I always believe that the first step to bettering ourselves and our lives, and in turn our children’s lives, is doing work on ourselves. Sometimes this means confronting our past and our childhood as well as current bad habits or problems that we are facing in our adult lives. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my childhood and I believe this affects the way I parent and work with young children, too. If you experienced child trauma or stress, have you dealt with this? Is your stress and trauma being passed onto or given to your children? These are things we have to work through (therapist or on your own) in order to confront the everyday emotions and conflicts that we help our children through. Consider how you were responded to when you felt big emotions or made a mistake, how did it feel for you? Do you still react in the ways that you were taught or have you changed things to fit your beliefs? Now, think about how you react to your child when they have big feelings or make a mistake, is it in a way that feels good and benefits both of you?
Once we have begun, or done some of this inner work, we can start to figure out what's triggering us when it comes to our children and why. Oftentimes, the things we react to with our own children is a direct result of something that happened to us as a child. Or we respond to our child the way we were responded to when we were children.
I suggest keeping a journal or a log for yourself. This journal should probably be separate from other daily journaling that you do for your own self care or inner work. Your new journal can be about your relationship with your child. You can start by keeping track of times where you wish you would have handled the situation differently or where you felt like you were too harsh or too distant. Keep track of what you did and how your child responded. These instances will be good to note so that you can learn where your triggers are coming from.
Then you can reflect on these times and think about what to do in the future. You might be triggered by messes or big spills (like I was today) or by slamming doors or sibling fights. Write about what really gets to you and then try to think about why. If you have older children, you can brainstorm how to solve these things together by asking them what feels good or bad to them when these things happen. Once you have learned why certain things trigger you more than others, you can start being prepared for them, or learning about ways to cope and move on from these situations.
When journaling or working on your log, make sure you also keep track of things you did well that day, too! Always be sure to recognize and focus on the good so you can tell yourself to do more of these things. Take note of your reaction or what you said to your child and why it felt good, or how you know it felt good for them.
When helping your child, try to remember what work you’ve done with yourself and what you’ve learned. Stop and take a quick breath to regulate yourself quickly before you begin to work with your child on their big feelings and problems. Remember that we are their calm in moments of stress, fear, anxiety, and sadness when they haven’t yet learned how to calm themselves.
When children have big meltdowns or challenging behaviors, it’s usually NORMAL (developmentally appropriate). Again, stop and think about their big feelings and what the reason behind it could be before you respond or lose your cool. Investigate their behavior. Is it because they’re tired, hungry, overwhelmed, confused, etc.? Do they understand what you’re asking of them? Do they need a minute of connection from you? My three year old has always had huge meltdowns when she’s hungry-sometimes getting so hungry and worked up that she refuses to eat! I try to combat this by always having a healthy snack nearby. I also know about her that in challenging situations she needs comfort and connection, not problem solving or alone time. But, every child is different! Try out these options and remember to note what went well and what you want to keep trying!
Speaking of comfort and connection, make you sure you find lots of time for this BEFORE meltdowns or conflicts happen. Find an activity or hobby that you both actually enjoy doing together and make this your time for calm and for each other. For example, at my house, we have always really enjoyed play doh but recently we got into watercolor painting and we love it. It’s actually something I can sit and do with her and allows us time to just be together without pressure. Other ways to connect are just being together and checking in, “what was the best part of your day?” or something I learned from the amazing Dr. Bailey on Instagram, “It’s hard to be a kid.” Strong connections make for strong conversations and problem solving!
Taking Care of YOU to Take Care of Your Kids
Find time for yourself every day to do something you like or to work on your mental/physical health.
Confront your past, explore your triggers.
Stop, breathe, and attempt to regulate yourself before you help your child work through their emotions. You are their calm.
Remember and recognize that most behaviors are DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE- young children are still learning to regulate themselves, make decisions, solve problems, and recognize their feelings; they need our help to do so.
Find a calming activity or hobby that you can do together. Take a few minutes to be completely connected for this time (no phones, no tv, etc.)
Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, mama to a rambunctious toddler and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.