Time Outs For Parents: 6 Steps on How to NOT ‘Lose Your Cool’ With Your Child
By Michelle Welch, LMFT
Whether it is holding an inconsolable crying newborn during the ‘witching hour,’ trying to muscle a willful toddler into the car seat, or being told ‘I hate you’ in an argument with an older child, we all have situations that emotionally trigger us parents. Here are 6 steps that you can do anywhere, anytime, to not lose your cool in those challenging moments!
Step 1: NOTICE.
The very first thing is to just notice what is happening within YOU. Notice what part of your body is responding to your emotion – maybe it’s that your shoulders and neck are tense, your jaw is clenched, your stomach or whole body is hot, or you’re holding your breath. If you aren’t used to checking in with your body this way, it may take a few tries before you notice the sensations in your body.
Step 2: BREATHE.
Tip: Also try taking a step back (or leave the room if needed) physically or mentally, taking a deep breath in, and follow that breath into your body with you mind. Picture and feel the breath filling your lungs and reaching out to your arms and legs and fingertips and feet. Feel your feet on the ground, wiggle your toes, and notice that Mother Earth is still here, supporting you. Exhale.
Step 3: OWN IT. With Compassion for yourself and others, own your emotions.
It’s common to blame yourself or others. In the moment, practice just noticing your emotion and not blaming yourself or others for it. When you do start blaming yourself or others, notice that too, and practice not judging yourself for that. Be compassionate to yourself, or practice doing so at least. This is a mindfulness practice. If you don’t judge yourself, you are then able to instead accept and embrace it, and you can own it, as one part of you, rather than it owning you. Ride the emotion out, it is a wave that comes and goes. You can even thank it if you like, for coming here and informing your body it’s time for a parent time out!
Here is some factual information that may help you be able not to blame yourself or others for your emotions:
Emotions come up spontaneously as a response to numerous individual factors, including your biology and accumulated previous life experiences, and current experiences, but only in relation to the unique person you are.
- are NOT something you can choose to have or choose not to have
- are NOT something that someone else (like a child, or partner) can cause you to feel
- are NOT something that can stop by simply telling them to stop.
Here are some more tools to use to OWN IT, with self-compassion and mindfulness:
- Breathe in, Tell yourself a mantra like, ‘I am angry and that is OKAY.’, ‘I am angry and I am okay.’, or ‘This too shall pass.’ And breathe out.
- Get in touch with the other part of you, the loving, calm, centered mama or papa. Breathe, remember you are more than your current emotions. Remember and visually picture a time when you feel love for your children, like when they are sleeping in your arms, or smiling up at you or running to hug you.
Step 4: Own it out loud: Say bye-bye to the elephant in the room, who might otherwise silently stomp on your child’s emotions.
Own it out loud, too! Don’t leave your child hanging, silently wondering in fear or assuming you’re mad at them. By gently and simply filling them in by labeling the emotion you are experiencing (without including the adult details), you are also modeling for your child healthy expression of feelings and coping skills. As calmly as you can, tell your child “I am very frustrated/irritated/angry/having strong emotions, it is not because of you, and I am taking a moment to take care of myself/my difficult feelings, then will be back.” If afterwards you realize you weren’t so calm in doing this, or you weren’t able to at the time, apologize to your child.
Step 5: Take Mental Inventory
Check in with yourself, your emotions in the present moment, your body’s sensations, and your current experience. Are you hungry? Lacking sleep? Are you stressed from other things unrelated, i.e. work, other family members, money? Why were you triggered by whatever was happening, could it be something from your own experience as a child? What insights can you gain? Be curious, and wonder about possibilities of triggers. Check in and see if you started to treat your child in a way someone treated you as a child? Were you also treating yourself that same way when you were stressed and upset? If you prefer, and if you can, or think you might forget, write these things down (now or later, to address when you are ready).
Step 6: PLAN and RE-ENGAGE from your parent time out
When you are ready, make a plan for how to move forward with the situation and with the information you gathered during your mental inventory. You will know you are ready if you no longer have the physical sensation you were experiencing, your negative feeling has passed or significantly lessened, or you have a refreshed energy, calmed presence, or new perspective on how to approach the situation. Maybe you feel grounded or in touch with your heart center.
The plan could be an immediate plan, a bigger picture – longer term plan, or somewhere in the middle. Usually, an immediate plan is needed. Immediate plans could range from a complete change of agenda to simply a new angle or new energy you are approaching the same agenda or end goal from. Sometimes, your immediate plan may be to stop everything else and take care of yourself (or your child) if you noticed in your mental inventory that you have not done this.
This plan may be to increase your support, whether that be structuring quiet time in the afternoons, a babysitter, personal therapy, exercise, getting more sleep, spending time with friends or any other number of things. Or it may be to always have healthy snack bars in your car.
Your parent time out may be a few seconds, minutes, or hours. Any parent time out can help, even the shortest ones, it depends on the situation and your unique body’s response. The more often you take parent time outs the more ingrained they become. Finally, know if you are very upset or full of rage over something, know physiologically it can take the adult body 24 or more hours for your body to completely go back to its resting state, and hold extra compassion and support for yourself during this time.
For more help with successfully implementing parent time outs, self-compassion and mindfulness, or other parenting support, you can contact Michelle Welch, LMFT. Check out her website at www.michellewelchtherapy.com. Michelle has a private practice in Folsom, CA and San Francisco, CA. She also offers Skype sessions for people wanting support from afar.