Help! I’m a Dysregulated Parent!
There were a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for when I became a parent. Perhaps one of the most surprising was my own level of emotional dysregulation. When I became a parent I had already been a therapist for several years. I had an abundance of coping skills at my disposal. I cognitively knew a lot of the things you are “supposed to know” before becoming a parent and yet I found myself surprised and unprepared for how angry, sad, and frustrated I could feel sometimes at a moment’s notice.
If you’re like me, you might feel surprised and somewhat discouraged with your own level of dysregulation that can come with parenting. Here are 8 tips to manage, heal and regulate parenting emotional dysregulation.
- Check for vulnerabilities: Have you evaluated your physical vulnerabilities? Are you tired? When did you eat last? Have you taken your prescribed medication? Have you moved your body? If some of these physical needs are not met, it is a biological fact that you will have less emotional energy available for things like self-regulation. Prioritizing our physical needs as parents can be a game-changer for increasing emotional regulation.
- Check your expectations: Are your expectations for yourself realistic, appropriate, and based in your value system? Are you comparing your home, life, behavior, kids, etc to someone else? What about your kids? Are your expectations for them developmentally appropriate? Age appropriate? What are their vulnerabilities? Setting our expectations to a realistic standard can help reduce the feeling of failure that can greatly impact our mood.
- Check your level of responsibility: One of the biggest learning curves for me in parenting has been managing my own emotions that come from witnessing my kids’ emotions. I think it’s reasonable that my emotions will be impacted by my kids’ emotions, however taking full responsibility for my kids’ emotions isn’t healthy or sustainable. One of the biggest shifts I’ve made in my parenting is working on not taking responsibility for fixing my kids’ emotions. It’s not my job to protect my kids from their uncomfortable emotions. It’s my job to give support and empathy to my kids while they are having difficult emotions. When we can shift our responsibility from emotional protection to emotional support, it can greatly impact our mood.
- Check for overstimulation/ sensory overload: My kids are loud. So loud. I had no idea how loud kids could be! Some days, the amount of emotional energy it takes for me to ride the waves of auditory stimulation I take in when I’m with my kids feels like it’s too much. The same can be said for feeling “touched out,” smells, movement, visual stimuli etc. This can add up very quickly and significantly impact our mood. Building my own awareness for what makes me feel overstimulated has been a game-changer. Get yourself a pair of earplugs, take as many breaks as you can away from the stimuli, switch out with your partner, take some deep breaths, anything you can to help reduce your level of sensory overload.
- Check your coping skills: Do you have some tools in your toolbox to use in these tough moments? Make a list of 5 things to try when you notice dysregulation. Have you tried progressive muscle relaxation? Deep breathing? Holding ice in your hands? Intense exercise? Do you have a mantra? Have you engaged in self-validation?
- Check on your inner child: Nothing triggers inner child wounds quite like parenting. If you find yourself triggered, reactive, or lost in memories, this could be an indication that there is work to be done around childhood wounds. Finding a therapist to walk through this healing journey with you could greatly reduce your level of distress.
- Check your supports: Do you have enough support? Do you have the right kind of support? Are you asking for help? Can you delegate to a partner? Friend? Family member? Community member? Where can you look outside of yourself to reduce your level of stress?
- Check with your care team: Sometimes we can do everything in our power to regulate our emotions and it still isn’t enough. If this is happening to you, make an appointment with your primary care provider. Maybe there is a medical reason for your dysregulation. Maybe there is a mental health reason. You don’t have to do this alone!
Blog by Sara Pogue, MSW, LICSW
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova via Pexels