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7 Mar 2024

From Chaos to Calm: How to Nurture Self-Regulation

In my role as a speaker in schools, I have the privilege of connecting with many parents and educators. From their insights and my personal experiences as a mother, I’ve come to understand that one of the most daunting challenges lies in effectively nurturing self-regulation in not only children/students but also ourselves. 

Have you ever experienced a moment when you’re feeling perfectly composed and then, out of nowhere, something happens that triggers your emotions to go into overdrive? In an instant, you react in a manner that leaves you feeling guilty. You may be preoccupied by a sense of remorse as you replay the situation in your mind, pondering how you could have handled it differently.

When my eleven-year-old son is not listening or is agitated, it triggers frustration within me which can easily lead to anger. Responding from one of those emotions can result in giving unreasonable consequences or regrettable responses.

We often hear about the importance of teaching children self-regulation. However, the challenge becomes practicing self-regulation ourselves in order to effectively instill this skill in them. You can’t help a child regulate until you have self-regulated first.  ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t work anymore.

Consider giving these simple, yet impactful strategies to take you from chaos to calm.

For Parents/Educators:

  • Name your emotion: For example, say, ‘I’m feeling frustrated.
  • Notice physical signs of emotions such as rapid heartbeat, clenched hands or muscle tension.
  • Pause and take deep breaths. This helps you manage your own emotions and demonstrates self-regulation to the children/students. When you’re feeling calm, you’re better able to assist others in regulating their emotions.

While nurturing self-regulation can be challenging, the benefits are worth the effort. Not only does it cultivate stronger relationships, it also reduces anxiety, lowers stress, builds resilience and fosters empathy.

Until next time…

25 Oct 2023

Tired Child: Building a Bridge of Understanding

The other evening, my son was really having a hard time listening. I don’t know about you, but when my child isn’t listening, it can trigger lots of different emotions, such as frustration, annoyance and even anger. In these moments, since it’s easy to interpret his lack of listening as a form of disrespect, I consciously work on being mindful of how I am perceiving his behaviour.

If I view it from the perspective of him being intentionally disrespectful and choosing not to listen to me, it’s very easy to react from my anger. However, if I step back and become an observer, I notice something completely different – I notice that he’s tired.

When kids have a tired brain their ability to listen and respond is significantly diminished. They don’t have the capacity to engage with us the way they would when they’re well-rested.

It’s important to recognize this because children, mine included, won’t say, “I’m really tired, and I can’t listen properly because my brain is exhausted.” If I even suggest he might be tired, he will vehemently deny that his words and actions have anything to do with being exhausted.

Instead of interpreting his lack of listening as disrespect, which would cause me to react, I choose to view it as exhaustion. I know that his tired brain is hindering any possibility of a rational discussion. My focus becomes staying calm and avoid taking his words personally, so I can help him achieve a relaxed state.

If there are issues that need addressing, I save those conversations for the morning. After a good night’s sleep, he wakes up transformed, like a totally different person!

This is what I know: Tired brains can’t rationalize. They are reactive, lack emotional regulation and aren’t open to listening and learning. Remembering this will help you approach their behaviour with empathy and patience, allowing you to support them in the best way possible.

Until next time…

12 Oct 2023

How to Handle Kids’ Disappointments and Strengthen Bonds

Life is a series of ups and downs and it’s natural for children to face disappointment along the way.

When my son confides in me about a disappointment, my natural instinct is to think of solutions and ways to fix it, especially if he is feeling sad and dejected.

Disappointments are valuable life lessons that help develop skills like perseverance, empathy, resilience and problem-solving. If you try to protect them from disappointment, it will stop them from developing these essential skills. Without a healthy approach to disappointments, a young person can feel like a failure, causing them to give up or quit.

Below are four strategies to help you and the child in your life effectively deal with disappointment:

1. Acknowledge Emotions

Let them know that it’s okay to feel disappointed and that it’s an emotion that everyone encounters at various times in their life. Remember to acknowledge your own emotions when you see a child experiencing disappointment. Being able to feel your own discomfort is an important part of teaching them to lean into uncomfortable emotions.

2. Validate Emotions

Refrain from dismissing their emotions. Avoid phrases like “It’s not a big deal” or “You’re overreacting.” Such statements invalidate their emotions and can make them feel unheard or misunderstood. Instead, validate their emotions by saying, ‘I understand you’re feeling really disappointed right now’ or ‘That must have been really tough for you.’

3. Teach Emotional Management Strategies

Help them identify healthy ways to release their emotions that bring them comfort and calmness when they are upset, such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or finding an activity that relaxes them.

4. Encourage a Problem-Solving Mindset

Together brainstorm potential solutions or strategies to improve the situation. This approach gives them a plan to better prepare them for handling future disappointments.

Providing a supportive and understanding environment goes a long way to helping a child not only navigate disappointment, but also develop resilience.

Until next time…

28 Sep 2023

Building Emotional Connection, One ‘Refresh’ at a Time

Emotions run high. Meltdowns occur. Tantrums happen.

You can’t have conflict resolution without first facing conflict.

You can’t have redirection without first creating connection.

When you have moments of despair, they need repair.

One effective strategy for enhancing conflict resolution, fostering connection, and facilitating repair is to incorporate ‘refresh’ into your resource toolbox, much like refreshing a computer when it’s bogged down and not functioning properly.

To illustrate the effectiveness of using ‘refresh’, let me share a recent circumstance involving my 11-year-old son.

The other day he experienced a really tough moment as we were about to leave the house. He wasn’t getting something he wanted within the timeframe he was hoping for. While this wouldn’t typically bother him, on that particular day it triggered an emotional storm! I should also add that he had some late nights that had obviously caught up to him, although suggesting that to him wasn’t an option.

