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Tips for Prioritizing Yourself and Helping Your Child At the Same Time

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes.”

At the end of 2022, I shared about the utmost importance of coregulation as a prerequisite for your kids being able to regulate their own emotions. While coregulation is well researched and often discussed in therapeutic settings and among professionals, many parents are still just figuring out that in order for their kids to deal with their emotions well, it has to start with coregulating with them first. Kids need to have experiences of coregulation with a trusted adult or caring figure in order to learn how to regulate themselves. It happens when an adult is able to regulate their own internal experience, and in doing so, has the capacity to create a safer and nurturing environment for the child to express, explore and feel.

Calm parent, calm baby. And to be a calm parent, you have to become the leader of your own self.

In a quest to research co-parenting among high-conflict families for an article I am writing, I recently watched an interview with Kim Kardashian that stopped me in my tracks in all the best ways. Normally I am not one for too many reality shows these days (don’t get me wrong – my love for human behavior has steered me towards binging on good reality TV every now and again) but this interview really intrigued me so much that I am writing about it here. 

In a recent interview with Angie Martinez for her IRL Podcast, Kim Kardashian spoke a great deal about her co-parenting experience, her superpower to stay calm amid the chaos and a realization she had that changed everything for the better. She said:

“There comes a time in your life when you have to choose yourself .. apart from your family, from your friends, from the energy around you. And you have to find what really makes you happy in work, in relationships, in activities you do… in everything. And once you find what that is, and you choose yourself, it doesn’t mean to can’t then go … get back to everybody else. I always put people in front of me, always…and a few years ago, I thought – I am really going to …put me first over everybody. And now that I did, I can dive deeper into my kids, my (other) relationships. It’s a peaceful place to be”.

I was glad to hear this encouragement in this interview and thought about the many parents I speak to on a daily basis that would feel selfish or guilty for focusing on their needs. While there are many articles and advice columns written on the importance of coregulation with your child, there is not enough attention being paid to the most important element of this process, which is the care of YOU.

To coregulate, you need to be regulated first. And how can you do that if you’re last on the totem pole? It is not just a recommendation that parents identify and meet their own needs – it is a hard requirement.

Here are some tips for prioritizing yourself. At first glance, these tips may appear too simple to make a dent. But over time, they become habits that create massive change for the wellbeing of you and your family.

1. Take the time

If you’re waiting for it to come, it won’t. Take time for yourself away from your child, even if it is 5 or 10 minutes a day. Take a walk, go for a drive, even stopping in to get a coffee at a drive through. Those moments of quiet compound over time and there will be a huge return on your investment.

2. Highlight the importance of transitions in your day

Any time I come home from work, I always take five minutes in my bedroom to change clothes, wash my face or set up my environment for a restful night. Shifting from one activity to another is not only stimulating for kids, but for adults too. Taking time to do something calm or enjoyable in between activities can help everyone feel more at ease. 

3. Get serious about noticing your breath

While for the newbie meditator, breathing strategies may seem a bit “simple”, actually becoming aware of and practicing your breathing has major benefits, inducing the parasympathetic nervous system in charge of rest and digest and calming the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for you being in flight-flght-freeze-fawn mode. My favorite techniques support the elongation of your exhale. Breath in for 3, hold, slowly breathe out for 6.

4. MOVE your body

Remember when Nintendo games used to freeze up and we’d have to pop the game out of the console, blow on it and shake it a few times to get it to work? (I know I’m giving away my age…). Our nervous systems need that kind of shake down too from time to time. My favorite ways to reset involve moving my body by taking a walk, jumping on a rebounder mini-trampoline, dancing to the length of one song, and playing with my dog. 

5. Reframe your thinking

The best time to stop the momentum of a negative or unproductive thought is to catch it before it gains momentum. Don;t beat yourself up if you’re thinking something that feels bad. Catch it and ask yourself: What is a better feeling thought? If you find yourself having an emotion that doesn’t feel good, instead of berating yourself for it, ask yourself, what is this emotion trying to tell me? What information does it have for me?

The secret to helping your kids deal with their emotions productively is that there is no secret. It is a dance between your nervous system and their own. Happy parent-happy child. Focusing on yourself is the best gift you can give to them.

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I am Dr. Victoria, therapist, speaker and trainer to professionals and organizations all over the world. In my 17+ year career I’ve supported people of all ages and backgrounds, dubbed the “parent whisperer” for consistently generating relationship success between partners, and parents with kids. I have been in the depths of what most of them are going through, not as a parent myself, but as a child.

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