Updated: Jan 29
As anxiety runs high this time of year, I find myself letting the little things get under my skin. If you know me or see me out and about with my kids, you might have the perception that I am a very gentle and patient mother and that is true. Mostly.
My norm is a pretty even-keeled and level headed Mama who rolls with the punches and keeps my cool but what happens when my norm shifts? It does shift, friends. When I’m anxious or sad or when my plans change (I’m really triggered by plans changing...UGH) my reactions become more extreme and I go into fight or flight mode.
Some of you have a norm that hangs out closer to this mode at all times. Hubs is this way. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump for him to cross into fight or flight territory. For whatever reason, our brains perceive something our children are doing as a “threat” and our senses are heightened.
Fight or Flight?!
For me, flight is my usual choice. My introverted self needs time alone to cool off and my first instinct is to throw up my hands and say, “Forget it! I give up! I can’t deal with you another second.” Then, I abandon all responsibilities and become unresponsive. Turns out not responding to your children is not an effective parenting technique.
Hubs is a fighter. When he perceives a “threat” from the kiddos, steam comes out of his ears. He raises his voice and demands control of the situation. Sometimes this shocks the kids into submission and they straighten up but more often, it escalates the situation and a larger issue ensues.
So what can we do when we are about to lose our cool and it feels like our only options are fight or flight?
The very first thing to address is your own needs. What do I need in order to respond patiently and thoughtfully to my child? How can I put my best foot forward?
There are some basic self-care questions to ask yourself when you feel that anxiety rising.
Ask these questions and meet your own needs. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
The next step is to remember that our first job as Mommies and Daddies is to actively love our babies. I’m not suggesting that in those moments any of us have actually stopped loving our kids but I do think it moves from an active love to a passive love. When you actively love someone, the important question becomes, “What do they need?”
What does my baby need? This is the next step. Kiddos don’t usually act out for no reason and as parents it’s our job to get down to the “WHY.” It feels important to fix the behavior but stopping the behavior doesn’t meet the underlying need. It’s just a bandaid.
I’m going to spend a little time on this step because this is where gentle and attachment parenting differ from many other parenting styles. When Quartersquat acts out, I go through the list in my head of possible needs. Is he hungry, thirsty, or tired? Does he need a diaper change? And here is where I get really out-there. Does he need attention or physical touch or interactive play? Many parents will get upset or walk away saying “Ignore him. He just wants attention.”
Parents, if your baby needs attention from you, walking away does not make his need go away. It just tells him that you won’t meet his needs. You are changing the behavior but not meeting the need and this is not active love.
Now, I’m not saying that you should give your child everything they want if they cry. I’m not suggesting we create spoiled children but kids are spoiled by things not love. In those moments where their behavior is a clear cry for attention, get to their level and show them that you see them, you love them, and you are going to meet their needs. Don’t forget to draw them close in these challenging moments.
But what about the behavior? Now that you’ve met the need, it’s time to address the behavior. In order to do this, you need a little knowledge of child development. You need to find out if the behavior that is triggering you is developmentally appropriate for that child’s age group. If it isn’t, it’s time to get thoughtful about how to encourage change in your child.
If the behavior IS developmentally appropriate, it’s time to get thoughtful about how to change your own perspective. Expecting a child to change a behavior that is right on track for their age group is like expecting a fish to climb a tree because you told it to do so.
Remind yourself, in these moments, that things are just how they should be. Take a deep breath and respond with patience. It becomes much easier to deal with a behavior when you remember that it is temporary and normal, a developmentally appropriate behavior.
Know your babies and meet their needs but don’t try to pour from an empty cup, friends. Check in with yourself and meet your own needs first. Then, check in on your spouse. Make sure that the parenting team is thriving so you can face the challenges together.
Navigating big feelings isn’t easy for any of us, (kids included) especially during the holiday season. Next time you’re feeling triggered by your child’s behavior, check in with yourself, ask the important questions and hopefully you can spend a little more time enjoying the #parentlife.