Calm is contagious

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“A dysregulated brain cannot regulate someone else’s brain.”

Brandi Jordan, Founder of The Cradle Company

Parenting is full of trying moments. One way that parents express their frustration is by yelling — we’ve all been there! Feeling overwhelmed is usually at the root of it, but being around a parent who regularly raises their voice isn’t optimal for a child. Learning strategies to reduce yelling takes time, but it’s worth the hard work.

Jessica Rolph, your host, welcomes Brandi Jordan to today’s episode. She is the founder of The Cradle Company and host of the podcast Dear Doula. Brandi shares her strategies to bring more calm into the home.

Key Takeaways:

[1:40] Why “calm is contagious” is a favorite phrase of Brandi’s.

[3:22] What is Brandi’s advice for us when baby needs our attention and we are far from calm?

[4:50] What about when a toddler is in meltdown mode? Can calm really prevail?

[7:10] What to do when your children aren’t listening.

[10:39] Brandi speaks to the importance of being honest with ourselves about how we were parented.

[13:22] Brandi explains why she is a big advocate of asking for support.

[15:30] What are some silver linings emerging from the pandemic, according to Brandi?

[17:33] How does Brandi find calm when chaos erupts in her own home?

Transcript:

(H2) Calm is contagious 

Jessica: It’s so wonderful to be here with you. You have a favorite saying: Calm is contagious. I love it. Why is that phrase so important to you in the work that you do? 

Brandi: It’s so important to me because I work with families in some of the most important days of their lives, and that’s bringing a baby home from the hospital, dealing with a sleep issue, trying to calm a weary toddler, and in those moments when people are trying to draw from what they have to be able to show up as their best selves, it’s one of those things that I have learned to do with my own children, with clients’ children, and it’s this is idea that kind of creating that calm in myself is contagious to the parents I work with, is contagious to their children, and oftentimes, they’re able to kind of model that because they’ve been able to see that in action, and I always tell this story that I used to go to client homes like for a sleep issue, and they’d be like, “I did exactly what you did, I do not know why this kid is now acting like an angel and doing it very easily with you.”

And I used to always tell them, “It’s not about what I’m doing, it’s about what I’m feeling.” And that’s in that moment that I really realized that this way that I was coming in with a sense of security, the sense of this is going to be okay, that this is just a phase. They can feel that, they feel security in that, and I was helping them to calm down easier, and so it’s something, for the past 20 years I’ve been trying to impart to the families that I work with, and families that I can come in contact with.

Take a breath and pause

Jessica: So can you… I’m physically connecting, my child is… My little baby is really losing it while I’m changing their diapers, so are there mantras or things that I can tell myself to help me feel better about that moment and more confident, ‘cause I just remember feeling so out of sorts myself, I would almost adopt my child’s emotional state.

Brandi: Yes, yes, yes. And so back to that theory of Calm Is Contagious, and so what I talk to parents about, is this idea that a dysregulated brain cannot regulate someone else’s brain, and so when you think about a new born, they’re just so open, just so, they just are absorbing everything in their environment, I usually tell the client to take a breath and a pause, you’re freaking out, baby’s freaking out, take a breath and a pause, just doing that for the moment can help to kind of calm your brain, which is going to help to calm your infant’s brain, and then there’s the practical things that go along with that, I talk to parents about helping calm their child’s nervous system, so think about, you have this new born, they’re crying, they’re flailing all around, think about where they’ve been, they’ve been cocooned inside a belly for nine months, it’s been dark and quiet, and sometimes we have to try to recreate that in the outside world, and so once you’ve had that breath and that pause for yourself, think about how we can actually calm them and kind of re-create that sense of calm they felt in utero. That can mean swaddling your baby, getting really close and tight to them, doing some shushing in their ear, and maybe rubbing their forehead, all those things we want to do to kinda think about what are the ways that I can figure out how to calm this baby, while I try to calm myself as well.

Staying calm with toddlers

Jessica: What about toddlers, can calm really prevail when your toddler is super upset

Brandi: It can, and so I always tell my clients, you’re never going to win a fight with a two-year-old, that’s number one, and so calm is definitely going to prevail, and we’re talking about two-year olds, they’re in that part of their really primal reptilian brain, which is all about being in the moment, impulsivity, they’re trying to figure out that next stage, which is really about having feelings. They don’t have that other part of the brain worked out where they can figure out how to be rational, how to communicate things, and so when we talk about Calm Is Contagious when you’re working with toddlers, that looks like modeling that behavior that we want our toddler to be able to imbue. So when my four-year-old is having a tantrum, me screaming at him or yelling at him, is probably going to only cause him to get more upset, and so getting down to his level when I’ve been able to calm myself first, getting down to his level, talking in a tone that’s much lower than his, and just letting him have that space to kinda feel those feelings, we have to understand, that’s part of the brain development.

