Let’s be honest – reining in our emotions, moods and tempers is a daily struggle and a daily decision, especially when we are under pressure. But it is worth the effort. Science tells us that supportive, positive relationships with parents and caregivers shield children against the fallout of stress and adversity. When we are mentally healthy, we can be the support that our kids need.
It’s easy to talk the talk, but harder to put all these good ideas into action, particularly when we are in a high-stress situation. Like when your preschooler throws her toast at you, screaming because it was cut in squares and she wanted triangles. Or your 8-year-old rages because the family vote for movie night on the couch landed on The Sound of Music. Those behaviours aren’t exactly acceptable, but our response is what we can control.
Pause, Hold, Engage is a tool endorsed by Dr Linde-Marie Amersfoort, Parenting Place’s in-house child and family psychologist. Amersfoort believes this simple strategy can help reduce the brain’s threat level, enabling our pre-frontal cortex do the work it was designed to do. It’s particularly helpful for those of us struggling with mental health issues too.
Pause is about stopping and taking a slow, deep breath (or three or 10) in a stressful situation. It really is just about breathing. Oxygen is a gift to the brain and nervous system and a very quick and effective way to calm things down a bit.
When we “hold”, we gather information about and from ourselves, as well as from our surroundings. We use “hold” to notice our thoughts and feelings based on the situation we’re in.
We do this by asking the following questions:
- What is happening for me right now?
- What is happening around me?
- How does that make me feel?
Once we have that information, we can use it to better understand ourselves and the situation, and we can formulate a plan of how to look after ourselves with empathy and compassion.
Once we have that plan for self-care, we can “engage” it, or put it into action. Here’s an example of a typical scenario in my house. I’m in a busy season of life. I have two young children under the age of 10. I work at Parenting Place, run a business and run the house. We’re currently building a house and renovating our home. I have a chronic health condition which can leave me with low-level anxiety. At the moment my life is very busy, my mind is busy and I have little room for inconveniences. Not the ideal place to be operating out of.
As the kids were getting ready school, I was frazzled and rushed. I had gotten up too late and the kids weren’t getting ready for school well. My 5-year-old has big feelings at the moment, and they are loud and intense. As we get ready to leave the house (finally and by getting ready I mean I’m rushing them along) she decides she can’t put her own shoes on and I need to help her. My arms are full of bags and water bottles and we’re late. Frustrated, I tell her she’s a big girl and can put them on herself.
She begins yelling that she needs help, I am not giving in to her demands, rage is building in my head and I am ready to explode. Why does she need to do this right now? She can tell we are late!