Bringing your “calm” for kids.
In the first weeks of becoming a new parent to siblings with a trauma history, I asked a case manager “How can we stay calm”? Visualise being new to parenting, and then having children with significant trauma moving into your quiet space, throwing things, including off-the-chart behaviour outbursts, and not being sure how best to remain unfrazzled. The answer from the young case manager was “You can’t”.
After years of experience, I would disagree, and say it is quite central to parenting kids who had a difficult start to life. Staying calm, no matter the storm around you, no matter how large or unexpected the curve ball… so you can stay sane, and so you can help your kids join your calm as well. It is definitely a learned art (well at least for some of us), but a very worthwhile one.
Tips that may help you remain calm:
⭐ Understand: all behaviour is communication.
Sometimes a child cannot tell you the emotions they are experiencing, and the behaviour is a clue for you to understand what they need you to know
⭐ Remember: they didn’t cause this.
Kids who are displaced from their original home, and who may have experienced abuse, neglect, loss, grief… are going through way more than many of us have ever had to. They didn’t pick their life circumstances. It can be helpful to remember in the moment, that the behaviours are often a direct result of trauma and also of not having the benefit of healthy early childhood experiences ⭐ Remember: you didn’t cause this.
If you can keep in mind that the behaviours are not a reflection on you… that when you are called to the school for the umpteenth suspension, it is still for the same reasons. This little person is battling things no little person should have been exposed to. We didn’t cause the problem, and we are on their team. We are in their corner. We will advocate for people to understand, this is the impact of trauma, not “bad behaviour”
⭐Perspective: it won’t always be like this…
In the midst of tough situations with kids, it often seems it will always be like this. But you can be in the middle of a storm one day, and find everything has reverted to “normal” the next; or you can be in a phase that feels never-ending, and lose sight of how kids can move through phases. Enjoy the positive moments, and in the tough ones, remember they won’t last forever.
⭐ Build in self care moments: you need to look after you to be able to help the kids in your care.
Remember the oxygen mask on the plane example – you need to look after you so that you can look after others. If you have managed to build in even some micro-moments of care into your day, and keep topping up your own wellbeing tank, you will have more to give and be more likely to stay in your calm place.
⭐ Food: don’t underestimate the power of food!
A healthy snack, or even a drink of water, can distract a child during their heated moment. It is a change in focus, and can provide a much needed distraction to help calm the situation. It can also provide you time to think of how to assist.
⭐ Laugh when you can.
If you can find humour in things that could otherwise throw you, do it. There is now scribble all over the wall? Find a way to see the humour in it… although this obviously won’t apply to many situations, there are some that you can do this with.
⭐ Think: what is it that is unsettling your child?
Was there a trigger? Are there certain times that are more difficult than others? Sometimes this can take a while to figure out… and sometimes you can’t. Regardless, you can still work on finding ways to help your child find their calm. You will see the changes in the short term and long term… It can be seen when a child is able to return to calm more quickly than before; or when they have some strategies up their sleeve that they start to use…
⭐ Be creative: in really hard moments, it can be helpful to distract with the unexpected.
Are you facing the same situation repeatedly and you approach in the same logical way without success? Is putting on shoes the time your young child launches into a distressed mess? Forget trying to figure out why, or even how to put on their shoes… instead ask the child silly questions like “do they go on your head?… or on your hands?” and try that instead… often the creative solution may only work once, but it is worth breaking the circuit and helping a child to be distracted from what is distressing them
⭐ Breathe: in between it all, remember to breathe…
I once attended a trauma training day, and the most helpful advice I took away was from another parent – “Birthday candles”. When a child is having a meltdown and needs assistance regulating, you can hold up your hand, with your fingers representing birthday candles. Your child is taught how to blow out the birthday candles slowly so that each finger is then folded down. Too fast a breath will not work… they need to slow it down.
⭐ Let them express their colourful emotions: When a child is having a moment – if it is safe, let them.
You can tell them “I am here when you are ready”… I have found this can result in much quicker returns to calm as they have learned to regulate their emotions over time.
Recently we had a younger relative visit my kids. The house was loud with excited voices, and lots of activities. While the kids were sitting at the table, the younger relative was being somewhat “over-excited”… My young teen, who was previously quite “energetic” herself, was clearly and calmly saying “you need to be calm… calm down”… I chuckled from the other room.
What have you found helpful for remaining calm and sharing calm with the kids in your care? 🤗
xo Changemaker Mummas&Pappas
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