When Bad Things Happen to Good Parents - Emotional Management


Scanning back in my recent memory, with three kids in our family, I have no shortage of material regarding difficult parenting moments. One kid wasn’t invited to a playdate- the only one of her friends to be excluded. Another kid stubbornly “forgot” to unload the dishwasher for an entire day. Another kid neglected to get home by curfew. Why do bad things seem to always happen to good, well-intentioned parents?

I'm sure you've experienced this before, probably in the past few days, where something in your home or family triggered a conflict, a fight, or at least big feelings. It could be anything from a missed curfew, not being accepted into a program they wanted to attend, or even your teenager forgetting their homework. These challenges are what we call the Parent Challenge, and it's bigger than just discipline. It's about how to navigate challenging situations in the moment.

Disorientation When these situations happen, the first thing that tends to happen is disorientation. You can't think clearly and have a big emotional reaction. You're likely having a physical, emotional, and historical response to the situation. 

Physical Your brain has gone into fight or flight mode, prompting a physical response. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature increase, your diaphragm contracts, and your muscles all across your body tense up. 

Emotional Before you understand how to label your feelings, you feel them in your body as emotions. If it’s anger, you might notice it in your back, between your shoulder blades. If it’s fear, you might feel it deep in your gut. If it’s anxiety, you might feel a unique tightness in your chest. 

Historical Chances are, when you’re in a parent challenge at the moment, you’re also catapulted into the past as well. Say your kid doesn’t get invited to the birthday party and feels left out. You’re there with them at that moment, but you’re also all of a sudden back in 1988 when you weren’t invited to Evan’s birthday party while the rest of your classmates were. 

This is where the phrase "name it to tame it" comes in. It's a technique that Dan Siegel, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and author, teaches, and it's been proven to work. The idea is simple: when you’ve been triggered into a stress response, take a moment to consider what’s going on inside of you and externalize it into words or writing. When you put your feelings into words, it turns back on the part of your brain that was flipped off when you were triggered. It's fascinating to see the research results on this - people who put their feelings into words while undergoing an fMRI have shown that it restarts the previously turned-off part of their brain.

It can be hard to do when you’re feeling intense and overwhelmed, but naming your feelings will help you better handle the situation.

So next time you find yourself in a parent challenge, remember to name it to tame it. Take a deep breath, put your feelings into words, and try to understand what's happening at the moment. It's not easy, but it can help you navigate these challenging situations and become stronger on the other side.


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