Tonight was my daughter’s first school dance. It was a fabulous evening: She danced with friends, she watched the band, she ate pizza, and she decorated herself with glow sticks! She had wanted to stay right until the very end, which meant that we didn’t pull into our drive-way until after 8pm. Once home, I found myself rushing her through the steps of her bedtime routine. She was up past her bedtime and looked very tired! I noticed that the more she dawdled, the more my frustration mounted. There were so many chores I needed to finish up before I could relax for the evening, and the more I mentally rehearsed the list, the more frustrated I found myself becoming.
And there is where I had to pause. My self-talk wasn’t matching my over-arching values when it comes to raising children. I don’t want to be the grouchy parent. I want to be present (physically and emotionally). My daughter was on an adrenaline high from dancing with her friends; she wanted to dance around her room and tell me about her evening! I want my daughter to know that she can approach me about anything, no matter the time of day. That is one of my parenting goals. But, when I was feeling frustrated this evening, and rushing my daughter to bed, and getting short in my communication, was I really doing justice to that goal? Was my behaviour helping our relationship at all?
I don’t think so. I sat back on the edge of her bed, and took a pause. I took some deep breaths. I took in the beauty of her smile and her after-glow from dancing. In the grand scheme of things, what mattered most was sharing this moment with my daughter, laughing with her, and just enjoying her company.
Just STOP is exactly the strategy that I would like to share with you. Sometimes we need to stop the thoughts that escalate our negative feelings and fuel our inappropriate reactions. Try visualizing an actual stop sign. This is a great technique because we are so conditioned to stop when we see a stop sign (or at least slow to a “rolling stop”…ha ha!). But the point is this: whenever we see a stop sign, we come to a stop and cautiously look around.
In your parenting and in your day-to-day life, when you notice frustration or anger building up inside, follow those exact same rules. Stop and cautiously look around (inwardly): tune in to what you are saying to yourself. If your inner voice is negative, if you are making accusations, ascribing malicious intentions to your child, if you are self-downing, or engaging in self-limiting beliefs, try visualizing a stop sign. Visualize the octagon shape of it. The bright red colour. The retro-reflective lettering. And just STOP.
If you have trouble with visualization, you can still use this strategy – just modify it a little! Print out a picture of a stop sign. Then, keep it with you and look at it often or as needed.
Keep focusing on the stop sign, and the underlying meaning for you, until you are able to clear your mind and get centered. Our kids need us to get out of our heads and into the moment with them. Good luck!
The Affect Regulation Toolbox, by Carolyn Daitch (2007)
This article was originally posted on April 15, 2011, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge
Susan Guttridge is a trauma-informed Master level Counsellor with the clinical designation of Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCPA). She has 20+ years experience providing individual and group therapy.