I needed to remain calm and steady in his emotional storm – not an easy task, especially when I was frustrated, realizing we needed to leave and I wasn’t even ready! Nothing I said was helpful or comforting. I took a deep breath and stepped away, giving him the space to feel what he was feeling.

After a few minutes, I bent down to his level, knowing this wasn’t the time to question his behaviour or engage in a conversation about it. Instead, I recognized that he needed to hit the ‘refresh button’.

I looked at him and said, “I understand you’re upset that things aren’t going the way you wanted them to. I’m feeling the same way.” (this validates the emotions felt and adds connection)

I presented two options:

1. Continue with our back-and-forth.

2. Take a deep breath and ‘refresh, starting over.

He chose to ‘refresh’, and we did just that without the need to have a further conversation. We hugged and both felt a weight lifted. (this is our way of creating repair)

Despite a bumpy start, we had a wonderful day.

26 Oct 2022

Thriving through Emotional Chaos

At times it can be difficult to remain calm and thrive through the emotional chaos you might be experiencing. Your emotions seem to be all over the place. You promise yourself you won’t let your emotions get the best of you but then they do…you make a reactive choice from your emotions.

Later regret floods your brain. You wish you had taken a breath and been more self-aware of the emotions you were feeling and handled them differently.

Sound familiar?

Since emotions fluctuate and change according to the circumstance and mood you are experiencing, emotions are not a reliable place to make all choices from.

What helps me thrive through the emotional chaos so I can remain calm in order to make choices I am proud of, is keeping my character (who I believe I am), at the forefront of my mind. I repeat, ‘I choose to be respectful and patient.’ I even have it written on post-it notes as a visual reminder 😊

I remind myself that I am allowed to feel frustrated, disappointed, angry, upset (so are you). When I take a deep breath and say, ‘Sara, it’s OK to feel that way but your character is Respect & Patience’, it actually shifts my approach. It shifts my choices.

What character traits do you want to be known for as a person?

Training yourself to be conscious of the emotions you are experiencing so that you can breathe through them to make character-based choices, is essential to making choices in the moment that you can be proud of for the moments to come.

Until next time…

7 Apr 2022

Do You Fess Up When You Mess Up?

Ever caught yourself yelling to your child ‘CALM DOWN’ – only to realize that it was you who needed to calm down first?

When I asked this question on my Instagram story over 90 percent said YES.

Me too!

As parents/educators, there will be moments where we are dysregulated and reactive.

What if we used those moments as teachable moments? This would remind kids/students that we too are learning the skill of self regulation and when we mess up – we own up!

TRY THIS:

1) The next time you react in a way that you are not proud of – apologize and share with your child/student the emotion you were feeling when you yelled.

It may sound like this, ‘I am sorry that I yelled, I was feeling frustrated.’

2) Let them know what you will do the next time to help you find your calm.

It may sound like this, ‘When I am feeling frustrated, I’m going to take three deep breaths before I speak.’

3) Share the choice you wish you would have made and what you will do next time.

It may sound like this, ‘I wish I would have shared with you that I was frustrated and I wish I would have spoken in a calmer voice.’

It’s not about perfection – it’s about progress!

This is what I know: When you model self-regulation, you are giving kids the invaluable life skill of developing emotional intelligence.

Until next time…

BONUS: Click here to learn more

24 Mar 2022

Ever Tried to Avoid an Emotion?

Don’t you wish you could pick and chose the emotions you want to experience?

I have.

Especially during lockdown and online learning. I remember one morning laying in bed, mentally preparing the start to my day.

I was telling myself…

‘Today I won’t feel irritated. I felt irritated yesterday and it was exhausting, not today!’

Within 10 minutes of getting out of bed my son was already complaining about having to log on to do his learning – he was asking for his fifth snack and it wasn’t even 9 am yet!

I was irritated!!

I couldn’t avoid it. My body and brain felt irritated without my consent.

This is what I know: I quickly learned that emotions can surprise you and they aren’t to be avoided and can’t be avoided for the long term. We are emotional beings whether we are comfortable with it or not!

So, the real practice becomes in allowing ourselves to feel and acknowledge our emotions and then find healthy ways to move with/through them.

Here are some simple and effective strategies that I find helpful:

                   • deep breaths (make your exhale longer than your inhale)

                   • remind myself that it’s ok to feel what I’m feeling

                   • notice where the emotion impacts me physically (neck pain, stomach ache , heart rate)

                   • 5 min meditation

                   • talk to someone

                   • go for a walk

                   • listen to music

What helps you move with and through an uncomfortable emotion?

12 Feb 2020

Why is the Thought of Asking So Scary?

‘You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.’ Oprah Winfrey

Think about a time you wanted to ask a question and didn’t. 

Have you ever avoided asking because you were scared you would hear that one word … it’s not yes … it’s No! 

Has the fear of ‘NO’ stopped you from pursuing a dream, taking a stand or getting an answer to something you really want to know?

Think of all you are missing because you are allowing fear to stop you … all the unanswered questions … all the missed opportunities.

Young people tell me that when they are feeling shy, nervous, embarrassed, sad or anxious – it’s harder to ask. I agree! 

It’s natural to feel these emotions. The key is not to allow these emotions to stop you.

Choices from these emotions easily steer you not to ask. Choices from courage allow you to feel the emotions and ask anyway. 

Where will you choose to make your choices from? Fear? or Courage?

Choose Courage.

Go on… Ask!

Until next time…

sara westbrook signature