How to stay calm when you’re angry with your child

This week saw the mama bear in me roar when my daughter was hurt. The inability to soothe her pain in that moment and her sibling’s part in the matter made me feel extremely angry. I wanted to shout and reprimand and unleash my anger but I managed to catch myself just in time. Whilst my girls are small, their mindfulness practice is my mindfulness practice. What I model, they learn. So once I noticed the anger rising, I managed to pause. Just long enough to stop my instinctive response and think about what to do next.

 

There are many models of mindful tactics to use when working through difficult emotions and what they all aim to do is insert a pause between you feeling an emotion and then reacting. Often, this reaction happens so quickly that it feels like it becomes one with the emotion. We’ve acted on autopilot. And often what we autopilot is our learned behaviour from when we were children. This may be fine, or it may not be in line with how you intend to parent. Inserting a pause gives us just enough time to feel our emotion, appraise the situation and decide how to act next in a constructive way.

 

I use the CALM model because I find it easy to remember and just repeating the word sets a good intention for me in terms of how I want to respond to my anger. So here is how you can stay CALM when your angry buttons are pressed.

 

how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry

 

You can download a printable here how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry-printable

 

C – Catch your breath

 

Once you’ve recognised anger, the first thing to do is just focus on the breath momentarily. Give yourself some space to step away from any immediate reactions. If you can make the out breath longer than the in breath, this will also calm the nervous system and reduce the ‘flight or fight’ response you may be having.

It can be really helpful to explain what you’re doing as well if you’re with a small child. It can be something simple like “I’m feeling angry right now so I’m going to pause while I think about what to do next.”

 

A – Allow

 

Allow yourself to feel the emotion you’re having. We’re not trying to hide from the emotion or make it go away. Instead we’re trying to relate to it in a different way. For the moment, all you need to do is feel the emotion in your body. Where do you feel it? A tightness in your chest perhaps? Clenched hands? No need to try to change any of this, just allow it to be as it is. If it does change though, that’s ok too.

 

L – Listen

 

Listen to your thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Thoughts are not always accurate or true and you don’t have to act on them. Allow yourself to consider other options as well. In my case, I had thoughts such as ‘why is she always being mean to her sister? What is wrong with her?’ When I think about it a calmer state of mind I know that a lot of the time she’s actually really lovely to her sister. It’s also age appropriate to not know how to deal with big emotions in a reasonable way so there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with her. Reviewing our thoughts in this way gives us a better preparation for how we act next.

 

M – Move into action

 

We’ve spent the last 30-60 seconds inserting a pause so we don’t act automatically (this will get quicker with practice) and the next step is to proceed with intention. Only you will know how you hope to parent in this situation, but allow yourself to be guided by your greater intention (I hope to write a blog post about setting a parenting intention so I’ll come back and insert a link when I do). If you have familiar situations arising though, it may be worth preparing some phrases in advance so you can draw on them quickly when you are angry. For instance “I won’t let you hit your sister. I’m going to hold you while the angry feelings pass.”

 

It’s important to recognise that this new approach won’t work immediately. It will take some time to undo your unconscious habits and create new neural pathways through repeated practice. There are 4 stages of re-learning that you will likely go through.

 

  1. You’re caught in the auto-pilot response without even realising it. It’s only afterwards that you consider how you would have liked to respond differently.
  2. You feel angry and are aware of your automatic reaction happening but feel unable to stop it. This is really tough and you may feel like giving up at this stage. Keep going though because being able to observe your reaction is evidence that you’re already being more mindful. It will get better.
  3. You feel angry but you’re able to pause, avert the automatic reaction and take a different course. It may still feel difficult but you should feel good about responding with intention.
  4. You’re unlikely to feel angry about the behaviour and move easily into a calm, intentional response.

 

There will still likely be lots of times when you yell or shout or say things you wish you didn’t. Especially in the beginning. We’re only human after all. In these instances, we can still model a mindful and compassionate way to deal with mistakes that our children can learn from.