I find that clients can understand that better, parents can understand it better when they realize that their child is not doing this because they just want to be annoying or they want to get on their nerves, they’re really trying to work out all those brain processes that gets them to the point where they are able to have those rational conversations at maybe six, seven years old and be able to communicate what their needs are, in a better way. And so in this stage, the more that we can model what it looks like to have a calm brain, to be able to calm down, to be able to have a conversation about that was really hard for you, wasn’t it? To help them to name the feelings that they aren’t able to, that come out and present themselves as tantrums.

How to get kids to listen

Jessica: So Brandi, one of the things that we struggle with in our family is having our kids listen, the first time, first time listening is a goal, and I had a situation just last night with my… With my oldest that you know, I really, I asked him to listen, I was calm about it, I said, “Please don’t put those two sticky things together ‘cause I’m like trying to take something off the wall, and he there, lo and behold, he did what I just asked him not to do, and then the project was ruined,” and so… It’s so frustrating. When they don’t listen. What are my tools? Like, tell me what I can do in that moment, I take a breath and then what?

Brandi: It is frustrating. And I have three of them doing that sometimes, so, I totally feel you on that. What I would say about this is that, here’s one tool that I, it changed my parenting life and has it changed some of the clients I worked with, one of the reasons that our kids do not listen to us the first time is that we often repeat ourselves. And it sounds really simple, but one of the solutions to having children actually pay attention to when we’re giving them concrete things that we want them to do is only saying it once, so for example, I might say to my four-year-old, “I need you to clean up this space before we go do X, or we’re going to the park,” or whatever. I’ll mention it that one time before I would have said it over and over and over again until we got to the point where I was triggered and then I would be leading to being upset, maybe even yelling. Now, saying that one time, many times he does it, but like four-year-olds do, there’s times where he doesn’t want to listen. And so instead of me repeating and repeating, just know, children are children, they will need something from you within probably the next five to seven minutes.

And so what will always happen is at some point he’ll come and say, “Can we go to the park or can I get this.” “I’d like to do that, but I remember asking you to do something, and I see that it didn’t get done,” and you’ll miraculously see he understood, he remembered, he knows exactly what I told him to do, but because we say things so often, they get used to just tuning us out and not listening to that third, fourth time, when we’re already frustrated and then we get on this wheel of kinda fighting with each other. And so I tell all the parents right now, start with getting into a habit of not repeating yourself, and then when your child is reaching out for something that they need from you or a place that you were planning to go, you then want to remind them that there was a request made, and you will surprise yourself by seeing how much they actually are listening and deciding when they actually want to follow through, and I can tell you that one trick changed our parenting.

Creating your own family environment

Jessica: Oh, I’m going to try that. I’m going to try that tonight, today, now. I think that it’s really nice to not have a consequence or a threat, and it’s really… It’s a great tip because it allows them to just come to you ‘cause they always do, and just waiting for that moment to then create the motivation. I love it. Often you said that we are not honest with ourselves about how we were parented. Can you elaborate on that? 

Brandi: I think so many of us, in the grand scheme of things believe that many of us believe that we had great parents, they loved us, and I think that sometimes we aren’t so willing to talk about those parts of our childhood that didn’t feel so good for this reason of feeling like we’re somehow disrespecting our parents or not giving them the benefit of the doubt. And so I like to kind of reassure parents that this isn’t about a referendum against your parents, it’s really about being intentional about the kind of family environment that you want to create, if you do not do this, you are destined to repeat exactly what happened in your family of origin, the things that happened to us in childhood get imprinted in us and like on a cellular level.

So you’ll have that time, when you’re saying something to your kid and kinda like, “Oh my goodness, I cannot believe I’m saying that. I always said I would never say this. My mom used to always say this,” and this happens because we weren’t intentional about what we didn’t want to pass on, and so by taking that time to go back, like, how was that experience? Did that feel good? Like what was the intention and how did it land for you, and thinking about what you can do differently, by doing those things, you actually set up a space where you can start having dialogue about what you’re going to actually do to set that intention, ‘cause just making that intention and saying you want to do it isn’t enough, you have to actually go back and be aware of what those triggers are.

So now when my 14-year-old is doing something, I’m really clear about, you know what, I don’t know that what he’s doing is bad, I just know that I wasn’t able to do it and what’s coming up for me is that feeling that somehow this is disrespectful or that he shouldn’t be doing it, and so it allows me the space and the grace to kinda get clear about what our parenting values are and what I want my child to experience and not just automatically project what I think he should be doing because it was what I was forced to do. And I just think it’s just an exercise in being able to, as a couple, get on the same page about parenting, ‘cause I say every parent has been to a parenting class, and it was called their childhood, and you and your partner have been to different parenting classes, and so when you can have that dialogue together, you can really get on the same page and kinda create what I like to call like a parenting manifesto about what you want to create in this new beautiful family that you’ve created together.

