One of the hardest things about parenting is remembering to take care of yourself. It can often feel like you're putting all your time and energy towards your family and there's just nothing left for yourself at the end of a long day. However, taking care of yourself is vital to taking care of your kids. You won't be able to respond well to their meltdowns, hurt feelings, or bursts of frustration and anger if you're burnt out, hungry, or generally exhausted. Your children will learn how to deal with their feelings by watching how you deal with yours. If your response to their anger is to get angry and yell at them, they will learn to yell at you. If your response to their anger is understanding and helps them solve their problem or accept difficult feelings, they will learn that their feelings are okay, how to express them appropriately, and how to focus on solutions. Sounds simple, right? It is... until your two year old is having a full on meltdown in the middle of grocery store and all you need is to finish your shopping at get home. Or until your teenager is learning to assert their independence in ways that step all over you as a parent.
So, what do you do? You start with the basics - taking care of yourself. In DBT, we refer to the Emotion Regulation skill "ABC PLEASE." DBT has a lot of acronyms. They don't always make sense (as you'll see below), and that can make them hard to remember. For this one, though, the important part is knowing how to take care of yourself and remembering to plan for things that might not go the way you'd want. Here are the basics:
A = Accumulate Positive Emotions
B = Build Mastery
C = Cope Ahead for Difficult Situations
PL = Treat PhysicaL Illness
E = Eat a balanced diet
A = Avoid mood-altering substances
S = Get an appropriate amount of Sleep
E = Exercise appropriately
All right. What does all that mean? We'll take it from the top and work our way down.
Accumulating positive emotions means doing things that make you feel good and enjoy your life, but it also means having regular positive experiences with the important people in your life - especially your child(ren). Taking time every day (or as many days per week as you can manage) to have fun and spend quality time with your child is so important for you both. These times help you understand each other and create positive memories together, in addition to creating a stress-free time for you both each day you practice this.
Building mastery means doing things that makes you feel competent. We all have challenges in our days that can make us feel like we aren't getting it right. Doing the things we know we're good at can help offset the negative impact of the things that don't go our way, especially when we're already having a rough day. Building mastery also involves attempting new, but possible, things to develop skills and build a sense of accomplishment. For example, you might try a new recipe for your lunch one day - something that feels possible to you, and is also an opportunity to try something new.
Coping ahead for difficult situations might mean developing a game plan to manage a situation with your child that you know typically challenges you. Many parents I work with struggle with bedtime for their young children. Creating structure to bedtime that makes sense is extremely important, in addition to having a plan for how you will respond if your child rebels against that structure. One parent I work with chooses a silly children's song before bedtime that she can sing to herself to help her stay calm when her child reacts. Over time, she started singing the song out loud, and then her child joined in. It became a fun part of their bedtime routine to sing together while brushing their teeth, which allowed her child to have some fun during an activity she didn't like, and also greatly decreased the resistance to bedtime.
PLEASE basically means taking care of your physical health. Getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night), eating a balanced diet, getting exercise, and tending to any medical needs are the foundations for a good day. Think about your child when they are hungry or tired - they aren't exactly at their best, right? Well, adults aren't always a joy when their physical needs aren't met either. It can be easy to think that missing a meal or skimping on sleep is a standard part of being a parent, but it shouldn't be. You can't be your child's best parent when your needs aren't being met. It can be difficult to figure out how to make things work, but with some planning and creativity, you can do it. For example, pack your own lunch when you're making your child's, or create a bedtime routine for yourself, set a reasonable bedtime, and stick to it.
Okay, so we've talked about the importance of all these things. Now what? How do you actually do them? Well, making a plan to improve one area at a time is a great way to start. I usually recommend improving nutrition and/or sleep to start with, then going from there. If you find yourself at a loss for how to do any of these things, it might be a good idea to see someone to help you figure it out. Just click on the contact link above to learn how to reach me. If you're not in my area, I recommend starting with a website like Psychology Today to find a therapist near you who meets your needs.