I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes that weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspirations; I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
More and more in my parenting journey, I’ve learned that my mood sets the tone for my daughter’s behavior. Not necessarily her actions, but her response to my interruptions of the important work of being four. Being more of a quiet, deliberate sort, favoring peace and harmony to chaos and strife, I can easily be jarred out of balance by my headstrong, rambunctious, not-always-so-nice-to-her-brother, preschooler. So this month, I’ve been working on more conscious self-awareness and self-control when it comes to interacting with my children – proving that, although I began this journey for a more conscious life months ago, I am still, and forever will be, a work in progress.
Noticing Common Themes and Trigger Points
In his book, The Opposite of Worry, Lawrence J. Cohen (author of Playful Parenting) explains how emotions work with the analogy of a fire: a spark (thought) typically leads to a flame (emotion). And to take that one step further, that flame can rapidly become a fire (angry tirade), if not put out quickly. In mindfulness, as in meditation, your thoughts are brought into more conscious awareness, allowing you to hear what goes on in your head, often beneath your level of awareness. You can also practice becoming more aware of your thoughts and your moods by bringing more attention to them throughout the day. For me, in bringing more awareness to my thoughts and physical sensations when I am interacting with my children, I have been able to notice common themes and trigger points (for lack of a less-violent word) that commonly lead to anger or frustration.
I have noticed that any altercation between my oldest and youngest, which leaves my youngest in tears, often brings out my inner tiger mama, set on protecting her young. Other triggers include instances in which my daughter has done something that I have asked her countless times not to do, when she doesn’t listen, when I hear that she has been “mean” to another child – all things that occur on a more or less regular basis given her age and temperament. Despite my awareness of this fact, I have been known to react unthinkingly, rather than to respond sensitively, to these particular situations. But knowing that I am easily prone to anger in these situations and that they will come up again and again, I can choose to be more responsive, either thinking through a response ahead of time or walking away and telling my daughter that we will talk later when I’ve calmed down. These common themes, trigger points and conscious response strategies will be different for every parent, but the exercise of identifying them and reflecting on them is universally beneficial. For more, Shelia McGraith, aka the Orange Rhino, has a post about triggers complete with a Trigger Tracking Sheet.
Consciously Setting the Stage
As I mentioned above, taking time to identify common themes and trigger points that often lead you to anger and planning a more thoughtful response, is a helpful proactive strategy. Other proactive strategies include:
In her talk on Being More Nurturing, part of Carrie Contey’s Your Extraordinary Family Life interview series, Renee Trudeau (author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life) provided a simple set of questions to ask yourself throughout the day: 1) How am I feeling? 2) What do I want? 3) What do I need? Asking these questions on a regular basis throughout the day can help you to bring greater awareness to your feelings and help you to get in the habit of addressing these feelings by meeting their underlying needs before they overwhelm you.
Setting Your Intentions
In her talk on Being More Spacious, part of Carrie Contey’s Your Extraordinary Family Life interview series, Bernadette Noll, author of Slow Family Living, suggests consciously setting intentions for yourself before you begin an interaction with your children or family member. Sometimes just reminding myself to be calm and loving, when I am feeling anxious and distracted, can help me to be more attentive to my children or partner when they need me to be.
Choosing Your Own Energy
Ms. Noll also talks about the ability we have to create our own energy. If you often find yourself at odds with the energy in your home when you arrive home from work – you want to relax, your home is anything but relaxed – she suggests pausing to notice your mood, taking a few minutes to breath and set a positive intention, and then by moving slowly and consciously as you enter the new environment. By doing this, you may be less likely to be unconsciously adversely affected by the energy in the room or the mood of other family members.
Helping Children with Emotional Self-Awareness
As my spirited four-year-old moves further into her fourth year, I find that my innate parenting style – that of logic and reason – that failed so miserably when she was two, is actually beginning to bear some fruit. At four, she understands that sometimes she is happy, sometimes she is agitated, sometimes she is angry, sometimes she is sad, sometimes she is excited and that all of those feelings are all temporary. She can usually explain what triggered her feelings and how her body responds when she feels that way.
Recently, she told me that when she is upset, it takes her a long time to calm down. When she told me this, I remembered an anger management strategy I had used with clients in my former professional life and began talking to her about stop lights – GREEN meaning happy, RED meaning very upset, and yellow meaning the feelings – frustration, irritation, exhaustion – that lead us from one to the other. We talked about how it is really hard to calm down when you are feeling RED, but how if you notice when you are starting to feel YELLOW, and catch yourself, it is a lot easier to turn GREEN again before you get all the way to RED. I asked her if she would let me help her by pointing out when she is starting to feel YELLOW and suggest ways for her to avoid getting to RED and she agreed.
In the past, when I tried to teach her to take deep breaths, a great method recommended by Dr. Becky Bailey, author of Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline and developer of the Conscious Discipline program, more often than not she would just turn to me, red-faced and scream “I DON’T WANT TO TAKE DEEP BREATH-ES!” Not wanting to invoke a similar reaction, I simply say, “Your starting to go to the YELLOW; how can I help you get back to GREEN?” For more, read AHA! Parenting’s article on helping children manage their anger.
Upcoming Conscious Parenting Resources and Events
I’m so excited to report that Carrie Contey will be holding another free on-line conference called Parenting Now, on November 10 – 14. The conference will feature professionals, authors, doctors and trainers in the fields of parenting, mindfulness, holistic heath, child development, psychology and family counselling. The interviews are available for free for 24-hours and are the available for sale as a package of downloads. Carrie’s previous on-line conference, Your Extraordinary Family Life, was diverse, engaging and inspirational and I would expect this one to be similarly beneficial.
Thanks for reading!
What about you? Have you had any inspiring parenting insights this month? Do you have any go-to resources for coconsciouss parenting online or otherwise? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Sharon, Author of The Conscious Parenting Notebook