I’ve noticed that I am much more confident and in control of my emotions/responses on the weekend when I have not spent the majority of my day at work, away from my son. The rest of the time, especially when I’m tired or unfocused, I feel that I am poorly responding to his tantrums, demands, and neediness.
It is scary to find that I can so quickly call up and repeat the responses I received from my father…yelling, shaming, lecturing, and tantrum-ing right back. After every episode I commit to myself and to my son that I will try harder and do better in the future, but in that ‘heat of the moment’ my intentions are like a pixelated image in a far corner of my memory, too fuzzy to be realized. It is even scarier to me that my inability to project patience, guidance, and love means that my son will have the same challenge and repeat the cycle when he becomes a parent.
Do you have suggestions for meditative practices, mantras, etc. to help parents center and calm themselves while in the heat of the moment?
– Concerned Parent
My mantra for parents is also one of our biggest challenges: Let feelings be. Accept tantrums, meltdowns, whines, neediness, disappointments, sadness, major and minor complaints without judgment. Our children’s feelings and desires are involuntary and do not belong to us. Managing, calming, or otherwise “fixing” them is not our responsibility, nor is it helpful to them.
So, rather than trying to respond “properly” and risk becoming affected by our children’s moods, focus on letting feelings be. Our children’s emotional expressions (no matter how unreasonable, ridiculous or unfair they might seem) need to be okay with us as is, for as long as they last. Our acceptance is what allows them to be expressed in a healthy manner.
- When your daughter can’t stand her little brother, let her feelings be. Acknowledge, “He’s bugging you right now.”
- When your son doesn’t want to play with the other kids on the playground, let his feelings be. Assure him, “You can sit with me for as long as you like.”
- When your child is upset because the sun disappeared behind a cloud, let her feelings be. “You wanted the sun to keep shining.”
When we let feelings be, we let go of reacting and, instead, stay anchored, accepting ups and downs, letting life flow.
Remember that our reasonable limits don’t cause our children’s feelings, but rather provide children the opportunity to release feelings that are already there. Trust this process.
Your child wants you to keep playing, but you need to do something else. You let his feelings be by staying calm and moving on. “You are holding onto me. I feel that, but I’m going to remove your hands so I can get our dinner ready. You’re upset about that.”
Letting feelings be doesn’t mean being permissive or giving in to our child’s demands or wishes. In fact, acceptance usually requires we do the exact opposite. Holding firmly to our boundary or position gives children the message that their disagreements and disappointments are perfectly acceptable.
“You didn’t like it when I took you out of the bath. You wanted to stay in longer.”
When we let these feelings be we connect deeply with our children and encourage them to process emotions, build confidence and resilience.
Emily’s story is a perfect example:
I wanted to share a quick story that illustrates how well your philosophy works. I just got home from a 2-week business trip abroad, and while my daughter did very well (according to my husband), she started acting up and fussing more frequently towards the end of the trip (understandably). She was very happy when I got home but still threw a few fits – mostly about things like getting in the car seat, not wanting to change… the usual.
At dinner last night, my husband and I were discussing this and wondering how we should handle these mini-tantrums and why they were continuing now that I was back. Once we were done with dinner, we began clearing the table and getting my daughter ready to wash up. She started melting down and crying no! and grabbing for the table, so we offered her another bite or two of dinner thinking maybe she was still hungry. She wasn’t. She just wanted to keep hanging out at the table. We were done, though, so my husband took her to the sink, crying all the while, and washed her hands and face. She was inconsolable. As soon as she could, she ran back to the high chair and climbed in, sobbing because now dinner was over and we were cleaning up.
Remembering your thoughts about acknowledging our children’s feelings without judgment, I took her into the living room and sat her down. Just as she shouted no! and tried to leave, I said, “You want to keep sitting at the dinner table.” Period. She gave a BIG, shuddering sigh/sob, looked at me and quietly said, “Yeah.”
So, I said it again: “You want to keep sitting at the dinner table.” The tantrum stopped. Just like that. We sat quietly for a minute, and again she said, “Yeah,” and then it was over. She came and helped me finish clearing the table and cleaning up.
Later, she brought out a small stack of little plates and we pretended to set the table and sit at it. It was a happy little pre-bedtime game. My instinct was to say, “But we are all done! No more dinner! Let’s do something else!” I’m so glad I had read your post about this and was able to just listen to her and let her feel what she was feeling — understood and comforted. What a relief for all of us!
I share more about nurturing emotional health in
I also demonstrate this approach in several of my podcasts, including this one: