As I walk through the parenting section in my local bookstore I am struck by the all of the ‘expert’ advice telling parents about how best to raise their preschoolers. When having conversations with parents who have young children I am concerned when they voice that they feel like they don’t know what they are doing or that they are not enough.
YOU ARE ENOUGH! Parenting preschoolers is hard! It’s demanding, exhausting and (if my memory serves me right) feels like this period of our life is never going to end. Sleep deprivation, active kiddos and epic meltdowns in the middle of the grocery store are some of the highlights and it makes sense that we lost our sense of ‘we can do this’ when we are in the midst of it.
As parents, we need to remind ourselves that we are the experts on our children and that we have the capacity and skills to help them get through hard times. In those moments I would love for you to remember these two words; connection and self- regulation.
Connection refers to our relationship with our children and this is the foundation on which our parenting lies. An attachment that helps our children feel that they are known, safe and secure allows them to develop well. Healthy connection is also the foundation for our parenting. When we are in a positive relationship with our children we tap into the biological wiring that invites our children to want to be good for us and we have the context in which to correct our children when needed. We want to prioritize the relationship before addressing the behavior.
Self–regulation is all about helping our children to find a place of calm in the chaos of their experience of being a preschooler. Challenging situations, overstimulation, adversity, and discomfort can contribute to our kiddos becoming dysregulated and this is where we often see big emotions, ‘temper tantrums’ and ‘behaviors’. Our job as parents is to be ‘behavior detectives’ and to be curious about what might be underlying the big emotions or responses we are seeing in our children. When we see our children experiencing a big feeling like a frustration, for example, we want to be curious about what might be contributing to this feeling. Is our child tired, hungry or did they just bump her head? The way we see the behavior is going to impact the way we chose to respond to it and will also contribute to our own ability to stay calm. We need to be regulated if we are to provide the context for our children to be regulated (which is sometimes easier said than done!) Some ideas to try to help our kiddos get their brain ‘calm’ include taking three big breaths, a big hug, drawing a picture, singing a silly song, picture a favorite/calm place or making silly faces.
And remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH! Your relationship with your child helps them to face hard situations, to feel safe and to find their courage to get through. Helping our kiddos to stay calm in the face of these challenges begins with our own ability to stay regulated and to guide them and help them develop their own resilience.
Leanne Shannon, MSW, RSW
Re-STORY-ing Family Services
Leanne is a mom of three and a Social Worker/Family Counsellor who is passionate about supporting families.