A 3-step plan for when they push your buttons
You know how easy it is to experience big feelings yourself when your child experiences them.
Whether you’ve felt your temperature rising when your child is having a meltdown when you’ve said no to sweets before dinner, or whether you’ve felt the tug at your heart strings when they’ve been really upset because another child has been unkind to them.
Or even when you’ve just wanted them to settle down because they’ve been running around, shrieking and laughing for the last ten minutes – all inside the house!
All of these things can make you feel big, intense feelings of annoyance, upset or irritation, and that’s all perfectly normal! But you know that in all of these instances, your child is having big feelings too so it’s important for you to get a hold of the feelings you feel so that you can be at your best to support your child with theirs.
It probably seems like your child sometimes experiences their biggest feelings when you are least able to handle them – late at night when everyone is tired, or when you really need to get something done. It’s as if they really know how to push your buttons! There are lots of reasons for this, and one of these is because children release their emotions when they’re not able to handle them anymore.
When emotions get held in for so long the pressure starts to build up and they may eventually explode. As a mum, you might have thought that your child’s expression of their emotions has at times been too much – and you’ve interpreted this as them pushing your buttons. But what you’re actually seeing is the result of not enough expression of feelings, hence the eruption.
The other main reason for you feeling like your child gets you at you at what are seemingly your weakest moments is because we adults have a stash of our own feelings that we haven’t expressed. And so, when children experience really big feelings, it can feel as though we are being tormented in some way, i.e. when they are angry or over-excited, or even that we are inflicting that torment on them, i.e. when they are distressed or otherwise really upset.
So, what can you do? Well, there are things you can do ‘in the moment', when the big feeling is being felt and your child is really communicating to you that they need you. And there are things you can do at other times, more as a way to acknowledge your own feelings, to look after yourself and to instil you with the confidence to feel like you can surf your child’s big emotional waves with them whenever they break.
This 3 step-plan will help you to do just that.
STEP 1: Breathe
It seems like a ridiculous thing to say, I know. You’re breathing all the time, why would this be something you would focus on when dealing with an overly angry, upset or excited child?! But the fact is that if you are experiencing big feelings yourself then you will not be in a position to be able to support your child with theirs in a helpful way.
How many times would you say you’ve been able to act rationally when you’ve been angry or upset? I’d hazard a guess and say this has never happened!
Focusing on your breathing helps level out your emotions in the moment, before diving in with an unhelpful response that might just end up escalating the situation. Take a deep breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. If you can take three or four of these you’ll find this makes a huge difference. One of the additional advantages of employing this step is that if your child actually sees you doing it, it gives you a vital teaching opportunity at a time when they are calm and able to learn how to do this too.
STEP 2: Get on their team
What do I mean by this? I mean be there with them. Not just physically, or even with your words, but really try and get on side with them. Think about what they are trying to tell you through this expression of feelings. Now this can be really hard, whether your child is experiencing big feelings of sadness or they are boiling over with rage. But remember that there is a drive, and indeed a need for emotions to be released. If you can accept your child’s feelings and support their release, all the better for both of you.
STEP 3: Time for yourself
Now before you start to protest and wonder how on earth you can find time to look after or do something for yourself, think about everything you have learned up to now and you’ll realise just how important this step of the plan is. You’ll know when you need to do this because you’ll recognise that you’re feeling more easily irritated by your child, or less inclined to want to play with them.
The sorts of things you can do involve either spending time alone, or with other people. Think about taking time out to look after and regulate yourself to re-set your emotional stability levels by going for a walk, reading a book, having a relaxing bath. Activities such as yoga or simply sitting to meditate are also incredibly helpful – both of these can lower blood pressure and help to bring about a sense of calm in your brain and body.
Regulation can also come about through spending time with others – sharing a chat, coffee and cake with someone who you know will be able to empathise with you can work wonders! Remember that one of the most vital skills you need as a parent is the ability to recognise when you are feeling dysregulated emotionally, and when you need someone to help you with your big feelings.
So, make sure you take the time to look after yourself, and know that in doing so you will be able to stay cool, calm and collected in the moments when your child needs this the most.