Are your patience levels currently at ‘little to none’? Are you exhausted? Are you yelling more than you’d like to?
You are not alone. Most of us are experiencing a lot of stress right now due to the pandemic. We’ve got kids and partners at home 24/7. We’re trying to work from home and do some semblance of schooling with no support. We’re worried about the future.
These are unprecedented times. No wonder things feel hard right now!
We can’t change much about our situation. But we can choose to calm ourselves when we are challenged so that we can respond to our children rather than losing it. Plus, yelling actually interferes with problem solving! When we get upset, we’re not using our thinking brain anymore. We are operating from our “it’s an emergency” brain, the amygdala. Not yelling isn’t the answer to whatever we are struggling with, but it makes it easier to get a solution to the problem when we can think clearly. Stop Drop and Breathe helps us get back to being able to think clearly.
Here’s what you can do to stop yelling.
The first step is to give yourself some compassion.
Beating yourself up for yelling, or telling yourself you ‘should’ be able to manage, won’t help. If your child was melting down trying to do their schoolwork (familiar situation, anyone?) you know that being harder on them doesn’t ever work. Making someone feel worse to do better never helps. Why would we do that to ourselves? What we need to do better is to normalize the difficulty of the situation and comfort ourselves. OF COURSE we are having a hard time right now.
A note: Your inner critical voice might tell you to stop complaining, others are suffering more than you are right now. Having compassion for yourself when things are hard does not take away your ability to have compassion for others who have it worse than you. Empathy is not finite.
Scene: The kids are fighting AGAIN. You are interrupted for the 20th time in 30 minutes. You haven’t had a break in weeks.
When you feel like you’re about to lose it, Stop Drop and Breathe. ‘Stop Drop and Breathe’ is your pause button to calm yourself. It’s hard at first but you can do this with practice.
We yell because it feels like an emergency. It’s the fight response of our body’s fight-flight-freeze emergency mobilization system. Whatever is about to make you lose it might feel like an emergency, but it’s actually not. We need our pause button to get out of the emergency response mode.
Step 1: Stop.
Stop whatever you’re doing. Stop yelling if you’ve already started. Shut your mouth; turn away. Remind yourself that it isn’t an emergency, even if it feels like one. Give yourself some compassion. Of course this is hard. Say something to yourself like, “This feels hard because it IS hard.” Being kind to ourselves calms us. Giving ourselves compassion starts to soothe us out of overwhelm and ‘fight’ mode.
Step 2: Drop.
Drop your agenda. Just for a minute, don’t think about the constant interruptions or the fighting. Focus on the pause and temporarily let go of whatever is upsetting you. You can come back to it when you’re more calm.
Step 3: Breathe.
When you breathe, it sends a message to your brain and your body that there is no emergency. You might add a mantra, like, “This is not an emergency” or “I can handle this” or “They’re acting like children because they are children.”
This isn’t a magic wand to make all our challenges go away. But we know that yelling doesn’t help anything. (If it’s your only way to get kids to listen, check out this post!) It scares kids, hurts our relationship with them, and makes us feel bad. If we’re hijacked and yelling, we can’t actually be effective to deal with whatever the situation is. We need to get out of our fight-flight-freeze state and use our thinking brains again. Stop Drop and Breathe is your tool to get there.
This post is one of the lessons from my Peaceful Parenting Mantras colouring book. Colour your own reminder to Stop Drop and Breathe. You can learn more about it here.
Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and parenting advice columnist for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 12, 15, and 19). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com