By Lauren Leiker, M.Ed, PCI Certified Parent Coach®
Not unlike when the airline attendant reminds us to "place your own mask over your face before helping your children," we parents MUST remember to care for ourselves in order to best care for our children.
Practicing self-nurture is an act of self-compassion. Many of us struggle with showing ourselves the same levels of compassion that we might easily show others. Self-nurture is any activity that renews, refreshes, and refuels. Practicing self-nurture regularly is our best defense against common parenting crises, and it builds up reserves for the bigger parenting emergencies.
Nurturing the "self" can take on many forms and will differ from parent to parent, person to person. The goal of a self-nurturing activity is to feel refreshed, relaxed, and ready to enter difficult situations more calmly. For some, exercise or gardening might be nurturing, but for others it may be done out of some sense of obligation. For an activity to be nurturing, it should be something that you enjoy, something that pulls you away from the stress of the day, something that serves to calm the mind and body.
Parenting is stressful. (Biggest understatement ever. I know.) During a stressful situation the brain signals the release of stress hormones. These chemical substances trigger a series of responses meant to give the body extra energy: blood-sugar levels rise, the heartbeat speeds up, and blood pressure increases. Our body is sent into "fight or flight" mode, and we are deemed incapable, really, to think rationally and respond thoughtfully. Rather, we react to the situation in a way our brain has been designed to react in ANY stressful situation. The problem is, we aren't talking about a life or death situation, generally, and it isn't helpful to be reactive and irrational when dealing with our children. So how do we avoid the "fight or flight" mode with our children?
First, plan your self-nurturing activities into your life. (Yes, that means put them on the calendar.) It can be daily or weekly, but it must be planned. When you are scheduling out your week, always make an appointment or two with yourself. Many of us get caught up in the idea that caring for our self makes us selfish. In fact, not caring for yourself, and allowing yourself to be reactive and on-edge with your kiddos, rather than loving and responsive, is not serving anyone.
Common forms of Self-Nurture
Any form of exercise (Regular exercise helps us to maintain a good heart rate, good blood pressure, and regulate blood-sugar levels, so we have a better foundation for a healthy, physical response to stress. So, even if exercise isn't your self-nurture activity of choice, it goes a long way in preparing you!)
Crafting or Creating of any kind!
Cooking or baking
To know what type of self-care works best for you, ask yourself how you feel afterward. Are you calmer? Fresher? More energized? A self-nurturing activity shouldn't deplete you, it should give you energy and prepare you.
In addition to regularly scheduled self-nurturing activities, do your best to get plenty of sleep at night and to eat nutritious foods! Being hungry or tired deems you unprepared for anything.
So what about those over-the-top, what else can go wrong kind of days? Sensory Reminders are crucial. Sensory Reminders can be anything perceived by the senses that “remove” you, if even for a moment, from a stressful situation. In this moment, you can breathe, slow your heart rate, gather your thoughts, and return to the moment as prepared as possible.
Common Sensory Reminders:
Light a scented candle
Chew a piece of gum
Simply breathe and count to 10
Focus on a photo from a treasured moment
Read a quote or passage that reminds you of the parent/person you aim to be
Hold a yoga pose and breathe for 30 seconds
Even a 10 second Sensory Reminder can serve us well, and, in turn, serve our children better.
Take time in the new year to empower your parenting by scheduling some self-nurture and lining up your sensory reminder for those extra-stressful moments.
Lauren is a Parent Coach at the Hallowell Todaro ADHD Center. Her work with families spans almost 25 years and includes the roles of nanny, preschool teacher, preschool director, parent education instructor, and PCI Certified Parent Coach®. She particularly enjoys helping parents with children who are experiencing the world in unique ways - including those with ADHD.