Guest post by Sarah R. Moore
As parents, we understand that every day with our children is filled with opportunities for connection and joy. At the same time, we also know firsthand that not all days are sunshine and rainbows. Those days are rough.
What can we do, then, to support ourselves—and our children—to maximize the “good days?” For starters, we can help nurture our children’s emotional development while keeping our own mindset in check.
Perhaps surprisingly, part of increasing joy requires that we find ways to lean into the uncomfortable moments rather than fight them. It’s an act of faith, for sure, but you and your child will reap the benefits for years to come.
In this excerpt from the #1 best-selling New Release for School-Age Children, Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior, here’s what some of the process can look like.
We can allow – and better, create – many opportunities for joy
The more joy and emotional peace are our “defaults” with our kids, the more they’ll become our children’s defaults, too.
If, for example, we choose to take life (and ourselves) a little less seriously, our kids will mimic that as they grow older. They’ll learn not to sweat the small stuff, and rather, they’ll seek out experiences that contribute to their overall sense of well-being. Even better, when that’s their default, they’ll pass that gift along to others. Happiness is contagious in beautiful ways.
We can infuse play into the mundane. We can laugh and dance and sing together.
We can model a glass-half-full attitude, even when life is imperfect and messy.
Here’s a personal example:
One night, I was exceptionally tired and didn’t feel like cooking, but I somehow mustered up the barely-there energy to throw a decent meal into the oven. Once it was cooked, I went to retrieve it, looking forward to little more than going to sleep.
As I pulled it out of the oven, however, I dropped it, and it landed upside down on the floor. It was a colossal hot mess, and I was tempted to follow suit. My daughter rushed over and was clearly waiting to see how I’d respond.
Keeping myself in check, I spoke to the floor: “Oh, floor! If you were hungry, you could’ve just asked me for dinner! You didn’t need to go and steal my food. Oh dear.”
My child cracked up. There was nothing I could do about my mistake—I don’t think a three-second rule applies to a 350-degree pile of food that’s splattered across the hard- woods. So, we dealt with it.
Not only did we not keel over from having cereal for dinner that one night (far from it), but my child also likely learned that we get to choose how we want to respond to unfortunate situations. This was a prime opportunity to model the “no big deal” attitude I want her to embrace and keep for when she inevitably ruins something of her own someday.
Do I always handle it so gracefully? Heck no! Sometimes I crumble and grumble, just like everybody else. And that’s okay, too. What matters most is that my child will have more than one option of how to react in her mind when she’s there herself.
We can allow and encourage cathartic tears
We can allow and encourage cathartic tears when the child is sad, which creates nonjudgmental space for their feelings. We can refrain from offering quick solutions or distractions.
- We can replace “Don’t cry” with “I’m here for you. Let it out.”
- We can do the work to release our own discomfort around our child’s tears, knowing that by allowing those tears to flow freely, the child is washing away their hurts.
- We can honor the child’s experience. While we might be tempted to find humor in a child’s sadness that their favorite blade of grass was mown down, we can trust that their feelings are as real to them as ours are to us. (I once held a funeral for my child’s beloved roly-poly [potato bug] that she’d discovered in our garden. She mourned and woke up crying for two nights after its passing. It was a very real loss for her.)
We can model healthy anger management strategies
We can model healthy anger management strategies, including journaling, exercising, and using “I” statements rather than blaming or shaming “you” statements during conflict. We can practice pausing before reacting to situations that anger us. We can verbalize to our children why we’re doing these things.
- We can replace “You did WHAT? You’re making me crazy!” with “I’m feeling frustrated. I’m going to take some deep breaths until I feel more peaceful again.”
- We can stop thinking of the child as having disobeyed when they’ve done something we don’t like. If we think in terms of disobedience, our tendency is to want the opposite—to make them “obey.” If we reword and reframe “disobeyed” to the child feeling “dysregulated,” we can remember that the opposite is “regulated”—and that the solution is to help them find their calm. I share more about this later in the book.
We can encourage our children to seek support when they need it
We can encourage our children to seek support when they need it, understanding that co-regulation, rather than self-regulation, is what ultimately supports the child’s ability to cope well during stress or difficulty.
What is co-regulation?
Co-regulation is when we stay present physically and emotionally alongside our child to help them process their feelings, rather than send them away for so-called self-soothing.
The way children learn to self-soothe is by practicing calming strategies alongside their trusted adults. There’s no age by which children must be able to consistently accomplish this on their own.
Even adults often seek out other adults for support when they’re feeling particularly upset or bothered by something. Because children learn through repeated practice with an adult, in time, they’ll begin to emulate what they’ve learned from us. They’ll begin to find their own peace without always needing us for support.
Again, of course, like all things in child development, this process isn’t linear—it’s developmentally healthy and normal to need connection and support from others throughout our lives.
Learn more ways to nurture deeply joyful and connection-based parenting in Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior.
About the author: Sarah R. Moore is the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting and author of Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior. She’s a public speaker, armchair neuroscientist, and most importantly, a Mama. She’s a lifelong learner with training in child development, trauma recovery, interpersonal neurobiology, and improv comedy. As a certified Master Trainer in conscious parenting, she helps bring JOY, EASE, and CONNECTION back to families around the globe. Based in Colorado, Sarah and her family spend much of their time worldschooling. She speaks French and eats Italian food like a pro!) Her heart’s desire is to bring greater peace and healing to the world through loving and respectful parenting. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, & Twitter.