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Mindful Parenting: Getting Your Emotions Under Control

We live saturated with information, plugged into devices using applications that daily, hourly and minute-by-minute repeat and reinforce messages that convey information, anxiety and concern. As parents we not only have to figure out what age-appropriate access we want for our children, but also how to manage our own responses to this never-ending barrage.

This has nothing to do with any particular party or point of view. Being plugged in fans the flames of anxiety and outrage. The gulf between people holding opposing opinions often feels insurmountable. Change always produces anxiety and everyone can agree that things really did change with this election.

We’re familiar with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once someone has suffers a significant trauma, the emotional impact of each subsequent upheaval or disaster is amplified. For many people in metropolitan New York, whether or not you were personally affected, 9/11 was a significant traumatic event. The toll from Super-Storm Sandy, the Great Recession, the 2016 election, and more personal events, like the death of a loved one, don’t entirely disappear. Loss of resiliency makes it harder to bounce back. Being aware of this helps to counteract the emotional rollercoaster caused by the latest upsetting event or news story.

What is a parent to do? We have to engage this issue on three fronts:

  1. Manage your own reactions; be aware of the face you present to your child and how you talk with your family about issues and concerns. This isn’t only about what is age-appropriate information, but how to talk to your child about fears and anxiety.
  2. Control the 24-hour news cycle. How much information is too much information? You want your child to be involved in civic life, but does that mean they should have an open window to the full range of what you’re thinking and feeling? Your answers to these questions are highly personal; whatever you decide, you should be aware of the effect on your child’s sense of well-being and security—regardless of the risks and dangers you feel.
  3. Learn how to disagree and how to have a dialogue with someone with a different viewpoint. Living where polarization and not compromise is the norm in politics is one thing, but think about how the behavior seen on the nightly news would translate onto the playground. Children need to see dialogue and compromise modeled.

The first step is to become aware yourself, about how you are reacting – whether it is to something you read on your Facebook feed or your response to an “idiot” driver in front of you when you’re rushing to get your child to school on time.

Here are some suggestions for taking that first step:

This may sound simple, but it is powerful. Just unplug. Park everyone’s smart phone or tablet when you walk in the door at the end of the day. After checking in after dinner, resist the urge to read the umpteenth update.

Identify the positive and name it. This doesn’t mean that the causes of your stress are to be ignored. Try to find something good in your day. The positive feelings you generate will empower you to face the scary stuff.

Practice some mindfulness techniques when your blood begins to boil. Step away from what you’re reading, think about the present moment; really pay attention to your child, focus on what they are doing and try to identify and think about what all of your senses are telling you. Think about making that moment an indelible memory.

Come up with your own “curse” to use when you feel a blast of frustration while driving. That made up expletive allows you to vent but also introduces humor into the moment, a valuable tool to diffusing anger.

Focus on keeping your interactions human. Really look at the grocery store cashier, smile and ask how their day is going when they start to ring up your purchases. Let that car trying to pull out of a parking spot on a busy road go, rather than racing around it.

Express gratitude; this includes to your spouse and children for simply making you smile. Say it and mean it.

Show empathy and act on it.

We’ve all be through a lot lately. Bringing your own emotional thermostat under control is a first step to managing stress and anxiety. Not only are you reducing your own levels of anxiety, you are laying a strong foundation being able to help your child learn to regulate their emotions.