As parents we are often concerned about helping our children regulate their emotions.
That is, helping them handle frustration, anger, sadness, excitement, fear and other strong emotions in an appropriate manner, soothing themselves. This ability is so important for our kids to learn as early as possible. In fact, some researchers believe that it is the most important interpersonal skill with long term implications. I agree. However, I often remind parents that we really can’t teach our kids something that we don’t have ourselves. So in order to best help our children learn to regulate their emotions, we first need to make sure that we are being a good example by regulating our own. Researcher Pat Ogden has developed a way for us to visualize this task.
When we are hyperaroused we are in a state of too much energy. We are too “worked-up.” We may yell, lose our patience, or cry. We may be over excited. In this state we are not capable of thinking clearly, fully listening to others, using good communication skills or making our best decisions. If you’re yelling at the driver of the car that cut you off, you are probably hyperaroused!
At the other end of the continuum, when we are hypoaroused we don’t have enough energy. We are not present enough to communicate effectively. We could feel depressed, exhausted, or just “zoned out” in front of the television. Our loved ones probably do not feel that we are really listening.
What we aim for is a state of Optimal Arousal. When we are in this state we are capable of being calm, but fully engaged. We can make good decisions. We can do our best parenting. We can listen and express ourselves in a loving manner. We can set limits without becoming angry. We can discipline without aggression.
We all move from one state to another. The key is being able to move as quickly as possible back to optimal arousal. So how do we do that? First we need to be able to recognize when we are hyper- or hypo- aroused. Pay attention to your body, your breathing, your heart rate. These are all signs of your state of arousal. Then, deep breathing, relaxation, time-out, meditation, prayer, exercise, are all techniques that some find helpful for returning to an optimal state.
This week I invite you to pay attention to your state of arousal as you’re interacting with others. Monitor yourself. Notice what state you’re in as you interact with your children. How does your state affect theirs?