Part 4: Regulating Emotions in Children; A Series of Tips and Tools From The Family Therapy Hour

Invite Kids Into Your Calm, Don’t Step Into Their Chaos, Part 2

families on mountain

As follow up to Part 1 of Invite Them Into Your Calm, Don’t Step Into Their Chaos, I realized I would be remiss if I didn’t address the underlying key to this strategy, self care.  The reality is, if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we don’t have calm to invite our children into.  It’s just like the old airplane analogy about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, so that you can then put it on your child.  But, it goes deeper than that.

Our children are watching us all the time.  They don’t always listen to what we say, but generally, they’re watching what we do.  So much of parenting is about modeling, and if we want to help our kids to learn how to manage their big feelings, we have to show them what that looks like.  The reality is, our ability to do that is significantly impacted by how overworked and under slept we are.  Think about it, if we’re tired, hungry, if we’re working too much with no down time to connect with friends or our partner, are we our best selves?  Are we equipped to keep our cool when our kiddo is feelin’ all the big feels about something that seems inconsequential to the editing eye of the adult self?  I don’t know about you, but I’m not. 

 If I’m under slept, overworked, and generally overwhelmed, not only do I not have the calm to invite my child into, but I am far more likely to step right into their chaos.  And in doing so, I exacerbate the issue. I get sucked into a power struggle or lose my cool, snapping or yelling or generally, not being the very kind of person that I’m trying to raise my child to be.  We have to remember that if we want our children to regulate their emotions, we have to model what it looks like to regulate emotions for them, doing it ourselves.  They don’t come out of the womb with knowledge of how to do this.  They learn it. From us. By watching us. Every day.

I’m often reminded that we can’t ask others to do that which we ourselves aren’t willing to do.  I have found this to be true as a therapist, recognizing that I can take others no further than I, myself, have been willing to go, as a coach and counselor, who works alongside parents to navigate the challenging water that is raising humans, and as a parent myself.  And so, I practice what I preach.  Or at least, I do my darndest.  Below are a few ideas of what self care might look like:

·      Date night with your partner

·      Dinner with friends

·      A good work out

·      Taking time for lunch, rather than just hurriedly eating at a desk

·      Turning off the TV and going to bed early, instead of watching the next episode of a program

·      Spending time outdoors

·      Doing something that is life giving for you, such as reading, working in the garden, going to a concert

I could go on and on, but the reality is, self care is unique to you and your life experience.  It’s evaluating what gives you a sense of connection, rejuvenation and gratitude, and prioritizing that, integrating it into your day, your week.  In some seasons of life, you’ll only be able to do this in small ways, and that’s ok.  Still do it.  It will make the difference in your ability to show up in your life the way you want to. To parent with kindness, connection and thoughtfulness.  To carve out and hold onto that calm, so that you don’t step into and get swept away by their chaos.  

If you’re struggling with your own self care, and are having a hard time coping with the challenges life is throwing your way right now, reach out.  We all need a little extra support sometimes, and there’s no shame is asking for that.  The wisest and strongest among us know when they need help, and ask for it. More information about the child, individual and family counseling services we offer can be found on our website.  We’re here to help!


Mary Kuepper is a specialized child and family counselor at KPMH. She has been working directly with kids and families across the Kenai Peninsula for many years. Her unique approach to child and family counseling has helped many local families find the results and relief they are looking for.