Emotional regulation and parenting takes work. The power of “reflection” is that it is doesn’t demand that we do things perfectly. It simply requires us to spend some time thinking in depth about those challenging, even disastrous, scenarios after they happen. Instead of wallowing in regret or shame I can choose to purposely reflect upon what happened.
I never thought I would yell as much as I have. Are you with me? I thought I would hold it all together and keep my cool. I thought I would find it easy to identify the teachable moments in a situation and feel calm enough to use them. I thought I would walk in to a chaotic scene and handle it with peace and certainty.
Reality is…I have meltdowns more often then I’d like to admit. After which I experience a flood of feeling guilty, ashamed, sad, inadequate, and heartbroken that I have just responded so poorly to the two humans I am most responsible for. To the two tiny people who have captured my heart in a way no one else ever has. Know that feeling?
As it turns out we have two options here: I can choose to wallow in regret and guilt and shame or I can choose to grow and learn how to be better at this tremendous task of parenting. So I am choosing the latter…and you can to!
And this is a great opportunity to employ those Cognitive Behavior Therapy skills many of us know and love.
So reflection looks like this. I have a “moment”, after which I recognize that I have lost my cool.
When emotional intensity starts to settle down I can reflect on the following:
1) What am I feeling when I start yelling?
For me, often I am feeling “pressure”, “frustrated”, and/or “panic”.
2) Label the feelings
Now that I have labeled my feelings (a powerful action in its own regard), next to consider is what am thinking or believing that may be causing them? Or, more simply, finishing this sentence, “I felt ______ because __________.”
In my case, “I felt pressure because both kids were demanding my attention in different ways at the same time and I believe that I must meet their demands or else I am ineffective as a parent”
OR “I felt frustrated because I believe it is my job to make my children happy and, in this moment, they are not, therefore I have failed”
OR “I felt panic because I don’t think my daughter is ever going to learn to stop throwing things and pushing her brother and that is likely because I am doing something wrong in how I parent her”.
UGH. These are hard, if impossible, thoughts and beliefs to live by.
3) Distorted thinking
At this point I recognize that I have some distorted thinking to deal with. Disputing the distortions looks like this:
“Yes, both kids are demanding things of me but I simply can not do two things at the same time…trying to do so will inspire madness! The truth is, my kids will benefit by learning how to wait because it teaches them delayed gratification which, in turn, teaches that they can sit with uncomfortable feelings and survive”
OR “My child is not pleased at this moment and I feel saddened by this but it is not my job to make my children happy. It is my job to love and teach them. I also do not control their feelings, that is their right, and ultimately they decide whether or not they feel happy or pleased or content or upset at any given moment. I can respond to their feeling but I can not control it”
OR “My daughter continues to throw things and push her brother despite my interventions. Per brain development, this is both age appropriate and common as she has a growing but immature frontal lobe. She will be impulsive and reckless at times. This will change with time and age and instruction as eventually her brain will be able to integrate appropriate behavior with her thoughts and feelings. In the meantime, I need to keep addressing the behavior while teaching and modeling appropriate behavior”.
MUCH easier thoughts and beliefs to live by, right? Upon some purposeful reflection I still have lingering feelings but they are less intense. The power of reflection is that we can detach the unhelpful self-criticism and self-punishing that comes after a “moment” and we can see these moments as simply reminders that we are growing. The power of reflection is that it recognizes we are not perfect, we are works in progress…and we can progress.
So if you find yourself yelling at the kids again or losing your cool or wishing you could handle these intense moments better try reflecting. There is little to lose by this practice and much to gain!
Happy reflecting, my fellow “works in progress”. If you want to work on these in a private session, please connect with Perspectives Therapy Services.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland and Fenton, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.