It’s one of those moments: The energy is high. The emotion is flowing. The scales are tipping. The fists are clenching. The conflict is rising. The mood is escalating.
It’s one of those days: We make it though one crisis only to turn around and face another. And another. You know this kind of day. I know them, too. We have all had them. We will have them again.
Even as I write about it, I can feel it welling up inside of me. A feeling of being out of control. Of being one step behind the next outburst, sibling conflict, injury, tantrum. Of just knowing everything is about to fall to pieces. A sense of urgency, a sense of doom, an exhaustion that knows no rest. I can feel my chest tightening, my breath quickening, the frustration building in my thoughts, the tension spreading through my body.
And we want to yell out (and maybe we do yell), “Why are you doing this to me?” “Why can’t you just listen?” “I can’t take this anymore!” “I need peace!” “I need a break.” “Stop it!!!”
Oh yes, the old adage: he who yells loudest… Only, it never works. Not really, not in the long run. Sure, we may temporarily stun them into silence, but the heart of the energy still beats hard and heavy in the environment; and, make no mistake, it will find its way out into the open again.
In order to really help our children be able to find calm, we need to embrace one fact.
No matter what, our children will learn what we do, not do what we say.
We only need to watch our children when they don’t know we are listening to know this is true. How many of us have seen our children play “phone” and copy our words and mannerisms to a tee? How many of us have been shocked by our children’s perfect use of our favorite saying? If we are open, and we watch carefully, we can see ourselves in everything they do. They are learning from us every moment of every day. And, if there is a time when they are not really taking things in, it is probably only those times when we are telling them what to do!
When the emotion runs high and the chaos runs deep, we cannot plead or logic or yell our way to quiet and calm. Rather, we must do it.
Be the calm you want to feel.
Sit down and breathe.
When the world is in chaos, move to the center of the storm, sit down and breathe. I am not talking about taking a “parenting time out” (although I am a full advocate of these as well). I am talking about moving close to the action and DOING the calm you want your children to experience.
Here is a scenario (and, one that occurs in our home frequently):
The boys are in conflict. This toy, that toy, rules are debated, voices rise, space is violated. I can feel the pulse quicken. Rather than intervene with words, I simply move as close to the epicenter of their conflict as I can, sit down, close my eyes and breathe. Loudly. Long, deep, slow breaths. I connect with my own body and feel it relax. I take my time before opening my eyes. Making sure to give myself time to really slow my breathing and clear my mind.
It’s contagious. The boys notice. Even if they stay engaged in their struggle, I notice that my breathing triggers their breathing to slow. One of them takes a deep breath. The other stops and copies us.
I continue to breathe and stay quiet, but open my arms. A silent invitation for them to join me. I keep breathing.
Almost always, one or both will join me. Sit close, breathe and calm. I can feel all of us melt a little into the moment. The energy dissipates. The urgency falls away. The storm has passed. The toys lay on the ground between us, untouched.
When everyone is breathing and still, I open my eyes. I say simply, “I wonder what you guys are going to do now.” An invitation to talk about it or move on or make a plan, whatever they need. Usually at this point, they are now able to work it out on their own.
I didn’t tell them to calm down.
I didn’t tell them to solve their problem.
I didn’t even tell them why breathing worked.
I didn’t need to tell them anything.
They learned it, and so did I. Of course we need to practice again and again and again. But when the practice feels so good, that may not be such a bad thing.