How to be a calm and confident parent – sounds good right? With the best will in the world, it’s not always easy to remain calm in the chaos!
I often refer to teatime as the ‘gutter of the day’. Why? Well, by then, most of us have reached the end of our reserves. Often everyone is tired, and fractious, often hungry and stressed. Digging deep to be a calm and confident parent in these times of emotional drought is hard. So, I wanted to share a few tips to help everyone calm the crazies and stay connected.
Remain calm yourself
This is probably the single biggest game changing tip for being a calm and confident parent. Children are masters at gauging our emotional response and stress levels. This is not intended to make you feel bad if you have let your frustration or tension show sometimes (or a lot!). I’m not saying you always have to be calm. I’m not saying that because children are perceptive, you have to shelter them from any negative emotion. Negative feelings are a normal part of life and children actually need to see that you have them too. But the most critical part of this statement is that children also need to witness you handling these feeling well. Some tips to help:
- If you lose it – apologise. Own it, own up to it and take responsibility for it. Everyone makes mistakes, and children are the most forgiving and warm-hearted people. They will let it go, and so should you.
- If you feel yourself getting frustrated or stressed, name that emotion out loud, and then let your children see you actively trying to calm down with some deep breaths or affirmations.
- Try some daily mindfulness. The headspace app is great for this
- If you really do need bedtime to go well, just take 5 minutes beforehand and get your head in the calm, bed zone
Being overtired is toxic to sleep, as you’ll know if you have read my earlier blog on this subject. Kids who are overtired often act wired, crazy, or hyperactive. They act like this because they are keeping going with cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals are great if you need to run for a bus, or focus on an important task. Not so great if you’re trying to calm down and settle for sleep. Your little one doing laps of the kitchen is going to need to come down from somewhere near the ceiling to get ready to fall asleep. One of the ways in which children release cortisol is through movement. Your baby may arch their back, squirm, wriggle and push away from you. Your toddler may roll around on the floor, and your preschooler may bounce up and down, fidget or talk/whine nonstop! The point is, any of this type of behaviour is not a sudden personality change in your child – but just a very overtired small person trying to keep going the best way they can. Trouble is – as you know yourself if you’re wired, it’s hard to just switch off and calm down. More tips to follow if you’ve missed the perfect window and need a helping hand to calm down!
Predict the trouble spots
Here’s where you need to get crafty! To be a calm and confident parent, you need to be 3 steps ahead! What are the likely areas of negotiation that may crop up and get bedtime or calm down time off track? There are some common things that come up time and time again. Expecting them and having a plan to manage them in advance will be a big help:
- Extra drinks
- Extra snacks
- Extra stories
- Going downstairs
- “Just one more….”
Or you may have different battles in your house! To stay calm and confident, you’ll need to anticipate these, and warn your child that if they need a drink/wee/snack, “let’s do it now, because after teeth, there are no more snacks”. Warning them in advance, either with a picture story chart, or tell them verbally if they are old enough, and then stand your ground. This is a common reason for tantrums and stress at bedtime. standing firm is likely to lead to frustration and disappointment first time, but you will shut down this trouble spot quickly if you are firm, patient and consistent with your boundaries.
Provide a distinct calm down prior to bedtime
Many people expect too much of the bedtime routine. It is pretty hard to get from a state of super-excitement to total calm and ready for bed in a short 30 minute bedtime routine! A calm and confident parent will insert a distinct period of calming down prior to the bedtime routine. This works a dream I promise! After supper and clearing up, the calm down time starts immediately before your usual bedtime routine. Include any or all of the following:
- Dim the lights, or turn them off. Draw the curtains if it’s Summertime!
- Turn all TVs and screens off. No games consoles, laptops, apps or computer games after teatime. Honestly – the blue light emitted from these screens will delay the onset of your child’s natural release of melatonin and stall sleep
- Either turn off music and dial down the noise, or switch to very quiet classical music or meditation tracks
- Put away noisy electrical toys and switch to quiet play
Use sensory supports
I love using oils to change the atmosphere! Certain oils do certain jobs, and I use them either alone or in combination to either improve mood, calm things down, or balance the emotional state
I’m not an expert, but here are some of my favourite blends:
- Frankincense, patchouli and clary sage – this heavenly smelling combo actually is comforting and instils a feeling of hope and confidence. It also is naturally anti-depressant, and mood balancing
- Vetiver, Douglas fir and cedarwood – this badass trio is incredible for calming down crazies! If you’ve missed the moment completely, this is a great grounding and calming blend
- Lavender and geranium – lavender is well-known for being a great sleep-time scent, but mixed with the geranium it also calms and grounds. I sometimes put a couple of drops of frankincense in this mixture as well which boosts the immune system but also just smells incredible!
Of course, anything that you like the smell of will make you feel better, but some scents are naturally uplifting or energising, whereas others are calming. So have a whiff, and if it makes your eyes open wide it’s probably one to save for the morning, and if your eyes close in bliss then go for it!
Use tools to focus attention and instil calm
I love to recommend meditation to both children and adults.If you’re stressed out, it’s very difficult to remain stressed if you’re listening to a guided meditation! If you have a baby or toddler, focus on keeping yourself calm and try listening to a track at naps or bedtime. It will help you to be a more calm and confident parent and to be able to focus on the present. I have some favourite teachers, but actually, you need to try a few out to work out which voices relax you and which may grate!! Try this one, or this one for you.
If your children are 18 months or older, and enjoy listening to simple stories, then try a children’s guided meditation. My favourite teachers are Christiane Kerr and Jason Stephenson. Try this website or this meditation track
You could also try some children’s yoga during their calm down time if they are old enough. You can attend classes to learn if you like, or buy a DVD and do it with them. This is a great site and DVD
I also often recommend talking out internalised thoughts. Tell a friend, your partner, the wall, or keep a thought journal. I find writing down my negative thoughts, worries, ideas or moments of epiphany incredibly helpful!
Try using calm play techniques
Have you heard of treasure baskets? I’m a big fan! This is a way of playing calmly with kids to focus their attention, help them concentrate, and explore in a really creative way. Some people only like to include natural materials such as cork, wood, shell and rubber and so on. Whatever you want to use is fine, but I personally think that using everyday items and materials that we have in our life is fun and normal too. This is a few items from my treasure bag that I take with me to every single home visit with a child over the age of about 6 months. It is adored by every child I meet, and allows them to play in a slow way.
What I do with mine is to keep the ‘treasure’ in the bag, and pull out one object at a time, inviting the child to wonder at it, examine it and play with it. I have hair curlers, wooden spoons, metal whisks, a pine cone, measuring spoons and a silicone pastry brush – among other items! It can be overwhelming for children to have lots of toys scattered all over the floor. One small object focuses them and makes them think instead.
So there you have it. A few ideas to enable you to go from frazzled and frustrated parent to calm and confident parent. The idea is that if you can be emotionally aware yourself, you stand a much better chance of being able to calm and connect with your children.
Lyndsey Hookway is a paediatric nurse, health visitor, IBCLC and holistic sleep and behaviour coach. She works privately at www.feedsleepbond.com as well as for the NHS and as an independent lecturer and trainer. She offers webinars and bespoke training for health professionals, childcare, sleep and maternity carers and parents. Lyndsey’s first book will be published in 2018.