Parents might ask themselves, "why do I need to learn self-regulation?" After all, isn't that the child's job? The quick answer is that children learn what they see, even more so than what they are taught, and when they see a parent who can stay calm in stressful and difficult situations, it gives children an anchor so that they know there is a solid, loving foundation in their parent, and it gives them a role model. It can take a couple of decades before the brain matures enough for children to reliably self-regulate emotionally, so parents get to do a lot of teaching and modeling along the way. How might parents enhance their own emotional self-regulation along the way?
The first is to ensure that you as a parent are looking after your own basics - it's hard to self-regulate when you are hungry or tired. So parents need to be sure that they are getting enough sleep (I know I know - it's super hard - and it's super important) and that parents are eating healthy whole foods, getting exercise and drinking lots of water. These basics will help with everything, especially emotional self-regulation.
Then, parents need to consider their own mindset. How do you see your child? How do you see your role as a parent? How do you see your task at the moment? Dr. Ross Greene reminds us that "kids do well when they can" and that sometimes, kids are lacking the skills to behave appropriately in a given situation. However, if the parent believes that the child is deliberately misbehaving, or that the child is being deliberately manipulative, then this will lead the parent to different actions.
I remember when my youngest was a toddler. He would do something "wrong" as toddlers do, and we as parents would yell at him, as parents do. He would get very upset and cry and ask for hugs. But we thought he was avoiding the situation - trying to get out of his punishment by asking for hugs. So we didn't hug him until he had been suitably punished (whatever that meant) because we were still angry. Later, we realized that he needed the physical reassurance that we still loved him even though he broke the window or said something bad. When we realized that he wanted to do well, and was just missing the developmental skills at the time, we changed and so did he. Also, as a parent, I recognized that I was just seeking punishment for my child because I was an angry one. Punishment does not work and it destroys relationships and it doesn't correct behavior - it just drives it underground. When you believe that kids do well when they can, then you approach situations with a more level head and even emotional approach. Then it's truly about learning and inquiring and mutual problem-solving. This is better for both parties (the parent and the child) and the relationship and the development of the appropriate skills.
Finally, it's ok for parents to give themselves a time-out. Parents need breaks too. Parenting in this day and age and with the way society views parenting - well it's exceptionally tough (and that's a whole other soapbox). So don't give the child a time-out - parents can give themselves a time-out. Relax, get away, go for a walk, get outside, do something else, and come back refreshed and renewed. And be sure to get your sleep.
Lisa Sansom is the owner of LVS Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that helps to build positive organizations. In these roles, Lisa shares positive psychology tools and techniques with her clients through speaking, corporate training, consulting and coaching. Her clients come from a variety of industries including finance, education, technology, government, not-for-profit, and health care.
Lisa has been working in Organizational Development since 2000 and she is a certified coach, working with leaders and aspiring leaders as well as high-performing teams. Lisa also writes articles and does book reviews for a number of magazines and online publications.
Lisa obtained her MBA from the Rotman School of Management and earned her coaching accreditation from Adler International Learning / OISE-UT. In addition, she holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Waterloo and a Bachelor of Education from Brock University. She completed her MAPP (Master of Applied Positive Psychology) from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, one of the first five Canadians to do so. She is a founding Board member of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, has presented at the International Positive Psychology Association’s World Congress three times and is the co-Chair of both the 2017 and 2019 World Congress on Positive Psychology. Lisa started her career as a high school French teacher, which means she is afraid of nothing in both official languages.