If I claim to be a Gentle Parent, how come I need survival strategies?
If I’m so convinced that Positive Parenting makes sense, why is it that I struggle?
Here’s the thing: Sometimes my thoughts and impulses are far from gentle. Sometimes I’m more like a Jekyll & Hyde parent!
I’m a pretty non-confrontational kinda gal… at least I was until I got pregnant!
Suddenly I became the woman who doesn’t take any nonsense.
I saw it as a good thing – my Mama Bear instinct kicking in. I was too tired to tiptoe around when people were being idiots. After so many years of being thoughtful and considerate, I felt strongly that it was time for some quid pro quo!
But on the other hand, I now have this quick-fire anger response – that I never had pre-children. I struggle with my temper and hurtle into fight or flight mode when the twins’ behaviour is challenging.
I know intellectually that it’s not their fault, but it can be difficult to regulate myself in the moment!
Struggling Gentle Parents
If you are reading this, presumably some of this resonates with you.
But fear not, there is hope in the desert!
My previous post in this series featured 15 Day-to-Day Coping Strategies for when Gentle Parenting feels impossible. It quickly became my most popular post of all time – showing I am far from alone!
Many parents have spoken to me of how they struggle to parent peacefully in the face of their own stress levels.
Here’s one mum’s response:
I swing between expansive boundless love and a pit bull with a temper, and I’m done with shaming myself for it… I’m so glad others are talking and sharing ideas about how we can just manage it, instead of trying to erase that part of us completely… Thanks for speaking up!
(Anonymous – a reader’s response from within a private FB group)
Today’s post features 15 survival strategies – immediate, emergency measures.
This is for when everything is going wrong. When you are *this* close to chucking your positive parenting ideals in the can. When you risk yelling or resorting to sleep training.
You feel the tension building in your muscles. Your jaw clenches, your temperature rises.
When you need an intervention.
Path of Least Harm
This is the most important of all:
If you are in any danger of physically hurting your child,
make any compromise necessary
to keep them safe.
It doesn’t matter how many of your positive parenting principles you need to break in that moment. Yes of course we aim never to abandon our children to their emotions. Never to shut them out, never to punish or isolate them in response to challenging behaviour. But it’s about doing the least harm.
The same principle goes for less extreme measures. If you are losing it then by all means plonk them in front of the telly, even if it’s 10pm. If you’ve tried all the other self-regulation techniques and nothing is helping, it’s totally okay to take any help you can get:
Positive Parenting is all about bearing with our children’s humanity – responding with flexibility and empathy.
It isn’t legalistic and you haven’t failed if you can’t keep it up 100%.
Self Care (Emergency Checklist)
If you are struggling to parent gently, and are reaching crisis point, it’s helpful to have a list of self-care solutions. It’s your responsibility rectify any stressors that are within your control. This means you’re better able to cope with the stressors you can’t.
If any of the following triggers are causing you to lose your temper, you need to fix them quickly – and plan to prevent them next time. Even if it means using the TV to distract the kiddos while you get sorted!
Try keeping a bottle of water and some long-life snacks in your child’s room.
Need the toilet?
These days I always nip to the loo whenever the kids cry at night – because you can’t ever predict how long it might take to resettle them. A 30 second delay is better than an angry Mama.
Being too hot is a massive stress trigger for me, but it took me a while to realise this!
Something making you impatient?
E.g. you left the oven on, or had made over-optimistic plans for the evening after the kids are asleep…
Seek medication asap. It’s not worth losing it with your kids for the sake of five minutes’ rummaging in the medicine box.
Take off that bra that is digging-in! Or switch that work shirt for a t-shirt.
I never remember all of these in the moment. For example, I often forget to take paracetamol when I have a headache. It’s best to literally have a checklist – I use the Wunderlist app on my phone!
I’ve included this list in the 15 Survival Strategies FREE Printable to help you in those crisis moments.
Wireless headphones are a total lifesaver during endless breastfeeds. Or when your littles are going through a leap, and have spent the last 2 hours almost but not *quite* asleep. Or those times when you have a colicky baby (or two!) and cannot handle any more screaming.
Now, of course our aim is to engage at all times if our little one is seeking emotional support. But if it’s that or lose-it, it’s far better to stick on an audiobook, or some classical music, and extend your tether!
And a calm, patient parent who is fully available for cuddles (albeit wearing headphones) is far preferable to one who is overwhelmed and yelling.
Fight or Flight
The reason for the strong, bodily stress reaction is our old friend: the fight or flight instinct. But when the children need you, you can neither fight nor flee.
So how to dispell the adrenaline pumping through your muscles?
Try sticking on some upbeat music and dancing it out! If the kiddos need to stay calm before bed, use headphones. Shake your arms and legs, run on the spot, do star-jumps. Whatever works!
You might even get some giggles and dispel their tension too…
Have you ever tried to stay angry whilst singing? It’s difficult. Especially if what you are singing is a love-filled lullaby!
My weapon of choice is ‘Let’s survive this’ by Laura Hackett:
‘Let’s survive this together. We’ve survived so much together already.
But I want to live through this with you.
This is why I’m alive. It’s moments like this I want together with you.
Let’s just take tonight and breathe again.
You feel pain tonight – you won’t always feel this way.
You feel pain tonight, and it’s gonna be okay,
It’s gonna be okay.
Let’s survive this together. We’ve survived so much together already.
But I want to live through this with you.’
