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  • Gonzalo Laje

Getting Ready for Parents' Day


Two middle school aged girls on a computer

National Parents' Day is July 23. This is a day to celebrate parents and parent figures, and a day

to reflect on who we are and who we want to be as parents. It is also a day to celebrate the

very special connection parents share with children, and the very special role we take on when

we become a parent or parent figure to a child.


At WBMA, LLC, the work we do would be impossible without parents. We see kids a couple

times a week, at most, whereas parents do the heavy lifting day to day. Parenting is not only an

extremely hard job, but it is also a job where the description, responsibilities, and paths to

success vary tremendously, based very much on both the particular child and the particular

parent. So, while there is no shortage of books, blog posts, social media videos, and Ted Talks

out there for parents, it is no easy task to figure out the perfect way for parents to do their job.

And even the very best, most well-intentioned parent can’t get it right every time.


As I tell my parenting clients very frequently, I teach parenting, and I make mistakes all the

time. Why? Because even though I know how I want to parent, I am human. My own nervous

system becomes dysregulated sometimes, and when it does, my thinking brain goes offline. Just

like kids “flip their lids1 ,” so do adults. It is normal, it is natural, and as long as we have mostly

positive interactions with our children, it is ok. Just as we strongly believe kids do well if they

can, we believe parents do well if they can, too.2


We also have some good news. There are things we can do, as parents, to help ourselves do as

well as we can, as often as possible.


First, consider what I call my “Daily Mug” theory3 :

When a parent wakes up in the morning with an empty mug, they have plenty of space to fill it

with the day’s emotions. Some days we start with empty mugs, other days they start off full,

and other days they start off partially full. This can be because of things like job stress, financial

worries, familial illness, poor sleep, inadequate nutrition or exercise, or a number of other

stressors. For a variety of reasons, some people’s mugs are larger or smaller than average too.


As we do things throughout the day, we add different amounts of liquid to our mugs based on

our experiences and their related emotions (e.g., stress, frustration, sadness, anger,

excitement, anticipation). Sometimes we do things that rejuvenate us and allow us to take

some sips from our mug, creating space for more emotions (e.g., things that bring us joy, calm,

and happiness; things that allow self-care). But once our mugs are full, if we try to add more

liquid, the mug overflows. There is no more space to hold the emotions, even if we keep

pouring.  We are more likely to flip our lids once that overflow begins. And…if our kids add that last bit of liquid to our mugs, they often get our full emotional overflow, even if they didn’t add

the rest of the liquid or if they didn’t add any liquid by choice.


To prevent our children being impacted by our emotional overflow there are steps we can take.

First, we need to self-regulate. To do this, we can:

  • Practice the pause (breathe, count to 5 or 10, think about what you want to say or teach before you speak)

  • Offer yourself compassion (a soothing touch like two hands on your heart, kind self-talk, etc.)

  • Ground yourself (Try a senses grounding like 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you taste)

  • Do a body scan and flex and release tense muscles, then check in on your body language (facial expression, posture, etc.) before interacting with your children

  • Wait to engage with your child until you are calm

  • If you can’t calm down, take a break, walk away, or ask for help rather than reacting in the moment

Next, outside of the moment, we want to look for ways to reduce what’s in our cups. We have

to remember that taking care of ourselves is part of taking care of kids. Very often, parents tell

me they don’t have time for self-care. I can relate. It is tough to find time for ourselves in our

truly busy lives. But that time is critical, even if it is just 2 minutes at a time. Self-care can

include anything that feels good to you. For example, it can include enjoying your favorite drink

or snack, taking a walk in nature, spending time with friends and spouses, engaging in a hobby,

exercising, meditating, or sleeping. For more self-care ideas, see this blog. Self-care also

includes paying attention to your stress load in real-time and taking steps to try to ease it. For

example:

  • Look for ways to improve sleep habits

  • Attend to your nutrition and hydration

  • Take the time to address any health issues

Finally, we want to remember the power of repair. Mistakes are always going to happen.

Research tells us that this is ok, because repair is extremely powerful, especially within a deep,

securely attached parent-child relationship. To repair, you might:

  • Model taking responsibility.

  • Ask for a do over.  Tell your child that you said or acted in a way that doesn’t feel right to you. This can happen in the moment, or later.

  • Apologize. Apologize. Apologize. 

  • If you made a rash threat, threw out a punishment, or said something unkind, change your mind! It is ok to take it back and say you made a mistake. This is not the same as giving in to your child’s begging.

  • Teach Growth Mindset. We all make mistakes. FAIL is the ‘first attempt in learning’ for us and our kids.

  • Follow the 5:1 rule. For every one negative interaction, engage in five positive interactions.

And day to day, build connection in all of your interactions. Build their self-esteem by praising

effort. Express your belief in their abilities. Notice their strengths, interests, and skills and help

nurture them. Engage with them around their interests, and share your own. Really listen,

without any distractions. Set daily child-led 1:1 time. And show up in all the other ways you

already do.


Parents, we want you to know that we see you all, working hard every day for your kids,

second-guessing your choices, worrying if you are doing right by your kids, and beating yourself

up for moments you become dysregulated and yell, punish, or otherwise respond to your child

in a way you regret. If you are a parent who feels these things, a parent who wonders if you are

a good parent, the answer to your question is, you are. Because you are showing up for your

child, and because your feelings, your questions, and your desire to ‘do better’ show how much

you care. Your kids can feel that. So please take the time to breathe, to offer yourself a moment

of self-compassion4 when you misstep, and to celebrate the incredible parent you are.


If you or someone you know needs parenting support, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us

at: https://wbma.cc or hello@wbma.cc


Join us on for a coffee chat on building and celebrating your relationship with your children on July 21st at 9:30 am via Zoom with Dr. Jaclyn Halpern. Register here.


1 https://youtu.be/G0T_2NNoC68 (Dr. Dan Siegel – Flip Your Lid video)

2 https://youtu.be/jvzQQDfAL-Q (Dr. Ross Greene – Kids Do Well If They Can video)

3 This is similar to Spoon Theory, which comes from the chronic pain community

4 To learn more about how to do this, visit: https://self-compassion.org

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Photo of Jaclyn Halpern, PsyD

Director/Co-Founder, The SOAR Program for Psychotherapy and Testing; Licensed Psychologist & Clinical Supervisor

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