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Feeling Like a Gentle Discipline Failure? Try this.

Having an “I’m a failure” day? You’re not alone, no matter what it may look like on facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. In a bizarrely ironic twist, parenting in the Internet Age gives us more information at our fingertips than ever before, and more impossibly beautiful and perfect images of other parents to compare ourselves to than any other generation of parents would have been exposed to. This combination simultaneously empowers us to parent in a more informed, intentional way, and hands us an enormous stick to flog ourselves with when we don’t measure up.


Take a deep breath. Grab a tissue. You are OK.

Put on a video for the kids (It will be OK), or find five minutes for yourself some other way. Here are a few things that might help you come back to center.

  1. What is going on in your body? Name it. This might sound something like, “I am noticing a lot of tightness in my forehead and around my eyes, I have a heaviness in my chest, it feels like I have a rock in the pit of my stomach, my left hip is aching, and I can feel tears around my eyes.” If there are large areas of your body that you can’t really feel, name that too. “My hands and feet are cold, and my torso feels numb.” How will this help? Our body communicates our emotional state to our brain from our internal organs (heart, gut, throat and face especially), and learning to access this information can help us understand what we are feeling.
  2. If there is one body sensation that stands out more than the rest, feel into that. Ask yourself, “If this body sensation had a emotional quality, what would it be?” Say whatever word pops into your head. It can be surprisingly accurate.
  3. Invite yourself to think of someone you have a good relationship with, someone with whom you feel warmth and safety. This can be a person from your past like a grandmother or a kind neighbour, someone from your present, a companion animal, even a place in the world where you feel safe and cared for, like your home or a particular bit of forest. Imagine this person sitting beside you, or you going to your safe place.
  4. If this person/place were to guess what you were feeling, what would they guess? Try this list if you are stuck for words.
  5. If this person/place were to guess what you need right now, what would they guess? Try to guess needs that are not linked to specific people doing specific things. Instead of, “I need my child to listen to me,” try this instead, “I need to be seen and heard, to know that I matter to others.” Here’s a list of needs words that might be helpful.
  6. Sometimes, once feelings and needs are named, there is a flash of recognition. Like, “Wow, of course I got so upset. No wonder!” Sometimes long-buried memories of other times in the past when these needs were not met will also come up. Be gentle with yourself here.
  7. Take a few deep breaths. Have your body sensations changed? Try scanning through and naming them again. Sometimes there is a shift in your body when specific feelings and needs words are named.
  8. When you feel ready, (or when the video is done!), go back to your kids. If you need to make an apology, and you are feeling noticeably calmer, now is a good time. Try to use words that make it clear that you are taking responsibility for what you did/said, that you wish you hadn’t done things that way, and that you are ready to hear how they feel about what happened. If you are still very upset, or can’t think of how to apologize without blaming or explaining, wait until you can get more support from someone else or go through the process above again.

For me, giving myself gentleness, warmth and care when I have “screwed up” was (and still is!) a pretty radical thing to do. It takes practice, because we are so used to directing our warmth and care to others instead of towards ourselves. But when we are able to access that warmth and forgiveness for ourselves, we open up to the possibility of being both imperfect and loved at the same time.

If warmth and gentleness towards yourself is not available right now, or if you would like help or accompaniment through the process, I am available for empathy sessions over the phone or skype. I will listen and gently guide you through the process above, helping to make guesses about what you might be feeling or needing. If you’re interested, send me an email and we can work through the details together.

With gratitude to Sarah Peyton and Eric Bowers, who taught me this process and showed me how to practice it.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kristine January 7, 2016, 12:33 pm

    I’m really enjoying reading your posts. I found your blog while trying to calm down after a particularly embarrassing play date mishap with my two year old (googling NVC and toddlers). I find it really helpful to see how you incorporate self-care/empathy with your parenting approach. I’ve had a hard time finding like-minded moms in-person, and your openness and honesty have given me a good dose of belonging. Much gratitude for so many “me too” moments!

    • michelle January 7, 2016, 1:27 pm

      I’m so glad you’re finding some belonging and shared reality here! Thank you so much for leaving such a lovely comment, Kristine. <3