Why Caring for Your Kids Means Caring for Yourself

Photo: andcombust (Creative Commons)
Ever wondered why flight attendants ask that you put on your own oxygen mask before your child’s? Because you cannot help your child if you’re not breathing!

A growing body of research supports the notion that the way in which you manage your own emotions impacts your child’s developing capacity to regulate their feelings and stress. As a result, tuning into and caring for your emotional well being as a parent is vitally important.

Aside from striving to eat better, exercise more, and get more sleep, in the moment you can also simply:

  1. Remember that you are not alone in your feelings

It is entirely normal for parents to feel intense emotions as they care for their children! Tell yourself, as often as you need, that you are not the first or the last parent to feel how you’re feeling right now. When the kids seem unmanageable, you might experience anger, exasperation, guilt, anxiety, frustration, etc. At these times, one of the best things that you can do is acknowledge how you are feeling and that it’s ok to feel how you are feeling. This takes virtually no time at all, but can work wonders for your capacity to “reset” your stress response and ability to cope.

  1. Have some compassion for yourself

When your child is in the middle of a tantrum, the last person you are looking to comfort is yourself. But think about it: can you experience empathy or compassion for your child’s experience if your own efforts to cope or manage often go unacknowledged? Offering yourself some compassion (i.e., self-compassion) will put you in a better frame of mind to deal with whatever is coming your way. In tough moments, take a few seconds and provide soothing words to yourself, or even physically embrace yourself. Doing so can reduce levels of stress hormones and prime you to feel comforted and able to extend kind, loving care to yourself and others.

  1. Utilize relaxation techniques

Deep, slow breathing can not only ease the headache you may have from sleep deprivation, but also can decrease your overall level of stress hormones. Alternatively, if you are struggling to manage strong emotions or worried thoughts, engage your senses to return to the present moment – fully seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling that which exists in the present pulls you back from the past or future into now. Practicing these two approaches to relaxation, abdominal breathing and mindful awareness, may help you to feel better equipped to face your challenges.

In sum, there are so many demands on modern day parents that sometimes it may seem difficult to remember what living in the moment feels like. Remember, however, it is almost impossible for you to be fully present in your role as a parent if you do not take the time to care for your own emotional well being. That is why caring for your kids starts with caring for yourself.