Bethan O'Riordan

Lead your child by example – How to ease the guilt of losing your cool in two easy steps

Isn’t parenting guilt a big, heavy dark emotion? Did you know that guilt is our in-built mechanism for doing no harm? It’s like a reflex that comes on board without you ever having invited it to show up.

What I am saying is that guilt isn’t your fault. Yes, it is letting you know that you’d try to do something different next time. Still, the vital thing to note about guilt is that it can quickly grow legs and become much more entrenched into a parent’s sense of who they are and how they parent if it goes unchecked.

How did you manage guilt when you were younger? For many adults feeling guilty came with a feeling of shame because parents didn’t help make that feeling safe. I know you’re talking about your guilt here, but this is also an excellent opportunity to help your children with their feelings of guilt.

As guilt comes on board automatically when children do or say something they know is wrong, they will feel bad. As a result, they don’t need their parents heaping anything onto them, which they then internalise and become ashamed. My therapeutic experience is that shame is one of our most damaging emotions and is a driving force behind suicidal thoughts. So when your child feels bad, simply help this to become safe and say something like, “it’s a rotten feeling when we do something wrong/do something we didn’t mean, isn’t it?”. Then watch your child take a breath and release the emotion. Powerful stuff.

And, of course, for you to do this with authenticity, you must be able to talk to yourself in this compassionate way too. You have the ability to allow yourself to make mistakes without internally punishing yourself. This skill can be unlocked and nurtured when you’ve worked through your past in therapy and re-parented yourself. Change is possible.

Staying calm in chaotic situations requires two things:

1.  Practice – practice being the calm person that you’d like to be. Start by putting your tongue behind your two front teeth at the top, which helps to ground you, and keep your mouth closed, so you don’t say things you don’t want to be saying!

2.  Exploring why those situations feel chaotic for you. What do they remind you of in your childhood? Are the feelings reminding you of feeling out of control when you were younger or reminding you of your mum or dad when they were overwhelmed?

The way to put steps in place to help yourself is to feed your senses. Give yourself regular breaks throughout the day to help your nervous system get as close to baseline as possible. If noise is a trigger for you, listen to podcasts. Are you hangry? Eat something. Can you redirect your eyes to something that makes you smile or look at a clear space in your home/around you (if there is one!)? Take a moment to calm that whirring brain by changing what is being input into it.

Anything you can do to help balance yourself will help your children, too, as they learn how to regulate from you. 

Remember it doesn’t always have to look pretty – we are teaching children that they will be overwhelmed at times too and that being overwhelmed is never going to look pretty.  And that is more than ok.

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