Ever since I read the book Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel (one of the best parenting books I have read, by the way), I have been looking for ways to be calmer and more connected during emotionally-charged interactions with my kids. When my kids have strong emotional outbursts (tantrums, yelling, slamming doors, sibling fights), I tend to take on my kids’ emotional state. While I’m trying to handle the situation and set boundaries, I am also fighting against in my own internal maelstrom and feelings that “something is wrong.” This conflict between my attempts to reason and my emotional flooding results in me getting reactive (e.g., yelling or withdrawing) or trying to fix the “problem.” I really want to find a calmer place in those explosive moments so I can be a guide for my kids rather than a participant in their drama.
I brought up this dynamic when I saw Catalina last week. She suggested that in those highly charged moments, I don’t maintain my own boundaries, which is why the kids’ emotion becomes my emotion. She encouraged me to turn my attention to the sensations and parameters of my body (e.g., breathing, feeling where my body is in space, feeling my feet on the floor) during the heat of the moment so that I have a clearer sense of where my kids end and I begin.
We have a rule in our house that the kids can only play the Wii (which was David’s Father’s Day present a couple of years ago) with David. This provides natural boundaries around an inherently addictive activity. Early yesterday morning, two of the kids woke up early and asked David to play the Wii. David had another idea — specifically, enjoying the luxury of sleeping in late on the first day of daylight savings time. The kids were extremely frustrated that he said “no” and, since I was awake, I was the recipient of their outrage and disappointment.
As they yelled and carried on about the unfairness, I could feel my adrenaline start to flow and my heartbeat start to increase. My attempts to diffuse the situation were confused by the fact that at some level I felt personally wronged that David hadn’t agreed to play with them. Then came my moment of inspiration. I remembered Catalina’s words, took a deep breath (with a big exhale), paid attention to the way my hands, feet and chest were feeling and thought about keeping the kids’ emotional outburst outside of my body. As I did this, I realized I was buying into the idea that the kids had been treated unfairly.
With this perspective, I re-framed the situation for myself as follows: “David doesn’t want to play Wii right now. The kids are disappointed. None of this is a problem. He can sleep. They can handle disappointment. My role is to be a calm recipient of their emotion and to give them tools to effectively communicate their feelings.” I was then able to listen to them without feeling challenged or threatened and I walked them through a conversation they could have with David later in the morning. When he woke up, they had that conversation and worked out a plan to play Wii with him later in the day.
I am so pleased that my intention to become more present in my body is really paying off — not only in my own subjective experience but also in my parenting.