THE FOUNDATION OF GENTLE PARENTING: FIRST WE STAY CALM
By: Ngozi Amadasun
I used to be so triggered by innocent mistakes, when my son would pour a glass of water I would yell
"What is wrong with you? Why did you make this mess?"
When I started my gentle parenting journey. I started to read about triggers and what they really mean.
So, what are triggers?
There are two types of triggers but the type of trigger that we experience as parents is the internal trigger – a trigger from past experiences. So, what is the purpose of the trigger? A trigger is basically the warning to our senses that we are about to experience an intense emotion. When you are triggered, it is not simply because something rubbed you off the wrong way. When you are triggered, your body is sending out a signal that there is danger. This explains how similar situations might trigger some and not trigger others.
Now take this knowledge as ask yourself.
"What deeper issue is my mind warning me about regarding my child's behavior?"
Psychologists say that when a child's behavior/misbehavior triggers you, this is a moment to stop and reflect. This is because in that moment you have uncovered a deeply seated childhood wound you need to address. So, what does this look like?
Psychologists have given these examples below.
DISRESPECTS TRIGGERS ME
If you get triggered by the thought of your child's action you assume to be disrespectful, this might be because growing up you were disrespected and made to accept it and you bottled up the rage you felt from this disrespect. When you sense anything that seems like disrespect, it triggers the emotions you felt that you never dealt with. You never also learned how to deal with disrespect, so we allow our primitive brain to take over and lose self-control and get emotionally reactive – the adult form of a tantrum.
A CRYING CHILD TRIGGERS ME
This is common in men, who are usually subject to being shamed, yelled at, or punished for crying as kids. In the same way, the brain would immediately feel in danger when they hear a crying child and immediately result in the downstairs "emotionally reactive " brain response - FLIGHT FIGHT OR FREEZE.
AN ANGRY CHILD TRIGGERS ME
This is common in women who are usually subject to being shamed, yelled at, or punished for showing anger. The brain works in the same way as stated above and leads to the person acting on the trigger and having emotional outbursts.
SIMPLE MISTAKES TRIGGER ME:
The theory for both the angry and crying child would apply to being triggered by simple mistakes, except that this isn't more common in any specific gender.
IRRITATED BY LITTLE THINGS YOUR CHILD DOES
This is just a sign that you need some self-care. It means you are running on empty and the tendency to function entirely on your upstairs "thinking brain" only gets a little harder.
So, you might think what the big deal is really. Here is why it is so important to respond and not react.
When we have emotional outbursts as a counter-reaction to our child's reaction and we shut them down, they grow not feeling safe with telling you anything. They can't tell what would get a negative reaction from you. This will range from feeling shame if a predator tries anything or feeling sadness from being bullied in school and not coming to share this with you.
Co-regulation in younger kids:
Kids below age 4 learn to truly regulate only through co-regulation. Meaning if your child is regulated.
They can only become calm by sharing your calm
Modeling appropriate behavior:
"Children are the greatest imitators, so we need to give them something great to imitate"
How we handle sadness, frustration, anger, and fear is what they learn to be right, and even when they grow to realize it is not right, it already has become the go-to reaction, because it's the most repeated and practiced reaction to the situation.
Have you ever done something and thought?
"Oh my, I sound like my mum… I swore I would never be that mum"
Well, you are not alone, and it is not entirely your fault, it's all we have known. In fact, to behave differently it took me a lot of research.
The moment I realized how my actions affected my son was also the last time I yelled at my son.
Well, my son happened to recall an event that happened 3 weeks prior to that day. I do this thing with my son, where I would say "Let's talk". He had come to understand that it meant I had something serious to discuss with him. My son caught on quickly and began also use this phrase with me. In this scenario, it was the second time he used the phrase. My son was sitting on the potty, he appeared to be thinking for a bit and he said, "Let's talk". He proceeded to repeat word for word the things I said when he tore his book during a tantrum - I regret those words.
I felt horrible, I didn't mean to come across how I did, I was only angry. I promised him I would never yell again, and to that my son responded
"No more shouting??? I love you so much".
In that moment I realized how my reaction to his behavior made him feel. I remembered how yelling makes me feel. I am not saying I would never yell again but, in that moment, I made a conscious effort to control my triggers.
Mindfulness doesn't mean we don't feel triggered or angry.
Mindfulness means we pay attention to what we feel, and we don't act on it
The moment we become more aware of our triggers there are certain things we can do to stay regulated.
- Deep breaths:
Three deep breaths disengage the downstairs "emotionally reactive" brain. If you still don't feel calm make it 10 deep breaths. LOL
- Change your mindset:
If you think "your child is spoilt and would grow up to be a thug" - you will not calm down. Instead, use mantras – thoughts and words to calm you in the moment.
“I choose love”. “It's not an emergency”. “Although I'm upset, I'm safe. I can calm myself and heal this situation” “My child is doing the best they can” “My job is to stay calm.”
Most of our struggles as parents come from our inability to notice and address our anger. How do we begin the journey to a peaceful and positive parenting experience? First, We Stay Calm.