Call in the support

Jessica: And if we’re not really clear about our own parenting values, it’s so easy to get swayed in one direction or the other. So you also are a big advocate for calling in support, and this can be challenging for modern parents, extended families, out of reach and the cost of child care is expensive, in many cases, what should we do? 

Brandi: Call all the people that’s number one, I know it’s interesting that in modern parenting where we have, I believe, so many more responsibilities possibly outside of the home than people did many generations ago. And so I think it’s so interesting that we have a hard time receiving that support, when the truth is, that we were not meant to parent alone, people lived in communal societies for a reason, there was a reason why people stayed home for the 40 days after having a baby, the community came together and supported you because it felt like a social duty that people were supposed to do. As we moved away from kinda living in those ways, we began to undermine or just not understand how important that support system is because as much as myself and my husband want to parent these children, we have our own blind spots, you need to have people that you trust, you can call them elders, it can be a best friend, who can step in and give you some guidance when you are feeling lost, when you are feeling stuck, there might be a point when my teenager and I aren’t seeing eye to eye and I’m not sure how to fix it.

You’re supposed to have those people in your life that not only you can go to, but your children can go to. I was able to go hang out with my aunties and my uncles. Having that support, knowing that there were other people in the world that cared about me as much as my parents and I could have that support it was also useful to our children, and I think that’s what we forget.

Part of what makes parenting hard is that isolation. And so if you can just take a baby step to reach out into your community, go to a class, call a friend and call some of that village and tribe into yourself, it’s going to make parenting much more than surviving, but you can actually thrive.

Fewer premature babies with the pandemic

Jessica: You described in a Dear Doula episode some silver linings that emerged from the pandemic, like fewer premature babies. Can you tell me about this? 

Brandi: Yeah, I’ve been saying this for years, and not that I wanted a pandemic to validate my opinion, but one of the things that I’ve noticed in this 20-plus years working with clients during pregnancy and postpartum is that we have gotten so busy in our pregnancies. I remember doing this, starting 20 years ago, when most of my clients had a maternity leave, most of them were taking off work before, well before they had the baby to have that chance to nest, and I just noticed it started to become where they worked into the day they had the baby, or they were going back in two or three weeks, and some of that is just ‘cause they have to economically, which is understandable. But what I’ve seen in that progression is that we have more complications. People were talking about more postpartum depression. We had more children being born early. And I think a lot of that had to do with us not really having this reverence for that pregnancy period in the end, and we talk about nesting, you’re supposed to be resting and kicking your feet up and really getting your body and your mind ready for this monumental shift in becoming a parent, either if it’s the first time or the second time.

And so what we saw during the pandemic, when people were forced to be at home, is that the pre-maturity rate plummeted down, and they theorized, one, it’s because women were dealing with less stress, many were not going inside the workplace, there were less infections and sickness because they weren’t interacting with so many people ‘cause they were at home, and it just validates this really precious time that we kinda have lumped in as like it’s any other time in a parent’s life, and it really isn’t. And I’m hoping that we will take what we learn from that experience and start really supporting women in the workplace and at home with this idea that they do need this time to rest and reset and to really prepare for this important job that they have ahead with a new baby.

How to stay calm

Jessica: You have three kids. What are your strategies to stay calm in the face of all the chaos? 

Brandi: So yes, I have three, they are four, six and 14, so all the ages. I think one of my strategies is that I… It is a non-negotiable for me to have things in my life that bring me joy that are not related to my role as a mother or as a wife. And I think that it’s probably been the biggest thing that’s been helpful in me being able to really be present with them, to be calm, to be less triggered by behaviors that are not adapted in the situation. Because I have so much time in my life where I’m able to focus on things that bring me joy and bring me fulfillment, but I’m not expecting to get every piece of that from my experience with my children. We also try to create an environment that really sets them up for success. So there are some things that are non-negotiable for our family, one of those would be getting rest. We are very, very concrete about bed times. We know that our children thrive when they’re getting a full night’s rest. And so those are things like that that we set them up for success. They’re less tantrum-y. They’re fighting less with each other when they’re well rested.

Eating meals at certain time is important for our family. And so I think a lot of how I’m able to strategize, having calm in the home with three kids is really understanding what their needs are and kind of creating an environment where most of the time each of them are getting what they need. And I say most of the time because we are imperfect people, imperfect parents, but we know the research supports that it’s not about being a perfect mother but being good enough, meaning that we’re meeting their needs most of the time, and we’re able to do that by creating the kind of environment that makes us feel calm, which in turn is going to make them feel calm.

Jessica: It’s been wonderful having you. Thank you so much, Brandi.

Brandi: Thanks so much for having me, Jessica.

Tune into Episode 6 of Season 2: Peaceful Parenting: Dealing with Tantrums for more strategies on remaining calm during those elevated moments. You can find past episodes on the Lovevery blog, Here with you, for more tips and information.

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Kate Garlinge

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Posted in: Parenting Philosophy, Parent Life, Behavior, Parenting