Regulating Parents’ Emotions So They Can Effectively Regulate Their Child’s Emotions

October 24, 2022

Something that I believe every parent can benefit from is finding effective ways to regulate their own emotions so that they can help their children regulate themselves.  Parenting is HARD.  It’s chaotic, amazing, exhausting, rewarding, expensive, and wonderful all at the same time.  When we’re stressed out with whatever the day throws at us, it’s easy to take it out on those closest to us.  When we are already crunched for time (because as a parent there’s never enough time in the day), we’re trying to get our child’s lunch ready, the house is a disaster, the baby just woke up, and our child is having big emotions (AKA a tantrum, refusing to help, crying because they want attention, etc. etc.) we tend to yell or take out our frustration on the child.  It’s a very common response to have when faced with this kind of scenario.  Be gentle with yourself mom/dad!  It happens.  But there are ways that we can decrease the frequency of us losing our tempers.  

My hope is that this article can teach parents helpful ways to manage their BIG emotions, so they can be there for their little ones who are having BIG emotions.  An escalated parent CANNOT deescalate an escalated child. Read that again! An escalated parent CANNOT deescalate an escalated child.

1. Take a few deep breaths. 

How does your body feel when you’re beginning to get overwhelmed, stressed, angry, etc.?  Do your shoulders hunch up, your jaw clench, or your forehead furrow?  Notice these signs and take mental note.  THIS is the first step in recognizing when you need to take some deep breaths.  Taking deep breaths will help calm your nervous system and prevent you from acting in a way that you wouldn’t normally.  Stop and notice what your body is telling you. 

2. Remember to think before you act.

Take a few seconds to gather yourself before you respond in a way that you may regret later.  Patience is key when parenting – not only with your children, but also with yourself.  If you are noticing signs of yourself becoming unregulated, change the scenery for you and/or your child/teen.  Go outside, move to another room, allow them screen time (it’s OK to allow it when you yourself need some time to deescalate), suggest they read a book or draw/color.  This change in scenery helps take you and your child/teen out of the upsetting situation which will help them calm down quicker.

3. Tell yourself & kiddo – “Everyone makes mistakes”.

This was one of the most powerful things ever said to me as a child!  Perfection is not possible. Give yourself & kiddo grace, patience, understanding.  Your child/teen is still learning. Even if they know the limits that have been set, they are still learning how to cope with big feelings and sometimes this can cause children/teens to make inappropriate choices. 

Work together with them so you can both understand why they acted in a way that they knew they shouldn’t have.  Use “I wonder” statements.  For example, you can say “I wonder what you need right now”, “I wonder what can be done differently next time”, “I wonder what I can do for you”.  Using “I wonder” statements helps the child/teen stay in their feelings, which is where they naturally are, and continue to process how they are feeling.

Do your best NOT to yell – be there for your child/teen when they are having a hard time.  You can be firm without yelling.  If they are crying, yelling, being aggressive, now is NOT the time to discipline. Wait until they have calmed down for you talk about how to move forward positively.  If they like to be hugged when they are having big feelings, hug them (but keep yourself safe).  If they don’t like to be hugged, do NOT force it.  If they need space, allow them space. 

A few things about limitations/consequences:

  1. Stick to your limitations if they are feasible.  Creating and maintaining limits and consequences communicate to the child/teen that there is safety.  No limits/consequences communicate that they can do whatever they want, which equals little safety.  A child/teen needs to know that there are rules within means
  2. Maybe your limitations/consequences need to be reevaluated.  Perhaps a limit or consequence worked with one child, but doesn’t with the other.  Remember that every person is different, even siblings!  What may have worked for you when you were a child/teen does not mean it will work for your child/teen. 

4. Find another caregiver who is regulated in the home that can take over until you are regulated again.

If you are having a difficult time regulating yourself and there is another caregiver that can take over for you, switch out.  It’s OK to walk away from a situation when you need extra time to take care of yourself.  Return to your child/teen when you feel ready and talk about what happened with them.  Let them know that you love them and that you needed to take a break.  Switching out is much better than losing our tempers and yelling.  The important thing here is to return to your child afterwards to assure them that you love them, explain why you walked away, and acknowledge their feelings as well.

5. If you know your child is going to have a difficult time doing X. Y, or Z, plan to have extra time during these moments so you don’t feel rushed.

Time is a HUGE stressor as a parent.  You’re juggling so many things constantly.  If you can, try to find ways to squeeze in a few extra minutes into situations where you know you will have a battle with your child/teen.  If we don’t feel as much stress about time during these situations, then our ability to maintain a regulated state increases.  We no longer have the thoughts in the back of our minds of, “we’re going to be late again”, “the traffic is going to be so bad”, “I’m going to get dirty looks”, etc.

6. Prioritize your own self-care.  

SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE! Did I mention self-care? Self-care is crucial to our well-being as a person and as a parent.  If we don’t take time for ourselves and we’re always running on “E”, we tend to get resentful with others in our life.  I strongly encourage you to find ways of caring for yourself each and every day.  Whatever that may look like! Maybe for you it’s exercising 30 minutes a day, or going for a walk outside, or watching your favorite show, or finding peace and quiet.  Do whatever you need to do each day.  When we take care of ourselves, we have more bandwidth to be there for others. 

Written By: Ellen Meystedt, MA, NCC, LPC-Associate,
Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S, CCST-T


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