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How to Stop Reacting and Start Responding

Your day began at 4:45 am when your youngest woke you up because he had a nightmare. After soothing him back to sleep, you manage to get a bit more rest. At 5:30 am you pull yourself out of bed. You get ready. Then, you immediately jump into preparing breakfast and lunch while trying to find matching socks for your five year old. Everyone is ready and in the car on time. But, half-way to school your little one remembers that he left his special blanket at home. You endure his pint sized panic attack for the remainder of the drive. After bringing in your sobbing child to preschool, you come up with a solution for the blanket with help from your son’s teacher. Yet, you hit traffic on the way to drop off your older child at elementary school. By the time park your car at work, you are already 10 minutes late for a meeting. You feel as if you have lived an entire lifetime by 8:30 am. It is no wonder that by 8:30 pm you are yelling at your kids to just get in bed and go to sleep!

Sound familiar?

Most parents have to deal with constant demands and multi-tasking while trying to balance work, family, and personal lives. This leaves many feeling as if they are in an ongoing state of being over-scheduled and over-whelmed.

I have had parents tell me that they can go from 0 – 10 in half a second. All of a sudden they are screaming at their children and they never even knew they were angry.

This is not a surprise. The truth is, being a conscious parent takes a considerable amount of self-discipline in developing awareness. Despite hectic and busy lives there are ways to enhance your state of wellbeing and become more responsive. It will take time and it will not happen overnight. But I promise, with some slight changes, you can experience less overwhelm and more peace. Read on!

1. Your food affects your mood.

Those close to me know that I am not a huge cook. Despite this, my diet is fairly healthy. It wasn’t always though. I was a teenager during the fat-free craze so there was a time in my life when I lived on hot tamales, pretzels, and diet coke. Thankfully my knowledge of nutrition has changed and today I focus on eating organic whole foods as much as possible.

Instead of avoiding or eliminating the foods you know you should not eat, such as processed foods and sugary sweets, try to fill up on foods that you know are good for you. Eat a wide range of organic veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and organic meats, while still allowing yourself to eat occasional treats or junk if you want it. Restrictive diets set you up for a deprivation mentality and make it likely that you will feel edgy and reactive.

Some of my favorite snacks are: peppers dipped in hummus, cheese melted on a sprouted tortilla with avocado and salsa, and carrots dipped in almond butter. To learn more about all of the ways real food can change your life please visit www.thewholejourney.com.

Additionally, green smoothies are an easy way to get more greens in your diet and kids love them too! Check out www.simplegreensmoothies.com for some wonderful recipes and tips to incorporate smoothies into your busy lifestyle.

2. Exercise.

One of the easiest ways to elevate your mood and become more relaxed overall is to exercise every single day. This can be as simple as putting on shoes and walking for 20 minutes. If you have to choose between doing 20 minutes of doing laundry and 20 minutes of walking, please, choose the walking! We have a fantastic Y near my house that offer on-site child care and a great workout facility and exercise class schedule. I know that after work, you desperately want to pick up your baby from daycare, but if you can squeeze in a quick 20 minute jog before pick up, you will be better off! There are plenty of fun ways to bring exercise into your life too. Ride bikes with your kids, start surfing, or go to dance classes. Research solidly backs up many benefits of exercise: people who exercise moderately have increased health and low mortality (www.authentichappiness.com).

3. Ask your inner-critic to take it down a notch.

Is your inner-critic loud? Several years ago, we invited all of my daughter’s new preschool friends and their parents over to our house for her 3rd birthday. When it was time to serve the cake, I realized that I had not purchased plastic cutlery. I did not have enough clean silverware on hand. I ran inside and frantically began to wash the dirty forks that had been sitting in the sink. One of the parents came inside to help me and overheard me criticising myself out loud. When I saw the look on this woman’s face I was embarrassed. 

Yet, this had a big impact on me. For the first time I noticed how hard I was on myself. Parent with negative self-talk are likely to raise kids with negative self-talk. You owe it to yourself – and your children - to ease up and treat yourself with love, kindness, and compassion.

4. Pay attention to your body.

Do you grip the steering wheel when driving? Do your shoulders tighten when you are rushing to get out of the house in the morning? Do you clench your jaw when your toddler has a tantrum? All of this tension builds up in your body and makes it more likely that you will remain in a state of stress and eventually explode. Become aware of the areas in your body where you hold tension and actively release these areas through your breath. You can also use your hands to lightly massage the areas that feel tight at various times throughout the day.

One great exercise to do before going to sleep is the progressive relaxation exercise. Starting with your toes, tighten your toes and then release, then tighten your feet and release. Continue moving all the way up through your body finishing with your head. While moving through the body parts, allow your breath to flow through and relax each body part.

This is a great exercise to teach your children before they go to sleep too. Not only will you be providing them with a stress-reducing skill but connecting with your children at bedtime  can strengthen your relationship.

