After the twists and turns of 2020, we’re exhausted and stressed. Parenting while juggling the difficulties and uncertainties of life in a pandemic has been hard. For parents with a child who is not able to regulate their emotions and impulses, being at home together with a limit to the usual supports of school, friends, sports or childcare, is certainly creating frayed nerves on all sides.
It’s natural that you may find yourself losing your cool with your child from time to time, especially now. But ask yourself this: Has losing your temper or shouting at your child resulted in a positive outcome? Did it alleviate the stress of the situation? Did you or your child walk away feeling good about the interaction? Probably, not.
Research shows that the most effective way to positively influence children is to gain their trust, making them willing to follow your direction. A calm and consistent approach works best with all children. But it is critical to remain emotionally balanced with children who have compromised attachment.
When you lose your cool
There are several unhealthy payoffs for a child with an attachment disorder when you become angry or upset:
- You hand over control of the situation by reacting to your child. This erodes your child’s confidence in you as a reliable caregiver and safe authority figure: “How can I trust you when I have the power to make you so emotionally upset?”
- You are allowing your child to replicate the stressful and dysfunctional patterns that he or she experienced in a prior home or institution: “I’m used to turmoil and conflict; I can do this well, and never have to change.”
- You are reinforcing your child’s negative core beliefs: “Your anger and disapproval mean that I am bad and undeserving of love.”
- Your child will take note of any tendency on your part to lower expectations in order to avoid conflict: “I can wear you down, you’ll leave me alone, and I’m off the hook.”
- You are feeding into your child’s desire to avoid emotional closeness: “As long as we are mad at each other, I don’t have to be close.”
Remaining calm, composed, and patient with a challenging child can be difficult. But try to keep in mind that you set a critical example.
How to stay calm
Staying calm allows you to think before you act. Here are three steps that will help you stay calm:
- Stop. Don’t act impulsively. Take a deep breath. Relax your body. Calm your mind.
- Tune in. Be aware of your self-talk and your body signals. Your self-talk will either agitate or calm you down. No one makes us angry. Anger is always a choice. Whenever your anger escalates, you will find that you are saying something to yourself that is making you angrier. Also be aware of your body signals. Shallow breathing, an elevated heart beat, or a clenched jaw are your bodies signs that your feelings are escalating.
- Act. Once you are calmed down and in control you are much more likely to think logically, resulting in constructive problem solving. You can now share your thoughts and feelings in a clear, honest and appropriate way. When in doubt, say nothing. Take a break and defer until later.
You can teach your child to be calm by role-modeling calmness. Calmness reduces your child’s “alarm reaction” (fight-flight-freeze) and allows them to feel safe and secure enough to think rationally, learn a better way of behaving and coping while building trust with you.