Pause, Hold, Engage to rescue and restore the atmosphere

Toyota Believe logoThere are silver linings to a nationwide lockdown. ‘Quality time with family’ typically tops the list when most optimists are counting their blessings. That said, even the Brady Bunch would probably struggle to keep things constantly upbeat on the home front, especially if they were legally required to stay in their bubble 24/7! Hence the importance of atmosphere.

Atmosphere plays a fundamental role in our family’s well-being. As I’ve mentioned previously, a positive, supportive and fun family atmosphere will provide a secure, calm safe-haven for us and our children, away from all the chaos of the world. Fostering and maintaining this level of healthy atmosphere requires a determined effort and – let’s be honest – no matter how hard we try, there will be moments when our wonderfully positive, supportive, and fun family atmosphere is derailed. If you’ve been following our other articles, you will be familiar with the phrase Pause, Hold, Engage. (If not, you can find those articles here.). Basically, Pause, Hold, Engage, is a short phrase that you can use to bring your own or your child’s emotional temperature down. It can also be used in the context of maintaining a positive family atmosphere, for example, when there is conflict between you and your child, or between siblings.

How does it work?

Let’s take the example of frustration between a parent and a child. Because the responsibility for a positive family atmosphere lies mainly with us as parents, we could use Pause, Hold, Engage to manage our own emotions, take our child’s perspective, and then to reconnect and problem-solve together.

Pause
We ‘pause’ to take a slow, deep, calming breath (or lots of them!). When we do this, we get oxygen to our brain and nervous system which settles our emotional brain and gives our thinking brain room to actually think.

Hold
When we ‘hold’, we gather information about ourselves and our child. This is not the time for speaking out loud to ourselves or to them – that might just raise the emotional temperature again! Instead, it involves a bit of internal guesswork and perspective-taking. These steps might be helpful:

  1. First, name the emotions that you the parent are feeling. You might realise that you’re feeling angry, frustrated, annoyed or disappointed.
  2. Then simply accept that you are feeling those emotions. Try not to judge yourself or your emotions. Just acknowledge them: “Yes, I’m feeling this way. It is what it is”.
  3. Step 3 and 4 are the same as the first two steps, but now put yourself in your child’s shoes. You might ask: “Ok, so if I’m feeling angry, frustrated, annoyed or disappointed. I wonder how my child is feeling?
  4. Once you’ve had a go at guessing, simply accept that your child may be feeling those emotions. No judgement, just acknowledgement and acceptance: “Those might be their feelings and that’s OK. It is what it is.” 
  5. Step 5 is about a ‘meeting of minds’: a bit of two-and-fro between your mind and perspective and your child’s mind and perspective. Explore why you are feeling the way you’re feeling and then do the same from your child’s perspective. Try to be as curious as you can about your own inner world and that of your child’s. You can use some self-talk phrases such as:
    “I’m wondering whether I’m feeling so disappointed because…” or “I guess I feel angry because…” Then do the same from your child’s perspective: “I’m wondering if he could feel frustrated because…” or “I guess he could feel annoyed because…”

It can be really difficult to balance our perspective with that of someone else’s. It can be tempting to judge ourselves or be critical of them. Try to remain understanding, empathetic and compassionate towards both yourself and your child throughout this process.

Engage
Once you’ve gained some understanding of your own feelings and reactions to the situation, as well as of your child’s perspective (and when both of you are calm!), it is time to share your findings with your child. A simple, sharing conversation may look like this:

“When you and I were arguing before, I noticed that things were getting out of hand. So I just needed to stop and take a breath. When I did, I realised that I was feeling really angry and frustrated. Then I thought, well, maybe you felt angry and frustrated too, maybe even sad because we were arguing. I don’t like feeling that way and I’m sure you don’t either. I’m sorry that it happened. There must be some way we can work this out. Let’s give it a go.”

Remember to remain empathic, compassionate and understanding throughout the conversation. The solution following conflict or challenging situations will be unique to the difficulties, but here are some helpful principles to remember:

Focus on what you as the parent can control
We may be tempted to try and fix everything for our kids, or to micro-manage our family’s problem-solving in a way that would put even Marie Kondo to shame! But this only creates resentment, sends the message that our children’s feelings really don’t matter, and stops the rest of the family from developing their own problem-solving and reasoning skills. Instead, allow your children to be part of the problem-solving process. You may even be surprised at the creative solutions they come up with.

Prioritise Relationships
Connecting and listening to those around us should always be our first priority. Our children’s behaviours can be so big and intense that it is difficult to see the emotions underneath. When this happens we are easily drawn into their emotional turmoil. But if we approach them (and their behaviours) with an attitude of empathy, compassion and understanding, we show them that their relationship with us is more important than their challenging behaviour.

Keep paying attention to your own emotions and those of your child 
This point may be at the end of the article (well done if you’ve made it this far!), but it is actually one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our children. When we are aware of our own emotions as well as those of our children (as subtle as those emotions might be), we’ll be in a better position to recognise any changes in the intensity of those emotions. That means we’ll be able to Pause, Hold, and Engage earlier and before we become overwhelmed. More importantly, we’ll be able to coach our children through Pause, Hold, and Engage well before they reach the point of nuclear meltdown!

All the very best for maintaining a supportive, positive and fun atmosphere at your place! Right in the midst of modern life’s frantic pace, this lockdown has given us all a precious and valuable gift – time with the people we love. These locked-down days won’t always be easy, but every effort towards connection and relationship will absolutely be worthwhile – right here and now, but also long after we’ve fought this virus and the COVID-19 chapter of our history has closed. Kia kaha everyone! Caring for your family is a vitally important ‘essential service’. You’re doing great!

For more on this topic… 


Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our family coaches are still available during the lockdown and can meet with you online. We’ve also introduced a shorter 30-minute appointment type, to make things easier while you navigate family life with everyone at home.

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About Author

Linde-Marie Amersfoort

Linde-Marie is our Child and Family Psychologist at Parenting Place. On top of her clinical practice work, she also works in our research team developing and evaluating our parenting programmes. She is Christchurch-based and in her free-time loves to explore the Port Hills and surrounding areas. Linde-Marie has a blog where she shares her thoughts and experiences on parenting her two teenage children. You can email Linde-Marie at lindemarie.amersfoort@parentingplace.nz or read her blog here.

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