There are many things that I have had to learn since having children. I am the type of parent that does tons of research and likes to know what is going to happen, but there are some things that you can not understand until you experience them. For me the hardest thing was learning to be patient and flexible and understanding that my life as an adult was going to change a lot and those changes were not just the diaper changes and the feeding, but the emotional and mental as well.
Experienced parents tried to explain what it would be like, and honestly you can understand it from a third person, but until you are in the thick of it, there are some things that no amount of studying can prepare you for. I had to learn not only the basics of caring for a child’s basic needs, but I also had to change as a person. The hardest part for me is when I think I have parenting down, and then something in life shifts and I have to learn different ways to cope with being a parent.
My situation is a unique one because I have two children 16 months apart, and because they are so close in age they are both going through the toddler years together. When one child melts the other feeds off of that and melts too. Learning ways to handle this is a necessity in order to keep not only the household running, but also my sanity. According to Edward Christophersen and Susan Mortweet in Parenting That Works “coping skills refers to your ability to maintain your composure and avoid anger or any of the other negative emotions.” (Christopherson & Mortweet, 2003)
After the birth of my second child, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I had to learn coping skills in order to be able to not lose it. I know that there were days where getting up, going to work, and coming home was all that I could handle. I had to learn coping skills in order to be able to take care of my children during those dark days. When my children were bouncing off the walls, I would take them outside, that way they were able to run around and expend some energy. We took a lot of walks, both before naps and after. It was during these times that I learned what my children really played with and what they didn’t. At times they were clingy, which I learned was due to me not paying enough attention to them, so I would play a game or build a train track for them. There were times when removing myself from the situation entirely was the best way to cope.
Before having children, my mother used to tell me about the witching hour and how she would use our favorite movie to get through it. I never understood what she meant until I had children. My son from birth would be inconsolable from the hours of six until eight in the evening, as he has gotten older the time has changed to five until seven in the evening. During that time he will ask for something, and then not want it, he will want food, but won’t eat it. He doesn’t listen and becomes very whiny and needy. My daughter is even worse at this time because she isn’t able to speak in order to tell us what she wants, while she is able to communicate through sign language we sometimes miss it and she gets upset. As a parent, these are the worst times. It was these times that made me start researching different coping skills.
According to Andrew Roffmen the “four basic principles and practices are necessary to deal with these moments of negative emotion: Prevention, Intention, De-escalation, and Repair.” (Roffman, 2013) Understanding these principles and practices is the key to learning coping skills. As a parent we use these skills without even realizing it. I noticed very early on that from four until six in the evening my children are very difficult to deal with. This is the time that they are fussy, hungry, tired and just ready to start winding down, but it is too early to start the bedtime routine. I know that this is a frustrating time for me and once I noticed this I was able to set out different ways to handle this timeframe. By being intentional with the way I am going to handle certain situations, I am better able to be the type of parent I want to be. There are times where all the intention I had goes out the window and I have to de-escalate myself, the children and the situation. Once everyone has calmed down we are able to repair any damage that was said or done. We are able to explain what happened and how we can prevent it again.
The first practice and the most pivotal is prevention. Prevention is learning and understanding what your triggers are. Triggers can be from outside the home, inside the home, or even something you are dealing with internally. So how do you know what your triggers are? There are a few questions you can ask yourself. What gets you upset? Why does it get you upset? Is there any outside influence? Is there inner influence? How does it get you? These questions helped me understand that between the hours of four and six in the evening I get more upset during these times. That is not only a tough time for me, but it is also a tough time for my children. Once you know this you are then able to be intentional on how you want to handle these situations when they come up.
Learning to be intentional with how we handle these situations helps parents to maintain their morals and values of how they want to parent. No matter what situation comes our way, we want to be able to handle it in a calm and collective way. While things are calm we can reflect on previous situations where we did not cope with the situation the way we wanted to and ask ourselves a few questions for the next time the same situation comes up. How do I respond if this happens again? How would I like to respond in the future that follows in line with your parenting morals and values? Is there anything I can do to prevent the situation in the future? How do I want to feel at the end of the situation? Once I knew that the timeframe was tough and that I was more susceptible to getting upset, I wanted to be more intentional with the way I handled these situations. I asked myself if there was something that I could do to help myself through that tough time. I wondered what could be causing the situation, for instance, if maybe I am hungry, tired, or generally run down. If I am able to be intentional with my actions I am able to be a better parent to my children. Even with all these tools, sometimes things escalate and need to be handled in that situation.
Even with all the perfect planning things do not always go the way we intend them to and when that happens we will need to de-escalate the situation. The first step to de-escalating is to be able to recognize that it is best to remove yourself from the situation, whether it be by physically, emotionally, or mentally removing yourself. This is easier to do once you have figured out what your triggers are. When you remove yourself from the situation, you are then able to reflect on what happened, what caused you to get upset and what you can do in the future to prevent the situation from happening again. When my children act up and I get upset, I tend to tell them I need a “time out” and remove myself from the situation. I usually go upstairs for a minute or two. This allows me to calm down, get composure and be able to manage the situation in a positive manner. This time also shows my children that is ok to take a breather and remove themselves if they are getting too upset. After any situation when you are not able to maintain your composure, it is necessary to repair once the situation has de-escalated.
Repairing after you lose your cool is a necessity because it gives you and your child an opportunity to apologize for anything that was said or done, while both were upset. It also gives you, as the parent, an opportunity to explain what happened. Teaching your child that their or your actions were not acceptable is a great learning experience. It is also a great opportunity to show and tell your children how to handle the situation when it arises. There have been a few times where I have had to apologize to my children for raising my voice. Showing and telling them that even parents make mistakes, instills in them that nobody is perfect, but that there are things that can be done if and when it happens.
As a parent, there is still a lot that I have to learn. What works for now, when my children are younger, may not work in the future when they get older. Learning coping skills of how to deal with different situations ensures that you are attempting to follow your parenting morals and values in every situation.
Christopherson, E., & Mortweet, S. (2003). Parenting That Works. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Roffman, A. (2013, October 3). Parenting, the hardest job in the world: Coping strategies for parents when the going gets rough. Retrieved from About our Kids: http://www.aboutourkids.org