Self-regulation for calm and effective parenting

An article by Secure Start Intern, Inke Jones

Children’s emotional and behavioural displays often arouse strong emotions in parents. When a child is in the midst of an emotional or behavioural display, and parents respond with their own uncontrolled emotional display, the child’s emotions are exacerbated and his/her behavioural display most likely becomes worse. At the same time parents feel worse as they contemplate distressing ideas such as I am a failure as a parent, I cannot influence my child etc.

Consequently, both children and parents benefit from parents being able to quickly restore calm in the face of their child’s outbursts and challenging behaviours. Restoring calm allows parents to tune into their child’s experience and to thoughtfully implement strategies to calm the child’s emotions and stop the behaviour.

Restoring calm and making conscious decisions about how to manage challenging situations is facilitated by being aware of your choices of actions and how these relate to your goals regarding your child’s as well as your own behaviour. Additionally, being aware of your emotional triggers and how your body responds to them helps you to identify when a situation is starting to get out of control, and when it might be useful to apply acquired coping strategies to regulate your emotions.

The following sections outline how you may work through your choices in challenging situations and their most likely outcomes, how you identify your emotional triggers, and how to apply  various coping strategies that may help you restore calm.

I) Work through your choices in the face of challenging behaviour and their possible consequences


–          To retrain negative chains of behaviours into positive chains of behaviour                                 (increased awareness of a behaviour makes it more controllable)

–          To focus on the capacity to recover from mistakes and make changes


            Choice                                                        Consequence

  1. “Losing it”
The child’s emotions and behaviour are exacerbated. You and your child feel disconnected from each other. You contemplate feelings of guilt, remorse, and/or shame. Having “lost it” this time increases the chance of losing it again next time.
  1. Walking away
This option is not always safe or possible. You and your child feel disconnected from each other unless you take steps to reconnect after you both have calmed down.
  1. Restoring calm
This creates space to connect with your child, to respond empathetically, and to thoughtfully implement strategies to calm the child and to stop the challenging behaviour. You and your child feel close and connected. Having restored calm this time increases the chance of quickly restoring calm again next time.

Source: Jennifer Wilke-Deaton: Create your own adventure

II) Identify your emotional triggers

  1. Become aware of your Buttons

“Why does this particular behaviour make me angry?”

? could be due to own childhood experiences

Feelings that may be underlying your anger:

? feelings of helplessness, loss of control, not being respected, heard or considered


  1. Identify what you are feeling and where in your body you are feeling it, like increased heart rate, tingling sensation, tensing of muscles…

? helps to recognise when you are about to lose it before it actually happens


  1. Identify WHY the child behaves this way

? shift focus from WHAT the child is doing to WHY he/she is doing it

Your child feels the same way as you!

? helpless, out of control, not respected, not heard, not considered


  1. Remind yourself that your child is OUT OF CONTROL of their emotions

? your anger or punishment will make them feel even more out of control

? they need to be calmed down ? you need to be calm yourself to do this

Lori Petro: Breaking the anger cycle


empathy is the most reassuring response a parent can provide to their child.  – Colby Pearce


III) Create your own personal coping skills (that work for YOU)


When you notice that you are getting angry…

Jackie Hall: Tame your temper

–          Stop. Take 3 (or 10) deep breaths. Try to focus on the moment.

–          Get yourself a Pause button: A rubber band/hair tie/bracelet around your wrist that you can flick to bring your attention back to reality

–          Start singing out your frustrations (Humour diffuses anger!)

–          Start singing a particular song that you really love or that relaxes you

–          Acknowledge how you feel without judgment, allow yourself to feel it, watch it rise and pass away

–          Imagine your child at a time when he/she was really sweet, funny, precious, helpful etc.


Jennifer Wilke-Deaton: Safe words

–          Use a “safe” word (for when either you or your child are about to lose it)

Introduce the word before you first use it. Choose together with child.

The word must be outside of context

The word must be humerous (Humour helps us to relax!)

The word must not be abused (if abuse occurs, choose a new word)



American Psychological Association:

–          Slowly repeat a calming word or phrase


Watson & Tharp: Self-directed behaviour

–          Reward yourself for every small success

Take note of the times you managed to restore calm, even if not right away

Reward yourself when you restored calm using a coping skill


Lastly, be kind to yourself and be realistic in your expectations of yourself as a parent and of your child. Children and their parents need to make mistakes – mistakes are opportunities for learning.


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