How to Regulate Your Nervous System So You Can Show Up More Powerfully For Your Kids
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
And help them live a much better life along the way.
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Imagine having the ability to show up for your kids in a way that makes them feel seen, heard, and loved—even when they're acting out.
To be able to do this, you first need to understand how your nervous system works and how it affects your behavior.
Once you understand that, you can start to make small changes that will lead to big results.
And in this article, I will share with you exactly how you can do that.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Why Regulating Your Nervous System Is Important As A Parent
Why is it important to be regulated as a parent?
Well, let’s look into the role our nervous system plays.
The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls all of the body's automatic functions like heart rate, digestion, respiration, and blood pressure.
The ANS has two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS is responsible for the "fight-or-flight" response and is activated when we perceive a threat.
The PNS is responsible for the "rest-and-digest" response and is activated when we perceive that we are safe.
One feels calming, easy, and freeing.
The other feels chaotic, disturbed, and constraining.
Unfortunately, it's easy to live in a chronic state of stress where the SNS is always activated in today’s world.
In fact, In 2020, the world was a sadder, angrier, more worried, and more stressed-out place than it has been at any time in the past 15 years according to a study done by Gallup.
And believe it or not, living in this state yourself seriously affects your children’s lives.
This is because our brains consist of these special neurons called “mirror neurons.”
These neurons are stimulated when we engage in and observe the behaviors around us.
And since our behaviors are byproducts of our emotions, your children also develop the same emotional responses as you.
If you are stressed, anxious, worried, and angry, your child will be able to read it in your facial expressions and body language, triggering the same neurons to respond in their brains.
This can lead to our children growing up with mental health issues.
Not only that but if we’re constantly in fight or flight mode then we are simply unable to show up for our kids the way we want to.
We tend to say and do things that we regret later when we’re in these states, and a lot of the time we teach our children behaviors that we would rather not.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
By learning how to regulate our nervous system, we can improve our relationships with our kids and show up more powerfully for them—even in challenging situations—while also giving them a better emotional life.
So let me share a few practical ways you can begin regulating your nervous system so you can start being the parent your children need.
But first, you must understand the most important element of regulating your nervous system.
Releasing Stored Emotions, The Key To Better Parenting
Growing up we experience a lot of events.
And of those events, many make us feel unpleasant emotions.
Unfortunately, we have mostly been brought up to ignore those feelings, holding them in and not opening up is seen as “strong” so we revert to it in moments of heavy emotions.
Holding these emotions in feels safe to a lot of us, but holding these emotions also creates a lot of problems like depression, anxiety, sadness, and countless health issues.
And when we walk around with these kinds of irritations we can’t show up as powerfully as we want.
In fact, holding emotions in will literally cause cognitive performance to decrease and begin failing to function properly, according to this article by PychCentral.
Therefore, by releasing them, or processing them healthily, you can begin restoring your mental and physical well-being.
And as a result, you show up better.
Parents who release emotions and regulate themselves report feeling:
A greater sense of relaxation
Feeling more present with their kids and partner more consistently.
Greater ability to be open and honest with yourself and others.
A better ability to pause and respond after events.
Higher levels of self-compassion
Better communication and connection skills with their kids
Clarity around how to constructively solve problems.
When you release bottled-up emotions and let them flow, everything in your life seems to flow as well. Including being a parent.
Your emotions are like the energy of life, and the more blockages you cause by holding them in, the more “blockages” will show up in your life and in the way you show up.
Express and feel every emotion available. Below are some practical ways you can begin doing that.
Breathwork is a simple but powerful way to change your state and bring your nervous system into coherence.
When you breathe deeply, it sends a signal to your brain that you are safe and activates the PNS.
This leads to a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure as well as a boost in immune function.
So, how do you use breathwork?
Below I am going to list a handful of breathwork techniques that you can use to immediately begin reaping the benefits of your breath.
1. Find a comfortable position. You can sit or lie down, whichever is more comfortable for you.
2. exhale completely through your mouth.
3. Close your mouth and inhale slowly and deeply through your nose counting to four in your head.
4. Hold your breath for a count of four.
5. Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of four.
6. Repeat the cycle four times total and feel your stress melting away!
Bhramari Pranayam Breathing
An ayurvedic breathing technique that can be done in a short amount of time to bring calm and rebalancing sensations.
Here’s how to do it 👇
Put your thumbs in your ears.
Cover your eyes with the rest of your fingers
Inhale through your nose
Make a “buzzing” sound as you exhale that creates a vibration through your ears.
It looks like this 👇
And Here is a video showing you how to do it.
Ujjayi (Darth Vader Breath)
Another ayurvedic breathing technique that is great for moving “Lifeforce” through your body, which has long-term health benefits a this keeps your nervous system flowing coherently.
Here’s how to do it 👇
Inhale and exhale through the nose making a slight snoring sound with a light constricting of the upper throat and soft palate.
Perform for ten breaths for a maximum of ten minutes.
Here is a video showing how to do it
The Mind-Shift Breathing Method
One of my favorites on the list, Mind-Shift breathing, which I view as a great mindset reset, is extremely effective and soothing.
It’s by far the simplest to remember and easiest to use, one you can always keep in your back pocket for when you need it, especially in the midst of your children being upset.
