Last month in The Peaceful Home we were exploring inner work, mindset, and mindfulness for parents. As the days grow darker and nights get longer, I am feeling a real sense of drawing inwards, of craving space for reflection and meditation, carving out time to read, plan, and ponder, and really focus on my own inner work as a parent and human.
I believe firmly that peaceful parenting is about us as parents, not our children. It’s not about trying to find “gentle” ways to discipline our children or finding tricks to get them to comply with our wishes without tears. It’s about working on ourselves as humans so that we may live as happily and peacefully as possible with the children that we share our lives with, to everyones benefit.
When we stop trying to change our children’s behaviour and instead focus on being aware, present, and mindful in our parenting, amazing things can happen. Connection and empathy builds. Challenging behaviour reduces, because more needs are getting met all round. Parenting feels easier and more joyful. Children have more autonomy and feel seen and heard. The unconditional love we have for our children shines through.
This work is not easy. Working on ourselves as parents often means digging into our childhoods, our struggles, our insecurities. Inner work encourages us to confront our beliefs and our fears, and work actively to change our inner narrative and reprogram our parenting “auto-pilot” which so often kicks in when we feel triggered.
Parenting triggers: identifying them, working through them
Our interactions with our own children are so tied up with our own experiences of childhood. Because of this, our children’s actions can often trigger intense feelings of frustration, powerlessness, and even anger in us. But it is possible to learn to identify these triggers, move past them, and even learn from them.
Triggers are words, phrases, or actions that cause us to react and feel strong emotion – usually referring to negative emotion. These are often connected to painful or challenging experiences from our past. When we experience a strong response to our children’s behaviour, eg. whining, shouting, it is usually about our own difficulty in processing these emotions rather than our child’s behaviour itself.
In the words of the amazing Teresa Graham Brett:
“Triggers are often a sign of unintegrated emotional experiences that are a result of emotional control we may have experienced as children. Often when we are triggered by something a child says or does, it brings up emotions that are related to an incident earlier in our lives where we experienced pain. On our parenting journey, these triggers can be insight into our experiences of powerlessness as a child that are now impacting how we interact with the children in our lives. If these reactions remain unexamined, we miss an opportunity to move through the emotions still following, maybe even haunting us, from our past.”
Paying attention to the moments when you feel most triggered can often lead to reflection on your own experiences as a child. It’s not unusual to realise that you feel triggered by the very behaviour that you were reprimanded, shamed, or punished for as a child (jumping on sofas, throwing food, dawdling, crying, saying no to parents). This situational trigger takes you back to how you felt as a child and were feeling powerless, hurt, or ashamed.
The good news? It is absolutely possible to learn to identity your triggers, and better anticipate when you may feel triggered by a situation. This is powerful work, and can lead to a fresh sense of self-awareness.
It can be really useful to keep a “trigger diary” in a small notebook or by emailing yourself a quick note. Each time you feel triggered, make a note of what was happening, how you were feeling before, any external factors (eg. too hot, thirsty, phase of menstrual cycle, financial stress), any emotional and physical feelings that came up for you afterwards, and if you have a sense of where these feelings may have originated from – but it’s OK if you don’t.
This allows you to spot patterns in your feelings and begin to anticipate and perhaps avoid situations which could trigger these emotional responses. You may also begin to find that just by focusing on how you are feeling, these feelings slowly begin to feel less overwhelming and you are able to respond mindfully more often.
Digging into your triggers can be hard, emotional work. It can bring up all sorts of feelings from our childhoods and the rest of our lives, and these feelings can feel heavy and uncomfortable to dig into and examine. Allowing yourself to feel how you feel without judgement, blame, or internal criticism is so important when doing this important inner work. Treat yourself kindly and lovingly, as you would treat your own child, and remember to take care of yourself.
This kind of inner work is not easy, or straightforward, but it is so important and it can have huge benefits to us as parents and for the children we share our lives with. As the days get longer, I invite you to join me in focusing inwards and making some space for reflection.
Rhythm in the Home
If you are wanting to take some more space for yourself to dig deeper into your needs, values, and daily life as a parent, Rhythm in the Home opens again for booking on Thursday the 6th December at 08:30.
I love running this course, and it will be a brilliant way to finish off the winter months and move forward into spring feeling confident about crafting rhythms that work for your whole family, whether you are home full time or work outside of the home, whether you home educate or use childcare or school. It’s a kind and inclusive course designed to support you wherever you are in your journey, and you are so welcome to join us in the first intake of 2019.