 

  1. Firstly, extend yourself some compassion and kindness. Your children love you. You are a good parent (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about how to stay calm when you’re angry). We all make mistakes and that doesn’t make us bad people. If you’re feeling really low, like “I’m a terrible mother/father” then you may want to try a loving-kindness meditation.
  2. Explain the emotions you were feeling in language they can understand. This helps build emotional literacy so they can recognise their own emotions and have empathy for these emotions in others. For example “I felt really angry when you hit your sister. My heart was thumping and my body felt stiff. I felt like I wanted to shout.” Try to keep the language focused on you so they understand that your reaction was based on your emotions, not their actions. This teaches children that we have the resources to respond to our emotions in the manner we choose.
  3. Apologize in a positive way for your reaction. Humbleness is not a weakness and teaching children how to repair a mistake is a positive life skill. It might go something like “I’m sorry I shouted at you. I know that might have been scary. I’m learning how to respond more calmly when I’m angry but it may take a little time.” I know that when I’ve offered an apology to my daughter, she’s always accepted it with great grace and kindness. In fact, in the way I wish I responded to apologies as I’ve often been a bit begrudging in the past. Especially when I’ve been holding on to some hurt.

 

“Children make a lot of mistakes so these types of demonstrations are invaluable. Having an inner template of how to make amends can help children to avoid internalising a sense of failure, which can stop them from moving forward. If you are ultra-judgemental about your own mistakes and apologize profusely, or instead feel angrier and resentful, then this sends the message that mistakes are intolerable.” – Amber Hatch in Mindfulness for Parents

 

I hope this gives you some thoughts on how you can deal with anger calmly. I’m still re-learning my automatic reactions too but it gets better and better with time. If you have any comments or suggestions then I’d love to hear them.

 

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Giving the gift of presence

Thich Nhat Hanh said

 

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

 

In today’s busy, multi-channel, multi-attention world, it’s rare that we give our full and undivided attention to others. We talk whilst preparing dinner or we watch movies whilst surfing on our phone. Slowly and silently the distance between us can increase until  all of a sudden we can turn to the person next to us and feel adrift or disconnected. We all crave connection with our fellow humans; especially those we love. Gifting our mindful presence can help to reduce that divide and bring us closer as well as allowing our loved ones to bloom in our unconditional love.
If you fancy bestowing your presence rather than presents upon your loved ones this Valentines Day here are 3 suggestions.

 

1. A shared experience in the present moment
Have you ever smelled a scent or listened to a song and been transported to a vivid memory? Strong, sensual (by that I mean activating one of your 5 senses) experiences have the ability to ground us in the present moment. Enjoying these together can really allow us to be present in each other’s company and let go of distractions. The sky is your limit here but examples would be:

  • Watching the stars
  • Trying new foods together
  • Listening to live music
  • Massage with aromatherapy oils
  • A nature walk

 

 

2. Deep listening
Listening deeply to others allows them to feel heard and understood; and ultimately loved. With deep listening we use our self awareness to let go of our own agenda and embrace all that the speaker has to communicate in the present moment. We’re not evaluating or categorising the content of what they say, we’re not thinking about what to say next and we’re not trying to make them feel better. We’re simply listening to and absorbing what is said. Perhaps with some reflective statements to ensure we understand what they’re saying.
You don’t have to sit down and ‘do’ deep listening (unless you want to). Just try to be mindful of the next time your loved one seems to have something to say or work through and remind yourself that this would be a good time to listen deeply to what they have to say.

 

“The listener’s job is simply to be present and by their presence to hold a space for the other person to explore their felt senses and chosen issues. It is not the listener’s job to “be helpful,” to problem-solve or commiserate or evaluate, but simply to be mindfully present, including being mindful of their own felt senses as they arise.” (mindful.org)

 

If you want to learn more about deep listening there is a great article on mindful.org here.

 

3. The heart’s bulletin board
In her book ‘Only Love Today’, Rachel Macy Stafford talks about the heart’s bulletin board.

 

“Every human being, young or old, has a heart’s bulletin board. Every person needs safety, love and affirmation offered in terms he or she can understand.”

 

We are in charge of the messages we leave pinned on our loved one’s bulletin board. We can leave messages of love and affirmation that demonstrate our understanding of their unique qualities or we can leave messages charged with criticism, shame or anger. When we bring our mindful attention and presence to our loved ones, we can decide to offer soul building words that affirm our love for them.

 
I am grateful when you…
I notice that you…
Your eyes sparkle when you…
I enjoy when you…
You make my day better.

