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How To Not Lose Your Shit (And How To Recover When You Do)

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Jen Garrido photographed by Maria Del Rio

If you’re a parent, there’s no doubt you will “lose your shit” from time to time. Probably even daily. Maybe even multiple times a day. Of course, blowing up at your kid doesn’t feel great and can quickly send you into a mama shame spiral. To help you keep it together (and recover when you inevitably fall apart), we’ve once again tapped Rachel Sklar of Via Parenting (the same woman who previously gave us tips on how to parent without bribes or threats).

Sklar explains that losing one’s patience, saying things you don’t really mean (and aren’t proud of) is usually an “automated parenting response.” Meaning: You’re reacting without thinking, thanks to stress making your brain light up and trigger a fight-or-flight response, perpetuating a negative thought cycle, and thus negative actions (a.k.a. flipping your lid). Below, her tips on reversing the cycle and staying calm so your kiddos will follow suit.

Positive Mantras
“Research shows that thought comes before action,” says Sklar. “So, when you’re losing your patience, you need to try to retrain your brain to put a positive thought in your head, so you’ll react positively. This is where mantras come in. They stop the automated parenting response of lashing out, and add more ability to think.” Mantras, she explains, are “short, simple phrases, that are written as if they were already true, and add more positive thinking for success in parenting.” Sklar recommends coming up with your own mantras that’ll help stabilize your brain and send it on a more positive path. Below are some examples that have worked for Sklar and her clients.
“I am kind, but firm with my children.”
“I am prioritizing my relationships over being right.”
“Nobody wins a power struggle.”
“Connection before correction.”
“I am tuning into my inner wisdom.”
“I am parenting through my deepest values.”
“I am focusing on the positive.”
“I am taking care of my children by caring for my own needs first.”
“I am grateful for my life.”
“I am making decisions with my family (and my) strengths in mind.”
“I am surrounding myself with people and services that support my needs and me.”
“I am giving myself compassion and permission to be imperfect.”

Know Your Triggers
“Think in advance about what triggers you,” recommends Sklar. “This is critical to eliminating your automatic responses.” Some tools for doing this include thinking back and journaling about common situations that often put you and your child at odds and cause you to lose it. Is it always a certain time of day? Around a specific topic? In the heat of the moment, Sklar recommends adopting hand motions that trigger calmness (putting your hand over your heart), as well as putting a rubber band on your wrist and moving it from one wrist to the other when you spot a negative emotion, and simply verbalizing the words “Thank you for noticing,” when you notice yourself going to a negative place.

Ignore Your Child’s “Behavior”
View your child’s behavior like an ice berg. Instead of reacting to what you see on the surface (the tantrum or whining), imagine yourself looking beneath the surface to the feelings that are creating this behavior in your child. Of course, you can’t see below the surface, so you’ll have to guess.

Play The Sports Caster
Sklar suggests using “sports casting” to call your child’s behavior and feelings like you see it. Channel your inner sportscaster and speak aloud exactly what you see happening with your child without any judgment. Make guesses about the underlying feelings, needs, wants, and fears that are currently driving your child. “Ask your kids questions that will elicit an answer instead of trying to convince him or her how to act or feel,” says Sklar, “If it’s hard to listen without judgment, try focusing on what you love most about your child and bring to mind what is good about the situation.”

Show Compassion and Kindness
Even when you feel like lashing out and reacting to bad behavior, Sklar suggests “doing whatever you can to enhance your child’s feelings of belonging and connection. One of the easiest and most effective ways to show children that they belong is to show them compassion when they are struggling. This helps them feel connected (which makes them want to behave better). Even if you have to fake a little compassion, it will be a useful investment for two reasons: It will eventually become authentic and your children will love it.” Sklar advises mentally focusing on your child’s strengths, as well as physically opening your arms and putting on an empathetic face when you see your child is struggling. Enlisting mantras like “I’m here when you’re ready” and reminding your kid that you are excited to celebrate with them when they are feeling better can work wonders.

Pay Attention To Self Care
It’s easier to lose your patience and negatively react to your children when you’re not tending to yourself. The importance of self-care in parents can not be understated. To get started, check out these four steps to preventing parental burnout and saying hello to “me” time.

Stop Blaming Yourself
On days when you lash out, instead of blaming yourself for “bad parenting,” Sklar suggests treating those moments as bad habits that need breaking. Again, these bad habits are automated emotional responses that come from needing to feel in control (“fight or flight”). “These responses cause us to discipline our kids from a place of panic and negativity, rather than from a place of calm and sensitivity,” explains Sklar. “When you notice yourself placing blame on your child or yourself, use it as a reminder to reengage and think deeply about parenting. Focus on what you’re doing well and what’s going right. That which you focus on grows!” Embrace your own imperfections, in the same way you would encourage your children to do so.

Stay Mindful
Sklar’s four main steps to being (and staying) a “mindful parent.”
1. “Acknowledge that you are raising your children in a pressure cooker and stop trying to ‘get it right.’ You probably never will.”
2. “Stay engaged in the parenting process.”
3. “Pay attention and notice what will work for your unique family and for your children’s unique set of strengths and challenges.”
4. “Congratulate yourself often.”

Like what you hear? Check out Sklar’s site Via Parenting for online courses, individual counseling, and more!

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