Moving it Forward: When moments get tough, from a place of co-regulation and calm, you can parent your child and yourself, through almost anything.
I read something recently that described the end of summer as a “down elevator,” an event to dread, or to grieve. The sentiment was that we were losing a valuable opportunity and that we needed to make the most of it before it went away. Sometimes, however, endings are a relief, not filled with nostalgia. Because metaphors can resonate differently for each of us, they often lead to personal reflection.
This got me thinking about one of my own metaphors, a phrase I use in parent coaching: “keep it moving forward." Not long ago, a preschool director colleague reminded me about how my metaphor touched him when I used it in a presentation to his staff. I suggested that this metaphor could be used to help move children out of messy moments. When we get stuck in a confrontational parenting moment, we often find ourselves in a power struggle. The easiest way out is to move the child and yourself forward.
For example, a child’s emotional level might rise because they are frustrated. A desired goal is to calm the child. Rather than over-verbalizing the issue or over reacting to the child’s stress, an adult can calm the child by co-regulation. Co-regulation can be done with a child of any age. The adult models calm, by slowing their own breathing, thus reassuring the child nonverbally that they can relax. In doing this co-regulation, slowing the moment, breathing together slowly, an adult helps a child transition from their "downstairs" brain's emotional amygdala reaction to engaging the "upstairs" brain, the frontal cortex, which is capable of understanding language, communicating a need and planning how to move forward.
Summer is a transition too, and whether or not yours has been enjoyable or mixed or difficult, the forward movement of time is something to embrace, for many reasons. But before embracing this transition to a new season, maybe there is something in your parenting experience, from the summer, that you want to reflect on, rewind or fast forward through?
What are your highs and lows, any parenting wins or lessons? How about for your children? Asking them, "What's been memorable for you this summer?" What have you learned and what are you most proud of? It's a great question for the dinner table or the next car ride, with your loved ones. When your child shares, listen with curiosity.
Children experience time at a much slower pace than we adults do. Remember when summer lasted “forever?” When we ran into our neighbor’s daughter last weekend, she shared that she was returning to college the next day. She commented that a month ago, it felt like forever before school was scheduled to restart. Now, she finds it hard to believe that the car is packed.
Parenting is a lot like summer. We anticipate it, we prepare and plan for it and yet, so many experiences are totally spontaneous or an unknown adventure. Days with newborns can seem excruciatingly slow on difficult days and wonderfully memorable on connected and smooth days.
Watching children grow and go, is something parents do with mindfulness and with mindlessness. So, as summer moves forward, and you are thinking about buying school supplies, re-starting routines, letting go of older children little by little in middle and high school or seeing your adult children off to college, take a moment to savor your summer moments, as a very important part of the transition to welcome the fall and say goodbye to the summer of 2022. "Move it forward" for yourself and your children when moments get tough. From a place of co-regulation and calm, you can parent your child and yourself, through almost anything.
Maryellen P. Mullin, LMFT