If you’re anywhere in a stage of your child’s development where you’re experiencing really big feelings and flooding sensitivities, you probably have no idea what to do for them or you. And realistically, it’s likely that all of their developmental stages are sensitive and triggersome. Parenting has no manual, so most of us are doing what we can (and likely what we have been taught by our own parents) to manage these experiences for ourselves and our children, though sometimes, our own patterns in how we address big feelings can lead to further escalations. As a fellow parent myself, I see you. It’s hard, and it can lead us to our own negative behavioral patterns like having our own temper tantrums, getting angry with our kids, and often follows with that gut wrenching guilt that you messed this up and it’s going to impact them into adulthood.
Every child is different, and for those of us who have neurodiverse children with higher sensory sensitivities, we have to experiment with various tactics in order to determine what’s best for our own children. Though, here are a few tips in managing your child when they begin to swing into tantrum mode and you need some logic to sort through it with them.
- Choose Your Battles
Once you become triggered, it’s rather easy to find yourself in a power struggle with your children where you’re now battling over miniscule things. Likely, both of you feel a loss of power which can lead to a dynamic where both the child and parent are trying to prove they’re in charge. First, remember that when your child is being unkind or unsafe, it is important you help them understand why safety is number one, though if you model to them that you are their authority, you now reinforce that power is the goal. Talk to them, and help them understand that you see them, but that you cannot give them what they want because of a safety reason, or perhaps you have school in 5 minutes and we need to all get to our next destination. Also, notice when you want to battle against the child and see if you can perhaps let this go. There will be times when it’s important to teach your child about cooperation and seeing others, and there will be other times that their battle is likely them telling you that they are running on zero battery charge which is a good time to let things go with them so that the focus can redirect to recharging their nervous systems.
- Model Taking Space
One of the most effective ways to teach our children how to regulate is to model this. When we experience a trigger and fight mode shows up as a means to protect us, practice taking space in front of your children. The idea that you are going to stay calm when your child is melting down is not realistic for many of us. Rather, we can model to our children that expressing ourselves and asking for space to use our tools is an essential part of taking care of ourselves.
- Talk About Your Feelings Together
To build emotional intelligence in children, we need to talk about feelings with them. As parents, this means we don’t just talk about their feelings, but ours as well. To practice this, we can explore naming our feelings together after both positive and negative moments in order to build their awareness around what their feelings are.
For many of us, we may not have had this modeled for us when we were children, so the idea of naming your own feelings to your children can feel foreign. This in itself is a teachable space for our children. Letting them know that you are feeling a reaction in your own body, but that you don’t quite know how to articulate it normalizes that sometimes we don’t have words for what’s going on, and that it’s ok to feel this. “I’m upset right now, though I’m not ready to talk about this,” or “I’m having a lot of feelings come up, and I’m not sure what they are right now,” are ways in which we help children recognize that feelings don’t always make sense, yet they can still be felt without having to be expressed vocally.
- Aim for “Good Enough” Parenting
If you are trying to be a perfect parent, stop. There is no such thing as perfection, so there is no such thing as a perfect parent. As a parent with my own perfectionist part, let me tell that I have *tried*. “Good enough” parenting is what the majority of parents are capable of, and it’s more realistic. The concept of good enough parenting is where we aim for 50-60% of the time we do a good job, and the other 40-50% we allow room for mistakes, growth, and repair.…
There is no rulebook for how we raise our children, though the number one thing we should always keep in mind is how we treat ourselves, and take care of ourselves. You are your child’s most important regulation tool, because children learn by example. In acknowledging this incredibly important role we play, that doesn’t mean that you have to be calm and collected all the time. In fact, it’s not possible and it wouldn’t teach children about the wide spectrum of emotions we expect them to feel. As a parent, you deserve support as much as your children, so if you find yourself in a place of despair not knowing how to work with your child, it can be important for you to seek emotional support as well. And in truth, we often see the most significant changes in children when their parents begin to prioritize their own mental health. There is grief in this, because asking for help means you *can’t* do it all by yourself. And, you’re not supposed to.
If you find yourself getting curious about beginning your own journey in therapy, welcome. I see you, I honor you for this. Having someone hold space for you as you do for your children is just as important for you as it is for them.