We all know how hard it is to stay calm when your child is having a tantrum because soccer practice is over (or in the grocery checkout line, or after school…). Especially when that lady watching you leans in and says “You just need to….”
She has no idea what you need to do. She probably has no idea what your child needs, or what it feels like to mother your child as they fall apart in a public place.
Here’s the deal: no matter what you do, it’s not going to work unless YOU are calm. The best methods will fail with parental calm.
There are many reasons why, but here are a few based on the research in education and co-regulation:Calm decreases the chance that the parent will escalate. When you are calm, you are able to stay with the plan- sticking with a plan is crucial. This is especially the case when you are changing your parenting methods. Until Positive Parenthoodbecomes second nature, it’s critical you make a plan and commit to following through even when, and if it’s awkward. After all, that’s how we learn. But to do that, you’ve got to stay calm.
Calm decreases the chance of a deadlock of wills. When you get into a fixed, deadlock position (as in, there is NO WAY you are going to budge) your child often mirrors your state (see our work on co-regulation). If you’re deadlocked, and your kid is deadlocked… it’s pretty unlikely either of you has the emotional capacity to shift the dynamic and move into a more regulated state that allows you to move forward. Children benefit from seeing and feeling your calm: this is where co-regulation is so critical. When you are calm in the middle of a conflict, children see that it’s possible to have conflict without excessive anger or without giving up in dismay. By watching you, they learn to regulate through a range of emotional states with another person. These are lessons that will serve your child for their entire life- all people need to be able to move through frustration and challenge in positive ways. You are the model for your child, so show them with your own behavior how you want them to respond during challenging times.
Calm parents are less exhausted, more energized, positive, and inspired. It’s just more enjoyable, and more fun to be a calm parent. The research is clear: we’ve got to calm down. It’s hard in a world with a million things happening at once and other adults commenting on your parenting, but it’s imperative. The kind of calm you’re shooting for is a calm that is warm and accepting. It is a calm that invites connection. Sometimes, we get calm and flat, detached and uninvolved, and totally shut down when things are challenging with our children. To be clear – this is not what we want when we think about calm. We want a quality of calm that invites the child to connect, not that blankets everyone in silence and pretends whatever is going awry isn’t happening at all.
Think about the quality of calm that you like most- the one that makes your belly feel warm and your shoulder muscles relax. That presence- open, grounded, inviting- is what you want to offer to your child all the time, but especially during times of extreme challenge.