Mantra & Breathing
We all know slowing our breathing helps us to calm down. The addition of a mantra amps up the relaxing benefits and helps you to get back in the right mindset. So a slow breath in through the nose then breathe out repeating your chosen phrase slowly.
Some that have worked well for me are:
“It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault.”
“Calm not chaos. Calm not chaos. Calm not chaos.”
“Who’s the adult? Who’s the adult? Who’s the adult?”
These short mantras refer to parenting quotes that I find inspirational. For example:
When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.
– L.R. Knost
I will never advocate using emotional punishments such as time-outs with children.
But there’s no reason not to take one yourself!
Explain that Mummy needs to take a quick break to clear her head. Inserting space between yourself and the situation gives you chance to claw back some control. To act wisely, instead of impulsively.
To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.
– Jill Bolte Taylor
Cold Water Intervention
If you are feeling intense adrenaline, one quick way to snap out of it is to splash cold water on your face and hands. The downside is you have to leave the room to do it, so the crying may increase! The plus side is, it only takes a minute and is very fast acting.
Being too hot is a massive trigger for me, especially when trying to snuggle two hot-water-bottle-babies. We had one particularly bad heatwave this year when I literally jumped into a cold shower – in my pjs! It helped me to regain control quickly… (we’ve since bought a second fan!)
I mentioned the Headspace mindfulness app in my previous post on day-to-day coping strategies. Well, alongside their ten minute tracks, there are a couple of 3 minute SOS tracks!
If the wheels are coming off, taking three minutes to practice emergency mindfulness can clear your mind and body of tension.
The practice of mindfulness begins in the small, remote cave of your unconscious mind and blossoms with the sunlight of your conscious life, reaching far beyond the people and places you can see.
– Earon Davis
Get in the public eye
Much as we’d like to think we don’t let other people’s opinions affect us, they still do.
But you can wield this to your advantage.
If you find yourself raising your voice and feel you might lash out, get outside the house. Not a stressful space like a playgroup where you’ll find a toddler meltdown embarrassing! Instead, head to the local park for some peaceful nature play. Or even just walking round the block will help!
Being in the fresh air calms everybody down and grounds you all. Plus, you’re much more likely to speak and act gently if you know people can see! It’s an extra layer of accountability that can be very helpful.
(Not to mention the mood-stabilising benefits of being in the great outdoors!)
We all have a repertoire of favourite soothing methods. But what if none of the usual suspects are working? What if your baby is still crying?
It’s actually quite unlikely you’ve tried everything. In the heat of the moment, it’s difficult to think clearly, so here’s a monster list of soothing methods to try and problems to check:
- Boob/Milk feed
- Cuddles in bed/armchair
- Nappy change
- White noise/Alpha music
- Baby carrier/Carried in arms
- Rocked in pushchair
- Get up and play
- Check their temperature – adjust clothing or room if necessary
- Teething gel/Calpol
- Check for hair tourniquets
You can bet that I won’t remember to try all of those in the middle of a long, stressful night! That’s why having a literal checklist is invaluable.
I’ve included this list in the 15 Survival Strategies FREE Printable to help you in those crisis moments.
Facebook (the virtual village)
I always say Facebook saved my parenting. You name it, I have a Facebook support group for it! Groups full of amazing parents and parenting experts, just waiting to help – any hour of the day or night.
When calm, you can rationalise that your child isn’t doing *insert behaviour here* on purpose. But in the heat of the moment, it’s nigh-on impossible not to speak your mind, and regret it later!
Words are powerful, so self-control is vital.
But speaking the poisonous thoughts out loud helps you to separate from them.
Then you can see them for what they are – an overreaction.
The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
– Peggy O’Mara
I am vehemently against bad-mouthing our children. Yet, in the privacy of a closed FB group, it can be helpful to vent your struggles.
Sympathetic parents will send moral support. If you ask for advice you’ll get pointers. You’ll see where your perspective has become skewed.
And if you do say something you regret, you can delete it!
I’ve listed some of my favourite support groups here.
Call in reinforcements
When my twins were around 9 weeks, they suddenly became velcro babies, screaming for hours on end. Because of my C-Section, I couldn’t seem to get enough core strength to cuddle them both at the same time. And for first time, magic boobs wouldn’t cut it!
My husband worked late shifts, so instead of having help during the evening witching hours, I struggled on alone. I didn’t cope well. All three of us just sat and cried, sobbed, despaired.
But I refused to settle for that. I literally begged for help. I swallowed my pride and was completely candid with everyone about how hard it was.
I posted shameless requests for assistance all over my social networks. And help came, in droves! Until we moved home, away from our support network, I never had to get through another late shift without a spare pair of hands.
If you are honest and open and vulnerable, people are moved to stand alongside you.
If you need help, ask.
Don’t hint, ask plainly.
What have you got to lose? You have everything to gain.
And you can always pay it forward…
The 90 Second Rule
GP – Post Natal Rage
Finally, if you’ve been trying the above and are still regularly losing your temper, it might be an idea to see your GP. Everyone knows about Post Natal Depression, but if you are struggling with anger, you might have Post-Natal Rage – either as a symptom of PND or its own condition.
Trying to work things out yourself is all very well, but if things aren’t improving you need to seek help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but even if you do have reservations, please just pick up the phone.
After all, what’s the use of pride
if your family pays the price?
Is anger something you have struggled with? Have you got any survival strategies to suggest? Whether you’re a struggling gentle parent, or you’ve got it all sussed, we’d love to hear your thoughts!