 
So there are my 3 suggestions for giving the gift of presence to your loved ones. If you have any more suggestions I’d love to hear about them! Just comment below.

 

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Mindful tips to improve relationships

Book Review: Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been following Rachel’s blog The Hands Free Mama for a few years now and I’ve always adored her writing. It’s like the written equivalent of a hug from a friend. Her work is full of hope and inspiration for turning a bad day around without feeling sanctimonious or judgemental. I haven’t read any of her previous books so I was delighted to be given the chance to get a sneak preview of this one.

 

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I was somewhat surprised (and happy) to find that this isn’t a cover to cover read or a manual for mindful living. In the words of Rachel this is a “flip open, read-in-any-order book of daily encouragement designed to shift perspective and anchor us in love”. Each short passage of c. 2-3 pages tackles a specific theme and includes a short quote (great to write in a journal as a reminder), an encouraging passage based in experience and a suggested exercise for the day to help reinforce this shift in perspective. You could simply work your way through the book taking a passage each day, or you could just use the index to refer to relevant passages as and when needed.

 
On opening the book initially, the first passage I came to was exactly what I needed that day. After a 5am start with two small, tired people, I was feeling pretty grumpy and snappy. I hadn’t exactly been the model Mum thus far and I was feeling bad about it. The “Only Love Today Affirmation” really helped me let go of the regret and resentment and open up to all the possibilities yet to come that day.

 

 

 

only-love-today-rachel-macy-stafford

 
“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response… my gut instinct… my natural reaction. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.
Let love start this day.
Let love end this day.
Let love transform the minutes in between.”

 
This book allows us to accept our human, imperfect selves, whilst still allowing us to grow and nurture those around us with increasing love and softness. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who loves someone. Loving ourselves and those we cherish with gentleness, empathy and compassion is probably something we all hope to do and yet still manage to stray away from some days. This is the perfect companion to help you get back on track.

 

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Q&A: How can mindfulness help when I’m feeling down?

This week I was sent a question and I think it’s really relevant to all of us at one point or another so I thought it was worth turning into a blog post. It also made me think that I could have a regular question and answer on the blog so if you have any questions, then have a look at the contact page and send them in.

 
Q. Some days I struggle with just having a bad day. It’s hard not to see it as a set back, or all my ideas and positivity not working anymore and instead just accept it’s a little blip and not the end of the world. But still it shocks me that I have these odd days where my energy is off as I know I’ve come so far. I think ‘I shouldn’t feel like this! I know I should be turning it around and flipping this on it’s head’ but some days I can’t! What do you do?

 
A. I think in your question you are already halfway to the answer. Often we think of mindfulness as being a progressive state towards enlightenment at which point we will have ‘reached our goal.’ The more I learn about mindfulness though, the more I see our lives as being in constant state of dynamic movement. We’re like a cruise ship passing through a different port everyday. Some ports we like and some we don’t like. Sometimes the weather is calm and blissful, other times the ship is buffeted by storms and big waves. Mindfulness is a tool we can use to help us navigate all of these places and weathers but it can’t ensure we stay in one place forever.

 
Emotional states ebb and flow and this is perfectly normal and natural. Our intention with mindfulness is to accept each emotion in the moment and allow it to be as it is without becoming too attached to it. My first mindfulness teacher told me ‘what we resist, persists’ (a Carl Jung quote) and this is often true of negative emotions. If we become too attached to making them go away, our brain starts to ruminate on ways to solve the problem and we’re taken out of the present moment and into the past or future. All this thinking and ruminating can actually make the bad mood hang around longer or even spiral downwards into a darker mood.

 
A practical exercise you could do in this situation is as follows.

 

 

  1. Take yourself back into the body with a simple meditation. This could be a 10 minute meditation or simply 3 mindful breaths. Whatever time allows.
  2. Use your mindful attention to identify what emotion you are feeling. Anger? Sadness? Boredom? Frustration?
  3. Use a mantra to acknowledge the impermanence of emotions. Something simple like ” I am angry, this will pass.’ You can repeat this as many times as you need.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Take a moment to acknowledge what you need. Would it be helpful to eat if you’re hungry or reduce your ‘to-do’ list for that day?

 
Rumi wrote a beautiful poem about how we can welcome and make peace with all of our emotions and I’m going to share it here.

 

rumi-the-guest-house

 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~Rumi