Why is it so important, indeed so profoundly effective, to remain calm as a parent? Because, Nigel tells us, “all of the good stuff you need for parenting is in the prefrontal cortex of your brain – but you can’t access it when you’re stressed and emotions are running high.” We literally can’t think straight when we’re stressed out. Plus we tend to get a bit shouty in the panic, and things just get really unpleasant. Nigel explains that our brains don’t go to the ideal place on their own – “It’s a stone age brain and it’s going to go straight to stone-age parenting skills”. We therefore need calm so we can access the “smarter and wiser” parts of our brains.
The heart of the matter, Nigel tells us, is self-control. Practising self-control leads to better outcomes in all areas of life, including managing our reactions. It’s just the first step, however. Even more strategic and useful is self-regulation – the ability to calm yourself down. This is why the skills of noticing your emotions, managing them and regulating them are so beneficial to parenting. These skills significantly help us deal with life as grown-ups, and when we model them to our kids, we empower them to be awesome humans too.
Kids use their parents to help them self-regulate. Our sweet little (and not so little) sponges are very busy learning from us. They’re watching us manage our emotions and handle stress and they’re observing our ability to calm down. Our calm then breeds more calm. If this all sounds ideal but a bit out of reach, be encouraged by Nigel’s realism: “Everyone still gets angry. The more you practise these skills, however, the better they’ll become.”
So we need to practice. Just like with our physical muscles, the more we exercise self-control and self-regulation, the stronger our impulse control will be. And the more inclined we’ll be towards ABC parenting. Some practical applications for specific situations help too.