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Four Steps to Diffusing Big Emotions

One of the most common requests I receive from corporate clients and stay at home/working parents alike is to help them manage their response to stress. Personally, particularly on school day mornings, as I’m trying to get my kids out the door and myself to work, having the ability to bring it down a notch is absolutely critical. No one can find their shoes, the dogs are barking, the waffles just burned, and I’m running late to see a client. The best parts of me can be pretty hard to find in those moments.  

It’s perfectly normal for us to experience stress, and some measure of stress is actually good! It can motivate us and spark us into action. However, when the level of stress we experience passes our ability to skillfully deal with it, then it’s important to have some skills to help in that moment.

A useful skill to self sooth on the spot is to label our emotions. A study done back in 2007 by Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues looked at functional MRI images of people who were emotionally triggered. They found that if you labeled your emotion by simply saying sadness, frustration, anger, or any other emotion, this had a direct effect on calming the amygdala which is the alarm center of our brain that goes crazy when we are stressed. Labeling the emotion decreased the activation of that alarm center. When we identify our emotions we miraculously stop being identified with them! Self soothing 101.

To help my clients (and myself) practice this technique I like to use the acronym STOP.

S- Stop. Pause. Don’t do or say anything else! Seriously. Don’t.

T- Take a breath while focusing on a long exhale.

O- Observe the emotion present. Label it.

P- Proceed, with lower emotional reactivity and a more sane response.

Now go do life and keep this little mindfulness hack in your back pocket….. What we practice grows stronger! 

The 4 Telltale Signs of a "Good Enough" Mindful Parent

A mindful parent is wise, calm, and always knows just what to do in any given parenting situation. Right? Right? Maybe not so much. 

I began focusing on parenting mindfully about eight years ago, and at that time one of my main goals was to stay calm and not get angry. How do you think that worked out for me? Well…I pretty much ended up feeling like a failure every time I didn’t feel calm and got angry. For the record, I don’t recommend stuffing anger in the name of mindful parenting.

As the years went on, I came to understand that mindful parenting is more about allowing the messy parts of our lives to wake us up moment by moment. It’s the anger and other uncomfortable feelings, emotions, and reactions that actually lead us to our mindfulness. 

The more awareness we bring to our struggles, the less of a vice grip they have on us.

Our children are masters of presenting these struggles to us in regular doses (for our own good as it turns out). They offer up a steady drip of where we have yet to grow. Can you see how our children are our master teachers? They trigger us in all the right ways to point us towards our greatest possibilities for personal growth, if only we can view our triggers through this lens. Easier said then done I know…but no one said it was going to be easy. Stay with me…

So what can we expect to see from the Good Enough Mindful Parent? Ready for the four things?

#1 The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent takes the time to practice mindfulness (the more the better but we are going for good enough here). We notice the water on our skin while in the shower, name the emotions we are feeling throughout the day, and sit in silence for a few moments (or hours) just noticing our breath. We don’t beat ourselves up when we loose our mindfulness and trust it will come back. In fact, simply noticing that we are not mindful IS mindfulness. You did it!

#2 The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent works to view difficult behaviors through the lenses of emotions and needs. We identify the emotion present in our children; such as they are angry, frustrated, exasperated or sad. We then identify which one of their basic needs is not being met, such as the need for connection, safety, play or freedom. From this perspective we can soften around our children’s (awful) behaviors and move right into deepening connection with them. Perhaps we hold out our arms for a hug or offer them a snack to counteract the blood sugar dip that had caused the awful behavior. On the days we are completely spent and barely have any patience we immediately forgive ourselves and move on to #3.

#3 The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent takes care of their body, mind, and spirit. You have heard of this idea yes? Self Care. The whole “put on your own oxygen mask first” thing. We simply can’t be aware, perfectly present, and unwaveringly patient when our tanks are on empty. Although a spa day would be lovely, we are going for good enough here remember. Wash your hair, take a walk, practice yoga, or call a good friend. Whatever fills up your tank do that.

#4- The “Good Enough” Mindful Parent expects to make mistakes. And I mean make mistakes daily! What our children need most is help from us to explore their own inner worlds. When we completely blow it is the perfect time to help our children grow (while subsequently crawling out from that pile of guilt we are hiding under). The trick here is to calm down before moving forward. After the amygdala hijack in your brain is over and your cortisol levels have lowered, talk through the blunder with your child. It might go something like this…”Wow, I really screwed up earlier. I should have noticed how angry I was getting and stepped away to take a few breaths. I wish I had caught the anger monster before it exploded. I’m sorry. Are you willing to tell me how my anger affected you?” On the days we are too spun around to admit to our mistakes we get a good nights sleep and start over tomorrow.

So there you go…let go of the idea of a perfectly mindful parent. They don’t exist. The Dali Lama doesn’t have children. Just saying.