“It was a tragedy of errors. Fourteen-year-old Matilda Crabtree was just playing a practical joke on her father: she jumped out of a closet and yelled "Boo!" as her parents came home at one in the morning from visiting friends.
But Bobby Crabtree and his wife thought Matilda was staying with friends that night. Hearing noises as he entered the house, Crabtree reached for his .357 caliber pistol and went into Matilda's bedroom to investigate. When his daughter jumped from the closet, Crabtree shot her in the neck. Matilda Crabtree died twelve hours later.” – excerpt from the book "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman.
I hope you don't mind the bloodcurdling opening. Fortunately, it's rare that an emotional reaction in our parenting ends up as devastating as in this real-life story.
Bobby Crabtree didn't know what he was shooting at. Fear was in charge. He didn't have time to hear his daughter's voice before he pulled the trigger. He was in auto-react mode.
Our nervous system is a masterpiece of the 1-million-year-long evolution. In the vast majority of this time frame, reaction simply meant survival.
Imagine a hiker seeing a stick in the forest and mistaking it for a snake. The hiker jumps back in fear. She might be mistaken this time but in most other times, overreaction is better than its opposite. Stopping to make sense of the image could end in the hiker's death.
Scientists summarize this with the phrase better safe than sorry.
In most situations, overreaction is not so bad. There is room for error. After all, before the invention of guns, it wasn't that easy to kill someone.
The problem is, triggers of overreaction have changed a lot in the modern world. Our emotional regulation system? Not so much.
In modern society, most threats are experienced in social contacts, NOT in contact with predators.
We feel and react as if interpersonal strife is an immediate threat to life. It's not.
Reactiveness can harm relationships, the most important being our relationship with our children.
Let's play a game. Label the below cases with REACT or PAUSE.
- Child throws food
- Child runs towards a busy road
- Child has climbed up to an open window
- Child hits you in the face with a toy (trick question)
- Child yells for our attention while we are trying to write an email
How did it go?
Here are my answers:
- Child throws food: PAUSE
- Child runs towards a busy road: REACT
- Child has climbed up to an open window: REACT
- Child hits you in the face with a toy (trick question): PAUSE
- Child yells for our attention while we are trying to write an email: PAUSE
Regardless of the level of threat to survival, our bodies will want to react in all of these cases. But unless it's a life threat, we can notice our reactiveness and place a PAUSE between the event and our reaction, potentially gaining enough time to come up with a rational response.
An emotion is an impulse to move. The word emotion originates from the Latin verb, motere, which means "to move." The "e-" prefix brings the meaning to “move out, move away, remove.”
No wonder we are urged for action when a strong emotion such as anger or fear hits us.
But thanks to our self-regulation system, we can escape the action. In fact, only animals and children visibly act upon emotions.
Children quickly get better at self-regulation thanks to their developing nervous system and the parenting they receive from us. But the part of our brain responsible for our self-regulation doesn't fully mature until we are 25!
If you are wondering whether you can self-regulate at all, the answer is, yes. All humans can self-regulate, but we can all get better at it.
The first step to practicing self-regulation? Recognizing we are not victims of our emotions. We have a choice in how to respond to each situation.
Here are some strategies to get better at self-regulation. I passionately advocate that all parents on Earth get equipped with these tools.
✅ Mindfulness: Paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally.
✅ Identifying your stressors: What usually pushes your buttons?
✅ Emotional literacy: Reading your emotions as they appear.
What won't help?
❌ Trying to avoid the stressor
❌ Distraction from the event
❌ Suppression of emotions
Important note: a regulated individual is not an emotionless individual. Rather, it's someone who welcomes the emotion and labels it correctly, thus depriving it of its "must-act" mission.
Reactivity is a natural product of our nervous system.
But we are totally capable of maintaining an awareness of this "bug." I call it the "better-safe-than-sorry bug." Not crushing it (because it does come in handy(!) in life-death situations) but gaining more control over it.
Some of the ways I deal with my bug is by:
- Pausing and remembering my values
- Zooming out and gaining spaciousness
- Practicing breath awareness during daily random activities
- And observing my child as if it's the first time every now and then
How do you deal with your bug? Hit reply and let me know!
? Nurturing my favorite moms and dads
This week's theme is self-regulation. Here's an article that I shared on the blog a while ago about self-regulation. (No fresh articles this week because I was busy cooking up the new version of Apparent!)
Self-regulation theory: What it can teach us about our parenting: In parenting, we often feel like behaving one way, but choose not to. How do we do this? Here is a peek into self-regulation theory and how to use it for our parenting mindset.
That's it for this week! ❤️
If you've enjoyed this letter, consider sending it to another parent. It always makes me very happy.
Send me your thoughts! I'm on Twitter and love seeing a DM in my inbox. You can also hit reply or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next Saturday!
Love, Basak (founder of Apparent)