Think back for a moment to the parent you imagined yourself to be before you had children. Did you imagine yourself to be a perfectly calm parent, always supportive, and never one to raise your voice with your children? Many of us probably imagined that we would be this type of parent. Then, when our actual, real-life children arrive, our parenting skills don’t always play out as we imagined.
Maybe due to the stresses of work and life, we lose our patience with our children more often than we expected. Perhaps our children’s behavior turns out to be much more challenging to address than we thought. We yell and are impatient with our children. It could be that we find ourselves imitating the parenting patterns we experienced growing up and they are not the positive approach we planned to use with our children.
Whatever the reason, many of us find that being the calm parents we intended to be is much more challenging than we expected. The good news is this ⏤ it’s never too late to reassess our parenting strategies and begin again to be a calmer parent. With a bit of intentional effort and self-awareness, we can become the calm, sensitive parent we intended to be from the beginning.
Why Patience in Parenting Matters
We hear that patience is a virtue, which proves true in parenting as well. It turns out that science backs up this old adage and that patience and sensitivity with children aid our parenting.
In short, losing our patience with children and especially yelling (or what researchers call “harsh verbal discipline”) doesn’t really support children’s development well. In fact, yelling has been linked to negative adjustment in children. Children whose parents yell at them are more likely to experience behavior problems, anxiety or depressive symptoms, lack of focus, and poor academic performance. This finding holds true when considering many different domains in which parents might interject discipline–moral issues (e.g., fighting or lying), conventional issues (e.g., chores, table manners), and personal issues (e.g., friendships, bedtime, or physical appearance).
In contrast, sensitive parenting, which involves limited or no yelling and responsiveness to children’s needs, has been linked to positive aspects of children’s development. For example, sensitive parenting (by both mothers and fathers) has been shown to predict better academic performance in children. Some researchers argue that this connection makes sense because sensitive (also called authoritative style) parenting promotes prosocial behavior like helping others, emotional awareness, and compliance.Therefore, these prosocial behaviors benefit children in their academic pursuits as well, through which they feel more efficacious.
Thus, it seems the goal of being a calmer, more sensitive parent, though lofty, is worth our attention. Calmer parenting really does benefit children’s well-being. How do we remain calm and sensitive to our children in our daily lives filled with stress and challenges?
Bringing Calm to Parenting
When you really think about it, staying calm in parenting situations requires a lot of emotional skill on the part of parents. Research clearly points to the idea that parents’ emotional self-regulation skills play a large part in how calm they stay in tense parenting interactions with their children. Parents with less ability to control their physical and emotional reactions in parenting interactions tend to be more harsh in parenting. Thus, when considering ways to be calmer parents, focusing on self-regulation skills is key. Even in adults, self-regulation skills can be improved with concerted effort. Here are a few ways to improve self-regulation skills.
- Focusing on Breathing: It sounds simple, but learning to control one’s breathing during times of distress can be a key skill for calming. Taking deep breaths to slow one’s breathing and heart rate can help bring more calm to the body.
- Take a Break: In the heat of a tense parenting moment, we often forget that we usually don’t have to resolve the situation immediately. If tensions are rising, it’s often helpful to simply take a break and go to another room until you are calmer. Taking a break before your emotions get out of control can help prevent many less-than-positive parent-child interactions.
Another key component of calm parenting that has emerged in the research is the process of mindfulness. Mindful parenting simply means approaching each interaction with emotional awareness, intentionality, and compassion (for yourself and your child). This doesn’t mean you fail to set boundaries with children or are accepting of all their behavior. Mindfulness instead means that you approach the situation with more intentionality, with the goal of understanding your child’s emotions and motivations as well as your own.
Approaching parenting with a mindful approach can help with many of the self-regulation challenges mentioned above. Indeed, mindful parenting has been linked to better emotional regulation skills in parents. With stronger emotional regulation skills in place, parents are not only better able to stay calm in parenting situations, but this behavior becomes a model for children in learning emotional regulation themselves.
Tips for Mindful Parenting:
- Intent Listening: Try to really listen (undistracted) to your child and their needs. This can help you tune into what they are experiencing and what might be going on under the surface of their behavior.
- Emotional Awareness: Focus on experiencing your own emotions without judgment. Similarly, try to empathize with whatever emotions your child is feeling. All emotions (even the difficult ones) are okay. Attempt to validate your child’s emotions before moving on to solve problems.
- Compassion: Have compassion for your child’s situation. Even if you don’t agree with their behavior, attempt to understand why they are doing it. Leading with compassion often means less judgment and more curiosity to help understand your child better.
Calmer Parenting is Possible