Self-Care  |  Self-Care as a Caregiver

Parents Need To Self-Soothe Too


18 October 2021  |   5 min read

We talk about helping our children self-regulate, but do we even know how to do it ourselves?

As much as your children will need guidance when managing their emotions and behaviours, there too will be many parenting moments when your self-regulation skills are required.

For example, when your baby is crying non-stop, siblings are fighting over toys, your toddler refuses to go to bed or is having a meltdown… The list goes on.

Without proper attention paid to our needs and feelings, the stress from looking after our family can become overwhelming. And unless we can respond to this stress in healthy ways, it is detrimental to our mental health.

This is hard to do when our self-regulation skills need support. It is thus important to find out what self-regulation techniques work best for you in stressful situations and can help you work through those hair-tearing and tear-inducing moments of parenting.

Take a deep breath and count to 10

In a nutshell, self-regulation refers to how people deal with stress. The body naturally “revs up” to give itself more energy to deal with something stressful, then “revs down” to conserve energy when it perceives the stressor is dealt with.

People with effective self-regulation optimise their response to stress by managing their emotional state and the feelings and behaviours that go with that. The ability to self-regulate is also increasingly being linked to long-term well-being.

As adults, we are constantly practising self-regulation skills, even though it’s often second nature to us.

Your self-regulation skills are at work when you choose healthier foods like fish soup over chicken rice, or choose to exercise even when you feel too lazy. You’re practising self-regulation when you keep your feelings in check and resist impulsive behaviour, or talk yourself out of a bad mood.

In the inevitable build-up of parental stress within, self-regulation for parents must start way before the “boiling point” moment arises and our children end up bearing the brunt of our “emotional explosion”.

Another good reason to develop our self-regulation skills is because children learn from what they observe, even more so than what they are taught.

When children see their parents staying calm in stressful and difficult situations, it gives them an anchor and a sense of security, as well as a role model for self-regulation.

It can take many years before their brains mature enough for them to reliably self-regulate their emotions, so parents get to do a lot of teaching and modelling along the way.

Keep calm and parent on

So, how can parents improve their self-regulation skills?

The first thing is to ensure that you prioritise self-care as a parent.

It’s difficult for parents to self-regulate when we’re not sleeping or eating well. It’s important for parents to make time to get away, have some “me-time” and “let off some steam”, whether it’s exercising or indulging in a hobby or meeting up with friends.

Being able to identify what triggers an emotional response in you is another important step in self-regulation.

When children see their parents staying calm in stressful and difficult situations, it gives them an anchor and a sense of security, as well as a role model for self-regulation.

Credit: Photos taken in collaboration with Matthias Chong, featuring one of our ParentWise families

Here are a few of our tips for when the emotions begin to rise:

  • Practise deep breathing by breathing in and out slowly. Repeat as needed.
  • Listen to calming music when you are feeling tense.
  • Think before acting by pausing between your feelings and an action. Consider your feelings and ask yourself if there will be any negative consequences if you react poorly.
  • Find humour in the situation – sometimes the things that our children do may make us angry, but can be funny too.

You can even make a list of your personal triggers and assign a healthy way to respond to each situation.

Hopefully, as our children watch us handle different stressful situations, they too will learn healthy self-regulation techniques for the many emotions they will be learning about as they grow up.

This article was first published on ParentWise. Developed by Temasek Foundation in partnership with SEED Institute (subsidiary of NTUC First Campus), ParentWise is a programme that offers curated evidence-based learning programmes and resources that parents and caregivers need to support their children. For more parenting tips and resources, please visit ParentWise at