How do you Feel?

face in a reflection

If I’ve learned anything about trauma, regulation and parenting it is that first you have to know yourself. That applies to your children and it applies to you. If you aren’t in the habit of self-reflection and asking yourself how you feel and what do you need, you are most likely a reactive person who is comfortable telling yourself that your reactions were justified because someone else “made you do it”.

 

While it is very true that we attune to people and tend to match the emotions we see in someone else we focus our attention on (see my previous post on Atunement), it is important to be able to have enough self-awareness to understand when you are having negative feelings and examine those feelings before you disconnect with that person- in this case your child.

 

If you are not in the habit of self-reflection, I would suggest you look up some mindfulness techniques. They don’t have to take a lot of time during your day. You can do something as simple as pausing every now and then during the day and labeling your feelings at that moment to yourself. “Right now, I’m feeling- happy, anxious, calm, angry…” Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for your child and it’s true for you. If you are being short with your children, label your feelings and that can help you identify why you might be behaving the way you are.

 

Now for you children, self- reflection and attunement might be hard concepts for them to grasp. But you can still teach your children how to know themselves. I’m big on family time, family meetings, family meals whatever ritual you establish that pulls your family together so you can talk and share. Our family gets together before bedtime every night to talk, read, pray and dole out goodnight hugs and kisses. This is the time where I sneak in some sort of mindfulness activity we do as a family. One exercise we tried recently was that we each had to say how we felt at that moment and put a label on our emotion. It may be difficult for your kids to put a word to how they are feeling as we typically don’t say much about our emotions beyond, “fine”, “good”, “tired”, or maybe even an eye roll when a parent asks how a child is feeling. It’s a good place to start building up self-awareness. Try it!

 

Another exercise you can do with your children that is fun is playing a sort of feelings charade game with them. Have each person take a turn choosing a part of their day to act out and they have to show in their face how they felt about that experience.  By focusing on non-verbal communication with no words. The rest of the family will be attuned to the person’s body language and facial expressions to try to figure out how they are feeling. This game has a two-fold benefit of helping the person who is acting out to again label their emotion to themselves and then tie that emotion to a facial expression, it links the left brain label/category and words factory to the right brain sensing and expressions to help them process how they felt about a part of their day. The rest of the family trying to guess the emotion, will be attuned to the person and their mirror neurons will be activated as they watch the expressions and register the feelings themselves in the right brain- then say the word- activating the left brain. Its’ a fun way to integrate thoughts, feelings and empathy by using both sides of the brain while building self-awareness skills.
And self-awareness brings knowledge

Holiday Help: Stay Attuned

child and Christmas tree

The holidays begin! All the fun of baking, decorating, traveling, traditions, family and friends is great but often overwhelming. We love the holiday season, but most of us are just as ready for things to slow down after the holidays and get back to normal. Our children are no different.

 

My holiday advice to you is to stay mindful of your own feelings, energy level and stressors and how it affects your behaviors and your interactions with others. Do what you need to do to regulate even in this busy season to meet your own needs. Your needs will be a variety of wanting love, solitude, fun and stability. Be conscious and ask yourself what you need to feel present and regulated right now and do it. You may not have the luxury of changing your schedule, but you can quickly refresh yourself by doing some deep breathing for a minute or two, give yourself some positive affirmations, drop your shoulders and relax your muscles.

 

When you are mindful of your own emotions, you can help your child with his regulation during the holidays. Kids have notorious big behaviors during the holidays, if you don’t believe me, just browse the internet for funny/not funny Santa pictures with unsmiling children.  Your own children have the same problems you do in shifting through different emotions and trying to stay present and regulated. Stay attuned to your child’s needs and ask the same questions that you asked yourself about what your child needs right now. See past the child’s behaviors and see what he needs from you to feel safe and regulated. Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for you, and it’s true for your child.

 

If your family is not your child’s first family and he came to you through adoption, foster care or a blended family, be particularly conscious that the holidays have different context for your child and may trigger memories that are unpleasant or sad. Be attuned to your child who may need more regulation and felt safety at this time. Meet your child’s needs with compassion and regulation. It is easier to do when you can see past the behavior and see that the root cause is fear, or simply being tired or hungry. They will be able to mirror your own regulation if you are in a calm place to begin with. If you are not regulated in your own body, it will be hard for your child to feel calm.

 

If you need some ideas of how to build in family connection times you can read my previous post about that here.

 

Enjoy the season with your family!

Coregulation

hands

You know the saying, “if momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy”? There’s scientific proof for that statement! Negative feelings from one person can spread through a home, but positive feelings can too.

One of our primary needs in relationships is attunement. Attunement is being able to read and respond to another person’s emotional state. Children learn very early to read their parent’s emotional state. And attuned parents are able to read a child’s emotions and respond to their emotional needs. When someone reads our emotions and reacts to them we feel connected, we feel heard.

Now there’s another aspect to connection in young children and dysregulated children and that is coregulation. For young children or children who have a hard time understanding their own feelings, they look to their parents for signals of how they should feel. Think of when your young child fell and skinned his knee. You responded to his own hurt and scared emotions by examining the knee, giving a hug, brushing him off and assuring him in your expert opinion that he would be ok with a reassuring smile. That met your child’s needs through attunement and also helped your child calm down when he saw that you were not worried.

When your child is having big emotions, both attunement and coregulation are needed. See what your child is saying through his behavior, is he nervous or scared? Respond to those feelings with empathy, but help your child calm with your own behaviors through body language and tone that convey love, acceptance and calm. Drop your shoulders, open your hands so that you are not tense, speak slow and keep your voice low. Your child will feel that calm and will eventually coregulate with your calmness.

If you allow your child’s negative feelings to affect you, things will escalate. If you feel like you need to get louder and stronger than you child, neither one of you will be able to calm in each other’s presence. If you find that you are both escalating in negative emotions, be honest with your child and say you both need a break to calm.

To address the old saying, “if momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy”, know that your family is watching you and are coregulating and attuning even when you aren’t happy. All feelings are ok- even your big emotions. Kids totally understand big feelings, they have plenty themselves and they can learn a lot by watching how you deal with your own negative emotions. Let your children know you have had some things happen that have affected you emotionally- maybe a bad day at work? Tell them how you plan to regulate so that your negative feelings do not affect your relationships at home. This promotes communication, and connection and a teaching moment.

 

And if momma’s happy, everybody can coregulate!