Dr. Aoife Durcan is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist who specialises in Infant and Parental Mental Health. Through her Workshops and Lives, she helps many parents to deal with a variety of daily issues that come our way. Her non-judgemental and practical tips have proved invaluable to many parents.
Aoife has very kindly shared some tips and guidance with us that will help parents to deal with the emotions and realities of crying children.
Why is crying so hard to listen to? It is extremely stressful for any nervous system to listen to a baby crying, a toddler or child of any age upset. We often have a very strong emotional response to this.
It evokes different feelings in everyone and a big part of this comes back to our own attachment styles and how our emotions were responded to when we were growing up. You might notice your body shakes or you feel like you can’t breathe. You might want to block your ears or run away. You might feel sad and helpless. You might notice you feel anger or disgust.
It also depends on our nervous system. If you are highly sensitive you have a finely tuned nervous system. The part of your brain that allows you to empathise with others (mirror neurons) is more active. This means you might be more deeply impacted by someone else who is upset. Sounds like crying might also dysregulate your nervous system because you have a heightened sensitivity to stimuli. In other words, you feel things a lot .
One of the most effective ways to help ourselves when we feel triggered by crying is by understanding our brain.
Our brains develop from the bottom up. Starting with our brainstem (our survival brain) and the last part of our brain to develop is our cortex, our thinking rational brain. When we are under stress the lower parts of our brain become overwhelmed & we have very limited access to our thinking rational brain.
Just remember it is much easier to access the regulatory networks in our brain brain by targeting the brainstem (the lower region of our brain) rather than trying to reason with the cortex. When this happens it is easier to calm ourselves down & soothe ourselves.
Ways to target this area include: deep breathing, walking, running, music, humming, rocking, jumping, dancing, drumming, tapping, trampoline, skipping. Anything that is patterned, repetitive and rhythmic will help us regulate our emotions.
Some steps to consider when you find yourself in this situation:
- Recognise our nervous system feels overwhelmed.
- Take a few deep breaths slowly. Breath in, hold, and an even longer exhale.
- Validate the emotion ‘it’s so understandable I feel overwhelmed, this is really hard to listen to’
- Ask yourself ‘what do I need right now’. If we can create some space great, if not how can we cope in the moment?
- Activate the brainstem by engaging in something that is patterned, repetitive and rhythmic.