For years, I was that parent who disembarked the airplane, three kids in tow, Sharpie scribbles on my cheek and yogurt (or some other sticky food item) glommed onto my clothes. With my husband away for extended periods, I routinely traveled solo with the kiddos, coast to coast, to see family. Upon arrival at our final destination, I’d plop one typically sleeping child into the sling, and cajole the four year old to hold close to his big brother. Meanwhile, I gathered diaper bags, stickers, string cheese wrappers, crayons, stuffies, shoes, earphones and a ridiculous array of items, into a pack and before exiting as gracefully as possible. Pretty sure this looked to be more of a circus act than a family exiting the airplane.
There were moments on each flight when I was that parent with that screaming, crying, uncomfortable child. The one where, regardless if the other passengers wore the best sound canceling earphones, they still turned to see what was going on in the row towards the back.
For me, those moments represent the pinnacle of parenting hell.
First, they are very public; second, there is really only so much one can do to settle a child who is uncomfortable flying somewhere over the middle of the country; and third, we (the adult) at that point of the flight feel totally overwhelmed, what with high exhaustion and low creative problem solving capacity.
In these moments, we need SIMPLE STRATEGIES to help us regulate and deal. What in the world does that look like at 40,000 feet?
Simple strategies to regulate ourselves as parents
When life feels stressful and out of our control, we need to “lose our minds and come back to our senses”. Two of the simplest strategies for this type of situation (and for most challenging situations of parenthood), are to return to our breath and to return to our bodies. When we drop into our breath and bodies even for a moment, our mind clears and we are able to tackle the situation. There are many ways to do this and, in our experience, the simpler the better.
The first strategy to try is returning to your breath. While this may sound simple and straightforward, it can take practice and focused intention.
To do this, slowly, inhale to the count of 6, breathing into your belly, chest and towards your shoulders filling up your entire lung capacity. Then, slowly exhale, to the count of 6 from your belly, chest and shoulders.
Inhale → belly, chest, shoulders
Exhale → belly, chest, shoulders
Repeat 3 x’s
When we slow down and deepen our breath, we create calm in our bodies as we engage the parasynthetic nervous system – the seat of relaxation in our bodies. We allow ourselves to counter the stress response quieting our fight or flight response. All of this simply by slowing down and deepening our breath.
Returning to Your Senses
The second strategy to practice in moments of dysregulation is to return to your senses. This too can be simple, and can take just a few moments:
Notice 5 things that you see
Notice 4 thing that you feel
Notice 3 things that you hear
Notice 2 things that you smell
Notice 1 thing that you taste
5-4-3-2-1… When we focus on our senses, our attention shifts from our thoughts, to that which is happening in there here and now. In so doing, instead of worrying about the future or reflecting on the past, we experience the moment right here and right now – even briefly and enough to realize we are still intact.
For example, on those flights when I was feeling overwhelmed, I had such thoughts as: “I can’t do this anymore”; “I can’t make it through this flight”; “This is too much”; “ I will never do this again”; “I don’t know what to do”. After a few moments of tuning towards my breath and my senses, my thinking changed.
My thoughts included, “okay, this is totally (bleeping) hard and I can withstand it“ “I am doing this right now and this is temporary” “I may not do this again but I don’t have to figure that out now”. By tuning to my breath and my body, I was able to tolerate the situation and attend to what needed to happen.
I also noticed that as I turned towards regulating my breath, the baby or kids often followed suit.
The situation doesn’t change, but your experience can.
Like so many clients who start their sessions with a body scan and/or who use these strategies regularly, they realize that, for those moments, they managed and actually felt some relief. The situations didn’t change (and still may be really difficult), but their experience of the situation shifted – it was tolerable and maybe even manageable.
Helpful Hint: If you practice these strategies when you are NOT in crisis or overwhelmed, you may find them to be more accessible when you need them.
So grab a sticky note and jot down the following sound bite:
“Returning to my breath and my senses”
Place the note on your refrigerator, on the changing table, or (in my case) on the airplane seat in front of you and practice finding your breath and engaging your senses.
For increased practice and relaxation, enjoy this 5 minute long audio Tropical Themed Visualization for Relaxation. Happy trails….