What’s the most important tool for moms?
- The latest best selling parenting book?
- The naughty stool? (or timeout corner)
- Your parenting class and teacher?
These all might be very helpful, and can be used appropriately in many situations. It helps when you have lots of good tools in your toolbox of parenting solutions. But I’d argue that you have a tool available to you at every moment of the day and that it can be used in almost any situation.
It’s the breath.
- When your child is crying and demanding something he can’t have
- When your daughter hits her brother
- When your child’s preschool teacher tells you at pickup time that she’s still not ___________ (insert skill she hasn’t yet mastered)
- When your children are jumping on the bed and you’re terrified someone will get hurt….
You can breathe. Breathe deeply.
Breathing brings your attention back to your body instead of reacting to what’s happening ‘out there.’ You’re likely to become upset, angry or off-kilter in any of those situations. Who wouldn’t be? The great thing about breathing deeply, though, is that you can’t be upset and breathe deeply at the same time (or at least, you can’t be as upset).
When you’re upset it’s very easy to react in a way you wouldn’t if you were calm. When you’re upset you’re more likely to yell, say something you don’t want to or do something you’ll be sorry for later. STOPPING just for the moment it takes to take a deep breath interrupts your upset and helps you make better decisions.
When I was teaching preschoolers we had stars posted all around the classroom walls imprinted with:
T (AKE A DEEP BREATH)
Any time one of us adults felt stressed or upset by something going on in the classroom or just because (!), we’d stop, take a deep breath and relax. I did it so often that when I take a deep breath now I automatically smile. Really.
The breath brings you out of your emotions and stories (people must think I’m a terrible mother! what if she breaks her arm falling off the bed and I have to take her to the hospital?) and back to your body. When you’re back in your body, you’re grounded in reality, in what is. After taking a breath it’s easier to notice with a calmer mind that:
- Your child is upset that she can’t have candy – it’s about her, not you
- Your daughter is angry with her brother and doesn’t know how to say it with words (at least not when she’s upset)
- Miss Mary thinks your daughter needs to learn how to ______________
- Your children are having fun doing something that could be dangerous and you need to redirect them
The S.T.A.R. technique is one I learned from the book Conscious Discipline, by Dr. Becky A. Bailey. It was useful to all of us, and we taught it to children to use when they were upset, too. But we used it the most!
(At the Conscious Discipline website there are lots of free resources for parents, including a Make-n-Take Breathing Star that you can copy and make with your child.)
So, how do you get to the point where you automatically breathe whenever you start feeling stressed?
You practice. A lot.
You can practice with your child. You can practice when you pour your first cup of coffee in the morning. You can practice as you’re getting in the car to drive to work.
If you need a visual reminder (and most of us do – that’s what your paper calendar and phone apps are) cut out a star and tape it to your coffee maker. Tape one to your bottle of multivitamins. The visual will remind you to take a deep breath, and saying (or thinking)
“Stop, take a deep breath and relax”
while you breathe will reinforce the message you want your brain and body to get. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to breathe. For bonus points, breathe deeply three times. You could even count that as a daily meditation practice.
Once you’ve practiced a few times, try using it when you’re stressed in any situation (driving behind slow drivers, just before you call to make a doctor’s appointment, when you’re put on hold with tech support). See if it helps. And definitely practice with your child.
I wish I’d known about this strategy when my children were little. I’d have yelled much less and spared us all many tears (mostly mine).
Are you ready to try the STAR technique?
When do you get stressed with your children?