Right up there with "Is this poop normal?" and "How do I find time for myself when there's seriously no time?" perhaps the most common question I receive as a parenting coach — from parents with children of all ages — is this: "How do I become more patient and calm with my kids?"
There is so much about this question that I love. It's incredibly juicy because there are many ways to go about answering it. On the deepest level — if you want to go there — finding more patience and calm resides in the work of understanding and unpacking our emotional triggers. That process is life-changing and totally worth the effort, in my opinion.
But right now, we're gonna go at it from a different, totally practical, angle. I'm going to give you my favorite parenting hack. Here is, hands down, the quickest way to calm down so you can be more patient:
The 4/4/8 Breath
Step 1: Inhale for a count of 4, counting evenly.
Make sure your belly expands as you inhale.
Step 2: Hold that breath for a count of 4, counting at the same pace as you did to inhale.
Your belly should be fully expanded now.
Step 3: Exhale the entire breath for a count of 8, keeping the same counting pace you used for the inhale and the hold.
Make sure your belly flattens toward your spine as you exhale.
Repeat this three times — the whole thing should take about 30 seconds.
How does it work?
Clients have called this a "brain massage" and "the best parenting trick in the world." Why? Because it brings almost instant calm and allows us to access our options so we can actually respond to our kids rather than blindly react. Here's how it works:
In Step 1, by taking a conscious diaphragmatic breath, we put the focus on ourselves. This helps us to momentarily unplug from the stress that's right in front of us, whether it's our toddler screaming about the peas and carrots touching each other or our 10-year-old tramping into the house with muddy cleats.
In Step 2, by holding the breath, we allow oxygen to circulate more thoroughly through our blood. This causes a physical response of calm, which in turn allows us to see our child with more empathy and view the whole situation more clearly.
In Step 3, by exhaling for longer than we inhale, we release the stale air that's trapped in our bodies by all of that shallow breathing we normally do. The lengthening of our out-breath also reminds us that there really is more spaciousness in our everyday lives. We find room to see our options and pick a thoughtful response.
Of course, please note that this is only to be used once you've assessed that your child isn't really in danger and that the situation is not an emergency. This trick works for everyone I've taught it to, and I hope it works for you, too.