By Lou Bevacqui
No matter how good a parent we are or how good our intentions, many of us are finding ourselves in tight quarters during COVID. Feelings of frustration and short temperedness is much more likely right now. Saying the wrong things. Overreacting.
Every year in Vermont over 20,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect are made to the state’s child protection hotline: 1-800-649-5285. And over 1,000 children and their families actually receive services through the Department for Children and Families Family Services Division each year. But what about the rest of us? When working with parents, emotions like regret or shame are commonplace when speaking about words or actions they wish they could have taken back, if only they had checked in with themselves beforehand. April is child abuse prevention month. So, since there isn’t a “centered parenting awareness month,” I thought I would use this month to share some techniques I teach to parents to help them stay present and available to their kids.
The most important thing parents can do, especially during this pandemic, is to take care of themselves first. If you aren’t feeling good, you can’t show up well for others. Self- recrimination or judgment can invite us to try to numb our feelings, to justify our actions or blame others for how we’re feeling. When you're coming back home at the end of the day or even if you’ve been home all day supporting your children with their virtual schooling, here’s some tips on how to keep your cool, and engage with your kids in a healthy and helpful manner:
Build curiosity about what you're feeling. We have thousands of emotions that we can feel at any given time and, if we’re honest with ourselves, they carry a great deal more weight for us than reason or logic when we choose the actions we take in our lives. You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of emotions, but you should know the ones that seem to come up for you the most on a daily basis. So, pay attention to what emotions you are having and how they feel in your body. By knowing how they feel inside you and being aware of their early warning signs, you may be able to . . .
Pause before engaging. It may seem simple, but even when we know how we’re feeling, we sometimes feel like we have the right to them. That “they,” meaning emotions, are “us” and we need to act on them. Our emotions are advisors at best and not decision makers that we are required to listen to. Find your pause by taking a few deliberate deep breaths. This simple but powerful tool helps regulate your heart rate and lower the intensity of the emotion. And now . . .
Stop and find your space. Don’t wait until you’re feeling overwhelmed with fear, frustration or anger, to find your spaces! (those places you can go to be alone and recenter yourself). That would be like trying to fix your car while you’re driving it -- not recommended by any mechanics I know. Identify places in your home, go out to your car, take a walk outside (it’s spring!), and take the time to allow yourself to have the emotion. No emotion is wrong, not even the ones you don’t like feeling. From a scientific perspective an emotion lasts only 90 seconds in your body (maybe a bit longer if you’re rolling mental film of something that happened to you during the day). Let go of the story and be courageous by stepping away from the situation. Then, when you actually see (or re-engage with) your kids,
Emotionally Testify. Let your kids know how you're feeling. A great deal of the time we take our unacceptable emotions out on others because we are trying to hide them. By testifying that you had a rough day (or moment), maybe sharing a bit of what happened if appropriate, you are not only stop yourself from taking your uncomfortable emotions out on your kids, but also model how they should handle and process their own emotion.
Bevacqui lives in Fayston.