When I talk with other parents, one theme that comes up often is what to do when we're at our emotional breaking point. When we're anxious, irritated, angry, or triggered by our kid's behavior... how do we regain calm again? How do we come back to a place of love and kindness so that we can engage with our kids and live our lives from our deepest values rather than our immediate frustrations?
One simple way to do this is to take a pause.
When I was in parent education classes at our local co-operative preschool, we called this taking a "Daddy/Mommy Time-Out." When you feel that your emotions are starting to overtake your reasoning, pausing that process allows you reconnect back to yourself, to your deepest values and desires for your relationship with your kids, and to your ability to integrate your thoughts and emotions so that you can act with intention rather than just react.
What's happening in your brain
When you think about how to deal with managing your emotions when they're starting to feel out of control, it can be helpful to understand a bit of what's happening in your brain. In those co-op parent education classes, we also learned about the "hand model of the brain", as described by Dr. Dan Siegel. The palm represents the brainstem and the thumb is the limbic system, which work together to regulate your stress response and are your emotional center. The fingers represent the cortex – the rational, thinking center, part of which also regulates the limbic system and brain stem. (You can see his short video explanation of the hand model here.)
When the brain is functioning calmly, the hand model looks like a fist with the thumb under the fingers and all the parts connected and working together. However, when we get excessively emotionally triggered and the stress response is fully engaged, the brain functions more like an open, flat hand – the cortex functionally disconnects from brain stem and limbic system, and our emotions take over our ability to think rationally. He calls this experience of disconnection “flipping your lid.”
Flipping your lid is really helpful sometimes, like when your life is in immediate danger, and you need all the adrenaline your body can muster to save yourself. But it’s not helpful when you need access to the rational part of your brain for creatively solving a non-life-threatening problem in front of you – like your kid’s challenging behavior.
The fundamental thing you can do to get your whole brain back to working together – both the emotional and rational parts – is to take a pause. You need to interrupt the current path you're on and change course. If you take action with a “flipped lid,” you’ll very likely say and do things you’ll regret later. Taking a pause – and potentially doing some specific things during that pause – allows your brain to calm down and reconnect. But how do you actually do that?
How to take a pause
Here are the three steps you need to take to start taking a pause when you're feeling your emotions rising:
An important note: As you start to do this, you may have many times when you realize that your emotions were in control (and that you should have paused) after the situation is over. This is completely normal and not something to worry about. As you practice, you'll get better and will eventually begin to notice more often in the moment.
Want to learn more?
If you'd like to learn more about what you can do while you pause to bring your emotions and stress level back down, or if you'd like more guidance on becoming more aware of your feelings in the first place, I'd love for you to join me in my new online course: Discovering Calm: A Parent's Guide to Simple Tools for Keeping Your Cool
We'll walk through the three steps to calm... from becoming aware that you’re feeling upset, to interrupting the stress response, and finally changing your perspective. Along the way, you’ll discover simple, quick and powerful tools that you can use any time you need to return to calm. And we don’t stop there – we’ll make sure you have a specific plan for how you’ll use the tools that work best for you in your everyday life. Because you could learn about all the methods in the world, but if you don’t put them into practice, they’re not much use.
Click the button below to find out more, and I hope to see you there!