When you get road rage, you’re able to eventually take a deep breath and calm down. Instead of running cars off the road like some deleted scene from Fury Road, you say a couple of choice swear words and self-regulate. Despite the fact you’re Furiosa.
You weren’t born with the gift to regulate your strongest emotions, and neither was your baby. Sure, there were some innate comforting reflexes, but thumb sucking has been replaced by other coping strategies (hopefully). You had to learn how to deal with the emotions you would eventually experience at the hands of the jerk face drivers and assorted asshats you come in contact with daily.
Your ability to cope with this stuff effectively (i.e. without invoking the Thunderdome rule), can be largely attributed to self-regulatory “training” you received growing up. Now, it’s time for the student to become the … not master … let’s just say tutor.
How Babies Self Regulate
Very early on, babies learn how to deal with stuff that’s stressful. If they’re visually overstimulated, they’ll look away from the krazy klown activity teether. If they’re startled, they’ll suck a pacifier, or a thumb (or a breast). It’s just like how Cleveland Browns fans turn to straight grain alcohol during a winless season.
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Your baby’s ability to find calm is also influenced by the comfort they receive from you and other caregivers. For instance, gently rocking them when they’re stressed and crying shows them that someone will be there to help. It allows them to find their happy place. A gentle touch when they’re fussy helps them tune into their caregiver and eventually calm themselves. These are all great ways to lay a foundation of self-regulation. However, there are more intentional things you can do to help them figure it out, none of which are teaching your kid how to stress eat.
It’s way easier for your kid to deal with the stuff that comes up if they have a stable environment, a predictable schedule, and a consistently caring response from you. This consistency shows your baby that the uncomfortable stuff that happens resolves eventually. They don’t need to get all bent out of shape about it.
Be A Model
Your baby is like a sponge. An adorable sponge filled with poop and urine and gurgly noises. So you can expect they’ll be soaking up whatever you’re putting out there. And if what you’re putting out there is a bananas reaction (yelling, cursing, spitting, binge drinking) to something going sideways in your life, well, consider it sponged. The better you can deal with the biggest stressors in your life (a.k.a. usually them) the better the lesson in regulating strong emotions.
Talk About It
You can’t fix something you don’t have words for (unless you’re MacGyver). So it’s important to teach your kid what they’re feeling. Even if they’re pre-verbal, it’s important to name what they’re going through. You can say something like “I see you’re feeling very angry that Elmo isn’t being ticklish. Maybe we can take a deep breath and try to figure out why?” Then, of course, you secretly go buy another Elmo because it’s not like you have time for that crap.
Give Opportunities To Practice
Because good self-regulation is a learned skill, you need to give your kid a chance to practice. You can do this by offering choices which will give them a chance to feel some self-control. You can play games like “red-light, green-light” which teaches them patience. Or you can give them chances to practice waiting briefly for things like dinner or snacks. Hey, it must have worked for you. You can wait happily for, like, hours for your partner to get out of the bathroom so you can get it on.
The trick in all of this, of course, is your own ability to regulate your own damn safe. So if you have trouble with that, you may want to seek some help. Especially considering your little carseat navigator might be learning more about being a Road Warrior than is really healthy for them.