Why do we cater to our stresses and forget to choose calmness? After all, calmness is the only state where we truly feel safe and empowered. Stress, anger, and frustration never lead to true empowerment or peace, only emotional bondage.
In 1998, when I was the young mother of a small baby and a toddler, and before I went through a complete personal parenting relaunch, I made a decision that proved to me how much parenting help I really needed. As I recall, I was in the family room alone with my toddler son. Likely my infant daughter was in her room sleeping. If this was the case, which only makes sense because she wasn’t in my arms that minute, then I was likely slightly stressed about not waking her up from her nap. Toddlers don’t always care about how much noise they make. The part of the interaction with my son that I remember clearly is the part when I told him “no” for something he was doing. But, no matter what I said, he kept doing the action. It’s funny that I can’t really remember what he did, but I remember every look he gave me and every emotion I felt.
It’s common for people who are stressed out to forget why they got so emotional or why they took other people’s actions so personally, because during the stressful moment, they were only focusing on their own feelings, wants, or fears. The shift in brain activity from logical to emotional disconnects data and makes the person not be able to really see past their own feelings.
When my toddler son blatantly disregarded my “no” answer and gave me a look of defiance, I yelled my “no” response to him. Yelling at him created more stress because I convinced myself that he was making me yell, which could wake up the baby and make her cry. Then I’d have to deal with that. Despite my bad behavior, my son remained defiant. This is when I lost control of myself completely, and briskly walked over to him and spanked him on the back side.
The moment I did this I knew I had done the wrong thing. He stopped taking the action he was taking and cried. He stopped doing the bad thing he was doing, so why didn’t I feel powerful? Why did I feel guilty and less understood by him? I knew I had chosen not to be calm. Just like I had seen myself choose happiness and optimism during trials at other times in my life, I knew I had chosen to be out of control and to take my son’s actions personally. My verbal, physical, and emotional attack of him taught me that I needed a skill to use with my young son so that becoming this stressed and powerless would not be my go-to. He was strong-willed. I was strong-willed. It was a recipe for an argument if I didn’t learn to govern myself and master my own calmness.
Deciding to be Calm
Calmness despite disappointment, deadline, or disregard from others is always easier said than done. Consequently, true calmness isn’t really achieved by many people. In fact, the topic of calmness and self-government is even starting to be absent from social dialogs about personal empowerment. Instead, these empowerment conversations are starting to center around inciting more emotions from people instead of infusing them with truth.
Exposure to truth brings calmness regardless of the calamity or stressful situation at hand. These types of truths, brought about by self-questioning, bring focus and lead to calmness in any situation.
First, “who am I?” A simple reflection such as this can bring the person experiencing stress or frustration back to a recognition of their full identity outside of their emotional state at the moment. This type of reflection is great for disengaging emotional processing and engaging logical processing. Clear thinking is required for full calmness.
After spanking my son, and feeling remorse for my lack of self-control, I pondered this question. “Who am I?” I am the mother. That is my role. It’s self-evident because I have a child. “What does a mother do?” I asked myself. A mother teaches, nurtures, and protects her children. “Did I do that?” I questioned. No.
If I had asked myself these questions as my son was misbehaving, I would have seen myself in a different light. Sure, I might have needed to remove my son from a dangerous or destructive situation, but I could have done it confidently and calmly, and followed it up with a good teaching moment that focused on the skill he needed to learn; accepting “no” answers from Mom.
Second, “Do I have the tools required to problem-solve this situation?” Most parents who are aggressive with their children simply don’t see any other way to be. If we evaluated the majority of parent’s hearts, my guess is we’d find great love and hopes for their children, not contempt. But, aggressive and passive parents simply don’t have the tools they need to handle life’s problems and so they resort to the emotional part of them to make the problem go away.
When a person has to be emotional to combat their struggles, they don’t feel confident. So, lack of grounding in parental role, or identity, and lack of proper skill development, both decrease parenting confidence.
Third, “Do they feel my heart?” Don’t allow this question to mislead you. Emotions show feeling, but they don’t really transform hearts unless they are rooted in truth and love. The majority of emotions displayed in moments of stress and frustration are manipulations.
When a person is not calm, the one truth they need to feel more than anything else is the truth that they are loved and understood. That feeling comes from the heart of the parent to the heart of the child through looks, thoughts, gestures, and occasionally words. When we start to focus on reaching the hearts of our children with the thoughts in our hearts and the love in our eyes, then the child softens, listens, and stops fighting as hard to distance themselves from us.
Fourth, “What do I choose to do in this situation?” This question comes to the largest point in the calmness discussion. Calmness is a choice. If a person pulls themselves back just a little bit and evaluates the fact that they get to choose, then they are much more likely to choose calmness, wisdom, connection, and consistent teaching instead of power struggles and aggression.
Calmness is power. And, it’s a power that can be chosen. Every person can choose to have calmness and to learn calmness. There isn’t a magic pill for learning calmness. It just takes practice and choosing to be calm again and again. But, like any endeavor, calmness is worth the work. It's part of finding true, lasting peace despite the storms that may be raging around our lives.
Learn 7 ways adults and children can apply calmness in Nicholeen’s podcast “Calmness Coaching 101”.