Own Your Feelings and Actions

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The following is adapted from a chapter in The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting Second Edition, available here.

Own Your Feelings and Actions

"Learning to effectively manage our own emotions and actions is crucial. We simply cannot guide our children to self-discipline if we do not possess self-discipline ourselves. If we cannot control our anger outbursts, our anxiety, our fearfulness, and our reactivity, how are we going to teach our children how to do these things?

Many of us never learned how to properly manage our own emotions. As children, we were taught to either stuff them down or blame them on someone else, or probably both. As a result, few parents take ownership of their feelings and actions.

When we say, “You're going to make me spank you if you keep acting like this!” or “you're making me so angry right now! Go to your room!” we are admitting that we don't have control over our own feelings and actions, that our child has control over us. This is a double-edged sword. First, this makes children feel responsible for our emotions, and that is a big burden to bear for a child. Second, we're teaching them to play the blame game and not take ownership of their emotions and behaviors as well. “She made me do it!” “I didn't want to get in a fight at school, but he made me so mad!” This is a cycle that needs to end with us.

The first step to learning how to manage ourselves is to take ownership for our own emotional reactions. Instead of, “You're making me so angry,” try “I'm feeling angry right now, and I need to calm down.” Don't blame your feelings on anyone else; they are your own. Your child is not responsible for your triggers. You are responsible for understanding why certain things trigger you and then disabling that trigger." -excerpt from The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parenting Second Edition 

Learning to own my own feelings and actions has been the most difficult thing I've encountered in my journey of self-growth to be a better parent and person. I am still a work in progress, but I'm certainly better than I used to be.

Here are the steps I took in dealing with my own triggers and learning to control my actions. I hope they help you, too.

1. Journal about your triggers. I find writing to be extremely therapeutic, and journaling helps me to unravel my jumbled thoughts and make sense of them. Whenever I would get angry or fearful or frustrated, I would write it down, describing the events that surrounded my emotion. Then, I would think about why those particular events brought up that emotion in me. Most often, my children were not to blame at all, but rather some ridiculous ideal of perfection I was holding or some skewed perception. 

2. Avoid the things that trigger you. If you know rushed mornings make you upset, change the morning routine. Once you know what typically triggers heavy emotion for you by journaling them, you can learn to avoid a lot of frustration.

3. Not everything can be avoided, however, and so it's important to learn self-discipline. There is a space between every action and reaction. Usually, it is a small space because we react quickly, but if we can learn to harness that space and expand it, we then have time to make a thoughtful choice on how to respond. I used to place my hand over my heart, close my eyes, take several deep breaths, and acknowledge the space. Mantras are helpful to repeat when you are in this space, such as "I have a choice" or "This is not an emergency."

4. When you are emotionally charged, get physical to release the energy. Jumping jacks, push ups, running in place - these all release that built up energy that make you want to scream. Bonus: You'll be in better shape!

5. When you react too quickly and get it wrong, offer self-compassion, apologize to your child, reconnect, and move on. You don't have to be perfect. You're showing up and trying your best, and that's good enough.

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