using guided meditations to help bring my pinball brain back to the moment. There are guided meditations and guided imagery exercises available on YouTube or on paid apps like Calm.
Create calm in your home if possible or a calm space that is quiet and peaceful where you and other family members can take a moment to breathe.
#4 Take on your healing
If you have a trauma history, make it a priority to work out your thoughts and feelings. Therapy is an excellent option. If that's not available to you, there are self-help books available to help you do this work and plenty of social media accounts run by licensed professionals that can give you places to start on where to direct your resources as well as make you feel seen and understood. This can help you learn what your triggers are and the all-important WHY of the driving feelings behind the triggers. You may be responding to fears of being rejected or unloved by your child or dealing with the fear of physical violence.
#5 Co-regulate with your child
Use your calm as a tool to soothe your child. Successfully easing your child's pain and sadness will also bring the same to you.
In the moment
#1 be mindful of your potential to be triggered
If trouble is brewing, brace yourself.
Breathe. Take a breath before you respond each time. This simple pause can give you the space you need to think and respond versus reacting.
Realize that your brain is in a better place to control emotions than your child's.
Recognize that this moment will pass. Staying calm will allow for faster and fuller healing for your child AND for you.