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July 10, 2019

How I Regulate My Emotions as a Dad

Kids… They are constantly falling, getting frustrated, throwing tantrums and expressing chaotic emotions. 

For really young ones, this happens every few minutes. For older kids, it may happen every few days. As dads, we can really help kids learn how to regulate their emotions better by showing up in a mindful, regulated way that allows them to calm down. (Aka, setting the example.) It’s hard, I know. And, I have double duty with twin toddlers right now. Here’s how I regulate my emotions as a Dad, and what I’ve learned to share with you.

I’ll be honest, it is often the case that I’m triggered by my twin boys.

They are constantly moving and exploring at times when I need them to pay attention. I have lost it at times.  My intention is to not allow my lack of regulatory ability to get in the way of their natural desires.

For example, the other day, we were attempting to get settled in the airport. Both Isaiah and Gabriel continued to run away from us into the oncoming traffic of other people. My wife and I kept trying to bring them back to our little corner so we could get our gear on and get to our car. For them, this was fun and exciting as they naturally wanted to explore this new place. They weren’t doing anything to hurt me, but I could feel in myself the rising frustration after the plane ride.

It would have been easy to force both of them to comply by scaring them or shaming them. I could feel the annoyance rising inside me and I took a second to notice this and calm my system down. Eventually, we were able to get our gear on after chasing them down several times.

Had I been more defensive and aggressive they would have stopped running away. This is what I wanted. Yet, it would have also brought on hurtful feelings and confusion for them.  They are only exploring because their biology is encouraging them to do this. Why would Dad be trying to stop this?  

I had to manage all of this in the moment through my mindfulness skills. It was not easy, but I know that it is doable. I know any parent out there that wants to do this can do better. Here’s what I try to do to help other dads regulate their emotions when their kids have gotten on their last nerve.

Helping Our Kids Regulate

Imagine for a moment a simple interaction with your child. The child falls, and for a brief moment the child looks to the parent to make sense of what just happened. She isn’t sure if she should be scared, or start to cry.  In this moment the parent’s job is to help the child make sense of what just happened. If the parent is able to come over in a regulated, calm manner, the child can realize that nothing really bad happened and go on about their play. However, if the parent comes over and is showing their own signs of dysregulation, they are sending the message that what just happened is really scary.

This type of event can take place over and over again for little kids.  It is how children learn to make sense of their surroundings and regulate their nervous system.  For parents who struggle with their own regulation (often anxious or often depressed), there is a way that they can unintentionally encourage this state in their kids.

Regulating Is Hard

When we are up all night trying to get our kid to sleep and they are refusing to help us, it is natural to get upset or to lose ourselves in the struggle. We must accept that this is part of being a human parent.  There is no shame in making mistakes.

The goal is not to be perfect, but to find better tools to be regulated more of the time so this can be a part of the child’s long-term experience.

Please don’t get down on yourself for getting upset or angry with your kid. This is normal. Kids are naturally resilient.  Also, take time to figure out how to stay more regulated for your child as well.

Why This Is Important

In our technologically focused world there is a lot of stress being put on our bodies and nervous systems. In order to function in this world we need to learn how to develop healthy brains for ourselves and for our kids. Being regulated in a stressful world is one of the most important competencies we can give our children. This goes along with emotional intelligence as well. The success of our kids is going to be in their ability to be more resilient in their lives. This requires a more regulated nervous system.

Learning To Regulate

The good news is that at any point in our lives we can learn how to have a more regulated nervous system.
This requires improving in our ability to learn how to make sense of our own emotions from moment to moment. It doesn’t mean we remove ourselves from our rational experience but that we have a more allied experience. This means we are noticing our thoughts and incorporating our feelings. And, it allows for all of the important information to come into your experience.

I do this by practicing things like slowing down with my kids and being more present.

Mindfulness is a wonderful tool because it allows us to be with what is in the moment. By learning to be more mindful, we can become aware of the ways our children trigger us and not allow that to run the show. This means that we keep ourselves open to our kids rather than allowing the defensiveness to keep us separated. In my work, I help parents find ways to incorporate more mindfulness, more resilience, and more emotion regulation, so that they can enjoy the quickly passing time that their kids are little, and grow amazing relationships with them. You can do, Dad.

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