Tips for regulating your own and your children’s nervous systems while juggling school and work from the same space
Caring and being present for the VIPs in our life truly begins with caring for ourselves. We all short-circuit and lose our cool from time-to-time, and often the event that pushed us over the edge was simply the final straw we could hold in a given moment. I can recall many old and recent memories of reacting to my environment, but I really prefer to respond to it. Reacting foolishly can serve a purpose—it gives us a chance to take ownership of our mistakes and model how to repair relationships quickly and honestly. But with practice and intention we can cultivate and strengthen the skill to choose our responses, to do so with love and compassion, helping to regulate our children’s nervous systems along with our own.
Be honest—it doesn’t feel good to be upset, and that’s the beauty and intelligence of nature at work. Our natural state of being is joy and connection, so when we react harshly to others we feel the sting of anguish and separation just as they do. The recent transformation of home-sweet-home into a makeshift workspace and distanced-learning environment is bound to shake up our nest in multiple ways. We can probably identify the cues of approaching distress in our loved ones, but are we as familiar with our own?
Taking a good look at ourselves in our most difficult moments—what we feel as we start to become dysregulated, and where we feel it in our bodies—we begin to uncover our own cues, and we can predict when we need to pause for a breath, or create some space. When I’m agitated and ready to react my stomach becomes tense, my face and ears grow warm, sounds are suddenly amplified, and I can almost feel myself stop breathing, as if I’m preparing to shout or bolt out the door. The sensations of slipping into my primitive brain are so familiar they are almost comforting—they’ve literally been there forever! Knowing it, feeling it, and recognizing that it’s modifiable—that we can come back “online”- is the ultimate parenting superpower, and an essential tool to share with our children. Making space for one breath, feeling our feet planted on the ground, noticing somewhere in our body that still feels soft and cool, letting our children take in the silence as we pause… and then responding. That is true power.
I know there are times when I’m more likely to feel it, like when an environment feels beyond my control, or when evening bedtime ritual has taken twice as long as usual, and there are still requests coming in for more parenting and soothing or delaying of the inevitable. With this awareness some minor preparation can be done, like reminding myself that they are only young once and someday soon I will be the one asking them for more time! Reframing the situation can shift perspective, perhaps creating some needed emotional space, and with a healthy dose of compassion for everyone involved a choice can be made—a response rather than a reaction. It may not be the response our loved ones would like, but we can at least do them the honor of offering it from a calm mind and loving heart, rather than a tight belly and hot face. Children know the difference, and it is comforting to witness a parent’s self-control and presence in the midst of disorder, even when our words or actions are contrary to their request.
When you have a quiet moment for yourself, imagine experiencing a challenging (but not overwhelming) situation and notice how and where you feel it in your body. Once you’re there see if you can feel some other part of your body that is unaffected, maybe even a place that carries a comfortable or soft feeling. Let your attention waver between these differing sensations. Notice if your breath changes as you drift between the opposing physical vibrations. Keep your awareness with your breath and allow your breath to become slower, longer and fuller, breathing into your belly and letting your abdominal muscles relax. Feel where your body is connecting to the ground, either at your feet, seat or along the length of your body. As you stay with the feeling of simply breathing, notice if this feels welcome and supportive. Imagine yourself offering a solution to this situation from your calm mind and loving heart, and embrace the notion that with intention and practice, this style of response can be available to you during other challenging moments.
Aim to spend a few minutes each day simply sitting and breathing like this, to luxuriate in doing absolutely nothing except connecting with your body, feeling your breath, and coming home to yourself. Once it feels familiar, consider telling or showing your family how you’ve added a new level of self-care, so they can understand what supports you in being your best self, and share your superpowers with the next generation and beyond.