Marla Rosenbloom, LICSW
Donna Cvitkovich, Psy.D

1. Manage Expectations:

  • Recognize pre-covid versus post-COVID expectations / hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow offers a 5 tier pyramid model of human needs & motivation, arguing that physiological, safety and belonging needs must be met before achieving ever greater levels of self esteem and actualization. For example, instead of striving for excellence as a core value, permit yourself to prioritize health, family, community, faith, and hope, as these values are essential during difficult times.
  • Pay attention to the “shoulds” in your head and check to see that they are realistic to expect.

2. "Fill Your Own Cup”..Prioritize Self-Care:

  • You “can’t pour from an empty cup.” When you don’t take care of yourself you cannot easily take care of your children. Examples; healthy sleep hygiene, mindful eating, connections with friends / family.
  • Eliminate guilt, and instead radically accept that you can’t be all things to all people. Remind yourself that the choice you are making to take care of yourself first is the best for you and your family.

3. Teach Your Kids About How The Brain Works

  • Knowledge of how the brain works provides insight into our children’s own behavior.
  • Dan Siegal, author of the book, “The Whole Brain Child”, offers a helpful metaphor comparing the human brain to a house with “upstairs” and “downstairs” floors and a connecting stairway. The upstairs “rational” brain cannot work unless the downstairs “primitive/emotional” (a.k.a., fight, flight, freeze mode) brain functions calmly. Parents can help kids build the staircase of the mind so that the upstairs and downstairs brains can work together as a team.
  • The left (logical, linear and linguistic thinking), and right (non-linear, non-verbal, contextual and emotional thinking) hemispheres of the brain also need to work together. When we respond from our right brain exclusively, children may become emotionally overloaded whereas when we respond from our left brain exclusively, children may feel emotionally invalidated. Neither one by itself for long periods of time is good.

4. Build Connection In Your Response:

  • Connect first with your child’s right “emotional” brain, and then secondly with their left “logical” brain. Providing empathy will diffuse the emotional reaction and then allows for the possibility of problem solving to occur
  • Pay attention to your verbal responses. Here are some examples of what works:
    • Instead of "You're going to be fine”, try "It looks like you are having a pretty hard time right now.”
    • Instead of “Is it really that big a deal?” try “I can tell that it was really upsetting to you.”
    • Instead of "Well, this is the plan you agreed to”, try "I can see you are having a hard time accepting the choice you made. That happens to me sometimes also.”
  • Non-verbal behavior can reinforce connection. For example, a smile, hug or gentle touch elicits feelings of connection. On the contrary, a frown, pursed lips, or rolling eyes, hands on hips, can lead children to feel judged and criticized, and thus escalate upsetting feelings.

5. Learn To Stay Calm And Emotionally Regulated Even When Your Child Is Not:

  • If we are emotionally escalated, we lose connection and the chance of creating calm.
  • Insight into our own emotional states can help us understand ourselves and thereby be more available to our children.
  • Parents, like children, also need calming tools. By demonstrating how to use calming techniques, we model self-regulation for our children.
  • Valuable mantras when we feel triggered by emotions can help (e.g., “I can bring calm to their chaos”, “I am not a bad parent, I am a good parent having a bad day.”)
  • Take slow deep cleansing breaths.
  • Engage children in conversation about what helps them to calm down (e.g., taking a warm bath, holding a stuffed animal, asking for a hug, walking away, or running in the backyard).

6. Learn To Collaborate With Your Child When Solving A Problem.

  • Examine your parenting style, including how you were parented:
    • Authoritarian: high demands and low responsiveness
    • Authoritative (linked to best outcomes in kids): clear rules, high expectations, warmth and high responsiveness
    • Permissive: low demands and low responsiveness
  • Be your child’s consultant instead of their director — this allows your child to be a fully invested participant in the solution.

7. Shift Your Mindset Regarding Your Child's Undesirable Behavior:

  • Instead of, “My Child is GIVING me a hard time” think, “My child is HAVING a hard time.”
  • Interpret undesirable behavior as a communication of a “need”, such as:
    • basic needs of hunger, rest, safety,
    • needing control
    • having boundaries respected (if they don't
    • want to give someone a hug or share a toy)
    • guidance on approaching a difficult task
    • connection and comfort
    • a slower pace
    • understanding and handling emotions
    • more or less stimulation

8. Teach The Power Of Vulnerability:

  • Model resilience for your child by verbalizing your emotional struggles and how you plan to overcome them.
  • Teach your children the value of owning mistakes by asking them to apologize and modeling apologizing yourself
  • Use humor and “playfulness,” such as laughing at yourself or a situation, to teach children to be forgiving of themselves.
  • Here are some of the benefits of vulnerability:
    • You model humility, self-awareness, resilience, empathy and compassion
    • You model healthy ways of repairing relationships after conflict.
    • Struggles and big feelings are normalized.

9. Practice“Reflection”.

  • Reflecting is one of the most powerful ways to increase self-awareness within our own selves and in our children. It can happen in three ways:
  • “Be curious” about your own reactions: for example, wondering what triggered you when you yelled at your child can help you understand yourself better, and allows you to delineate your feelings from your child’s.
  • “Wonder” about the internal emotional experience of your child instead of focusing exclusively on their behavior. For example, validating that a child feels jealous may help explain sibling rivalry and aggressive reactions.
  • Dialog with your child about what helps them get through big emotions. This can motivate them to use this strategy in their future relationships.

10. Explore How Words Impact Emotions:

  • Big emotions are triggered simply by our choice of words. For example:
    • “This is “NEVER” going to end!”
    • “Why do you “ALWAYS” argue with me!?”
    • “I did not sign up to be a homeschool teacher - this is “TERRIBLE!”
    • “As hard as I try to stop yelling at my kids, I just can’t - it’s “IMPOSSIBLE!”
  • Reduce the level of emotional reactivity by catching yourself using extreme words — “Always, Never, Nothing, Perfect, Worthless, Should.” Instead, be specific about what you are experiencing or what you need. Alternatives to the above statements could sound something like this:
    • “This has been going on longer than I had expected and I am feeling discouraged at this moment.”
    • “Being a homeschool teacher is not something I enjoy today.
    • “As hard as I try to stop yelling at my kids, I keep slipping up. Something isn’t working, so I am going to reach out and get some help and support.