Also, when you get sick or have an injury, your body may be telling you to slow down. Listen to the wisdom of your body.

5. Examine your beliefs.

What thoughts and beliefs kick-in when things get heated? For many parents, the belief that they have to “be in control” or “be the boss” actually makes it more likely that the parent and child will engage in power-struggles. You will know if a limiting belief is affecting your relationship with your child if you tend to think thoughts such as: she is manipulative me, she is spoiled, I can’t him get away with this, or I need to show him who is boss.

The beliefs mentioned above fuel autocratic parenting that relies on fear based discipline to control children. Positive parenting views parents as leaders/coaches/guides/teachers/mentors rather than dictators. The next time you catch yourself thinking destructive thoughts that make it more likely you will punish, or in some other way tear down your child, remember to pause. Ask yourself if it worth it and do not proceed until you are moving from a place of love and respect.

To learn more about limiting beliefs, take Susie Waltons’s Joy of Parenting Class www.indigovillage.com or The Remembrance Course that is offered through www.yourinfinitelifeonline.com.

6. Pause.

I think that one of the most misunderstood myths that has circulated in parenting and early childhood education settings is the assumption that you have to take discipline action immediately after an act in order for a child to learn a lesson. This is not necessarily true. In fact, no one can learn while in an intense state of fight-or-flight. It is imperative that both you and your child are calm in order for any real growth to take place.

To put this into perspective think about how you learn. We can all recount experiences when true learning took place after having had time to process.

Please use common sense! If your toddler is running into a busy street take action immediately! But it OK to save the discussion for a bit until you have both calmed down.

Also, be wise about what you say and do in public. Often times we will behave differently with our children when we know there is an audience. Meaning some parents actually become more punitive when around strangers or family members. There is never anything wrong with gently bringing your upset child into a private place or waiting until the car ride home from school to address something.

7. The heart-connector.

Susie Walton (www.indigovillage.com) recently taught me the most valuable parenting tool I have come across to date. It is called the heart-connector. The next time you find yourself in an intense moment with your child place your hand over your heart and breathe deeply. First acknowledge your own feelings. Are you angry? Are you sad? Your feelings are valid. It is important that you take a moment to feel. Continue to keep your hand on your heart while you breathe and feel and allow the feeling to run through your body. Within 30 – 90 seconds you should return to a place of balance. In this heart space, take action with your child.

8. I-am statements

One of the most powerful tools I have learned from Pam Dunn (www.yourinfinitelifeonline.com) is the use of I-am statements. In your journal, write down qualities and strengths that you already possess as well as qualities and strengths that you would like to re-cultivate.

Here is an example: I am strong, loving, and peaceful. The truth is, although I almost always act in ways that are strong and loving, I do not always behave peacefully. Yet, I would like to be peaceful even during conflict! Repeating this phrase in my mind before I engage in a challenging situation with my child makes it more likely that I will remain calm and centered. It also makes it more likely that the outcome will be in my best interest and the best interest of my child too.

9. Start meditating.

It takes self-discipline to commit to a meditation practice. In my early twenties I meditated several times a week. At some point I abandoned the practice because I thought that I did not have enough time. I recently started meditating again and it has had a profound effect on my parenting. I feel much more responsive overall.

Start by finding a quiet place in your house that is free from distractions. Set your phone timer to let you know when 20 minutes ends. Sit crossed legged, resting your hands gently on your lap with palms up. Begin by focusing on your breathe. Allow yourself to breathe in the way that is most comfortable for you. Then, it helps to recite a mantra, or a phrase, over and over again. You can even use your I-am statement. Some suggestions for phrases are, I am love or I am peace. Your mind will wander and various thoughts will come. If you start to think, just bring your thoughts back to your breath or mantra. The idea is to be gentle with yourself. Do not judge any thoughts that come to you. When thoughts come, release them lovingly and find your way back to your breath.

10. Connect with nature.

Nature is soothing. My personal opinion is that we all have a need for nature. Being in nature can be as simple as basking in the sun on your balcony for a few minutes or watering the flowers. My love of nature extends to being in the ocean and running on the beach. But I also find joy in listening to the birds sing and in being outdoors with my kids. The ways to connect with nature are endless. Find peace in hiking, swimming in a lake or having a picnic at a grassy field.

There has been evidence suggesting that the increase in ADHD symptoms is associated with more kids lacking time in nature. Let your kids climb trees, get muddy, and roll around in the dirt. It is good for them. To learn more about nature and children visit www.richardlouv.com

Coaching for Parents and Couples

Cristina Trette is a Life Coach specializing in parent and family work. Utilizing a strength-based and forward movement approach, Cristina facilitates the experience of enhanced joy, harmony, and well-being within family life and relationships. Cristina writes about parenting, love, and self-growth at www.cristinatrette.com.