We’re often told as parents to just ‘trust our instincts’. But this can be extremely hard for new parents because we live in a society where we have never been taught to trust our instincts. We’ve instead been taught from a young age to listen to authority, fit the mold, and never question. Add to that going through the immensely transformative process of becoming a parent to a brand new human being and it’s no wonder the first year is so hard!
So, first of all, do not feel guilty if you don’t yet feel those parental instincts. This is not your fault. You can, however, work towards becoming more in touch with it so that you can be the parent you want to be and block out the noise.
Two big things to keep in mind in this process are: reparenting yourself, and mindfulness.
I won’t get into repareting too much in this post because I could be here all day. But the important thing is becoming aware of your triggers and your own stories so that you don’t react to your child from your own wounds.
Mindfulness is the art of staying present in the moment. We tend to dwell on the past or stress about the future: both of which lead to anxiety and depression. So a mindfulness practice is just that: being in the now. One effective tool to get there is meditation. I highly recommend the free app Insight Timer which comes with many guided meditations. Yoga, exercise, dancing, and nature walks are also great ways to be in the now. Hopefully you are doing some of these in your day to day.
However, the key is integrating. When you find yourself in those moments where your child is pushing your buttons, what do you do to stay grounded? What do you do to keep your triggers from taking over? Finding a technique that works for you can be incredibly helpful.
What does this have to do with sleep?
We often talk about the effect of sleep deprivation on our mental health. But we rarely discuss the effect of our mental health on our children’s sleep. The reality is that our children are incredibly aware of our moods. When we feel anxious, they know it. And when we’re stressed to get them to sleep, they know it too! They naturally do not want to go to sleep when you are upset because their brain sees it as unsafe. After all, if mommy is worried it means something is wrong. Staying calm during bedtime will help our children stay calm too and therefore allow them to rest.
So I’ve rounded up some quick strategies you can use in the moment to get back to a balanced state. Please note that the important thing is to find what works for you! These are just suggestions.Use a grounding object during your mindfulness practice. For example, if you fidget with a hair elastic on your wrist when you get frustrated, try doing that while you meditate. This way you shift your brain’s association with fidgeting from an anxious state to fidgeting to stay calm. It’s amazing what we can trick our brains to do! Thank you for this suggestion Dr. Laura Froyen.
Try a breathing technique. Focusing on your breath can really bring you back to the moment. For example, take a deep breath in, hold it for 3 seconds, and let it out through your mouth as slowly as you can. You can also try making a ‘shhh’ sound or a hum to release some energy.
Try a mental distraction. Count one thing you can smell, see, touch, taste, hear. Or tell yourself your name, address, and age. Better yet, create a little mantra for yourself to say in these moments. A love and kindness meditation can go a long way to helping you find peace.
Try a physical grounding technique. Maybe it’s a yoga pose you enjoy that you can do in the moment. I find a cat/cow pose to help my anxiety or maybe you can go outside and put your hands and feet to the bare soil
Involve your child! Make it fun. Can you show your child how to breathe out fire like a dragon? (And in the process release some of your energy) or can you play a little chase game and release tension through giggles? Play is the best therapy!
Remember that it’s all about finding what works for you. It’s also not about being perfectly happy and peaceful all the time. You will get triggered. You will feel anxious. It’s simply about bringing ourselves down to a manageable state in those moments so we can be the parent we want to be.
Later, once you’re feeling better examine what happened. What triggered you? Why? What came up for you? How can you shift that for next time?
As always, remember that our children are HAVING a hard time, not GIVING us a hard time.
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