Creating regulation and SPACE for you, to strengthen the relationship with your child
Why will focusing on my regulation help my child to be more regulated?
This mum was feeling desperate – confused, exhausted and just wanted someone to tell what she could do to support her child, with the struggles at home and at school. Her child’s behaviour was overwhelming – she realised he was struggling, but knowing how to help him, was feeling impossible! She desperately wanted to feel less angry and anxious, for the relationships in her family to feel calmer, with some time for fun things and stronger connection.
She began to realise that her regulation was a key component in how well she could support her son but she didn’t want to focus on herself; she just wanted someone to tell her how to help her child! She just wanted a solution, a way to ease the pain. She didn’t want to take on any more responsibility, on top of everything else!
This mum was me. 6/7 years ago I was really struggling – my child was awaiting assessment for ADHD and Autism, he was struggling going to school, our family felt tense and disconnected a lot of the time.
When I recognised the importance of this and began to find some regulation for myself, slowly but surely the changes in how I was able to support my son began to become clear. I realised more and more that it really did have to start with me; I could make a big difference for my son if I didn’t become overwhelmed by my own emotions whenever he was struggling, and I could be more proactive and productive.
Not an easy or a straight road, realising that I had to find time and headspace to fill my own cup and focus on my regulation first…
But the huge difference it made for me and my family was what convinced me that it was absolutely essential. When I was more regulated and connected to myself, I could respond to support his needs, rather than just react to manage my son’s behaviour. The feeling of more flexibility and the ability to think more rationally when things were tough and my son’s emotions were big, was absolutely life-changing for me.
And I certainly don’t have it all sussed, even now – I still react at times when I feel overwhelmed. But I know the value of coming back to nervous system regulation – mine first!
I’m not really a fan of the term self-care or the traditional ways we often think it has to look – I honestly can’t do regular spa days or long bubble baths, but I certainly can do 3 deep breaths while I sit in the car after a long day. I can give myself 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea, feeling the warmth of the mug and watching a bird on the bird feeder. And the more regulated I am, the more I can find those opportunities to regulate myself.
It does start with us. Yes, we are also going to better understand our child’s behaviour and work out how we can communicate with them in a way that brings calm and collaboration; yes we should focus on how we can communicate to school what they need and how we can develop strategies to support them to do homework and to go to bed. But we have to start with ourselves, this is the essential foundation.
Here’s a couple of small and simple ways that I create space to nurture my nervous system, perhaps they’ll feel right for you too…
- Breathe consciously – take 3 breaths, as deep as feels comfortable for you and when you breathe out, make the out-breath longer than the in-breath. So, as an example, if you breathe in for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 6. You can use this as a regular regulator or as an in the moment regulator. I love this and can feel my nervous system settle immediately when I do this. Watch out for a lovely sigh or yawn afterwards, that signals regulation.
- Just sense and connect with what’s around you – use your 5 senses to see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Use just 1 of these and do it for 20 seconds if that’s what you can manage. Just get out of your head and connect with what’s around you. I love to watch the birds in the garden or focus on stroking Honey, my dog.
- Pause and connect with what’s going on inside your body – scan through your body and feel your heartbeat, or your lungs expanding. Place your hand on a part of your body that feels tense or uncomfortable – I love the feeling of my hands on my chest. This may be just what you need in that moment to regulate ‘enough’ – there isn’t a magical, definite amount of regulation – enough to help you feel flexible and able to think clearly and respond is what you need.
- Attune to your thoughts, with kindness and compassion for yourself – try not to judge what or how you’re thinking, just notice what they are and how they’re making you feel in that moment. Perhaps do it while you boil the kettle, or drive home or walk the dog – this is when I go into my head. Make it part of a bigger ritual if you want to but don’t put pressure on yourself – do what works for you.
- Create opportunities to see beautiful things, to be amazed by things around you – whether that be in nature, a special moment of connection, an inspiring conversation, a shared laugh with your partner. Deb Dana, of the Polyvagal Institute, calls them ‘glimmers’ – isn’t that a beautiful word! I’ve also heard them described as ‘moments of awe’ – there is real scientific data that they support our mental wellbeing and make us happier when we really savour them. Can you share this moment with someone, either in person or by telling them about it?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and very dysregulated like I was, would it feel manageable to do just one of these things for now? Making a start can be powerful and then you may be able to expand and do more as you go. You can use the breathing SPACE framework that I’ve created if that is helpful.
Something that resonates for me is that doing nothing different guarantees that nothing changes but just a 1 degree change gets us to a very different destination.
This month we’re doing some breathing and EFT (tapping) sessions in our community. This is to give you the space to take 15 minutes for your own regulation, twice a week if you can, live or on record, with the invitation to use it as and when it supports you.
You can join the community at a special January price of £15 for your first month and join us for those sessions. You also get all the other good stuff in the community too.