Here’s how to do it 👇
Step one: Inhale through your nose all the way until you feel you can’t anymore.
Step two: Pause at the top for a few seconds and then take a few more small inhales.
Step three: Fully exhale.
Repeat for five to ten rounds for the best results.
Active Nose Breathing:
Active nose breathing is a great way to stay centered as you move.
As you are walking take long and slow deep breaths.
Increase the length of your exhale as you walk, using your steps to measure how long the breaths are.
Count your steps when exhaling and aim to exhale for 10 steps.
Dirga Pranayama (Abdominal breathing)
Dirga pranayama is a cooling and calming breath that balances the nervous system.
It's a great breath to practice if you're feeling stressed, anxious, or frazzled.
Dirga pranayama is also helpful in clearing the sinuses and promoting healthy digestion.
Here's a step-by-step guide 👇
1. Find a comfortable seat.
You can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, or in a cross-legged position on a yoga mat or pillow. Make sure your spine is nice and tall. Rest your hands in your lap or on your knees with your palms up.
2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose to help you relax.
3. Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your heart.
4. inhale deeply through your nose, filling up your belly first, then your chest. expanding your rib cage as you breathe in.
5. Exhale slowly and completely through your nose, drawing your navel towards your spine to empty out all the air in your lungs.
6. Continue breathing in this way for 5-10 minutes. Make sure that each inhale and exhale is slow, smooth, and deep. Just focus on your breath and let everything else fall away.
7. To finish, take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose and open your eyes when you're ready.
Here is a video walkthrough.
Alternate Nostril Breathing:
A yoga-inspired breathing technique, alternate nostril breathing is very useful for calming the nervous system and relaxing you while being super simple to remember.
Here’s how to do it 👇
Step 1. Put your right hand in the Vishnu mudra position by bending your pointer and middle fingers towards your palm, leaving only your ring finger, pinky and thumb extended.
It looks like this ⬇️
Step 2: Bring your hand up to your face and close off your right nostril with your thumb.
Step 3: With your thumb covering your right nostril, close your eyes or gaze downward and exhale slowly and fully through your left nostril. Step 4: After fully exhaling, release your right nostril and put your ring finger on your left nostril.
Step 5: Begin inhaling deeply and slowly through your right nostril.
Step 6: Release your left nostril and place your thumb over your right nostril again and breathe in fully, and then exhale through your left nostril.
Repeat this process for 3 rounds minimum, more if needed.
The entire time you alternate nostrils like this ⬇️
The first step is to find a comfortable place to lie down.
You may want to use a yoga mat or a towel to protect your clothes from any potential messes.
Once you're settled, close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply and slowly through your nose.
Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of eight. Continue breathing in this deep, even rhythm for at least ten minutes.
As you breathe, focus your attention on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body.
After you have been breathing deeply for 10 minutes or more, begin to increase the intensity of your breath.
Inhale deeply and forcefully, then exhale with even more force. Breathe in this way for two minutes or longer.
Now, it's time to really let go.
Allow your breath to become even deeper and more rapid.
Let go of any control you may have been exerting over your breathing up until this point. Just allow your body to breathe in whatever way feels natural and comfortable.
Continue breathing in this free-flowing way for 10 minutes or longer.
If thoughts or emotions arise during this time, simply observe them and let them out without judgment, and return your focus to your breath.
When you feel ready, slowly begin to bring your breath back down to its normal rate and depth.
Take a few deep breaths and then open your eyes.
Other than this exercise, here is one of my favorite breathwork guides that has many videos to follow for powerful sessions in as little as 5 minutes.
Diaphramic Or “Belly” Breathing:
When you’re stressed or irritated in some way, you are likely doing what we call, “chest breathing,” meaning you are taking shallow breaths.
Chest breathing turns on the sympathetic nervous system response, or your “fight or flight” mode, which is the exact mode we work to avoid falling into with these techniques.
So belly breathing is great because it turns on your parasympathetic response, one that is conducive to well-being.
Here’s how to do it 👇
Step 1: Either sitting up, standing up, or laying down, start by placing one hand on your stomach.
Step 2: Inhale through your nose, breathe from the stomach, making sure you feel it rising.
Step 3: Exhale through pursed lips, focusing on the stomach lowering.
Step 4: Repeat five cycles minimum, more if needed.
1. Start by sitting in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your eyes closed.
You can sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
2. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Begin to inhale deeply through your nose, letting your stomach expand first, followed by your chest.
Fill your lungs with as much air as you can without straining yourself.
3. Exhale slowly through your nose, focusing on emptying your lungs completely.
As you exhale, stick out your tongue and let out a "ha" sound. Try to exhale for twice as long as you inhaled.
4. Repeat this cycle of deep breathing for 3-5 minutes.
I recommend doing one to three of these breathwork practices daily. Grab a piece of pen and paper or open up your notes and write down which one of these you are going to begin implementing daily -- and then schedule it in your calendar.
Let me know what this does for you by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
#2 Somatic Experiencing
Somatic experiencing is defined as a form of therapy that addresses and releases trauma using a “bottom-up” approach, working to release emotions from the body as opposed to diving into the thoughts surrounding them.
This is an absolutely powerful way to get to the root sensations behind any given emotions and move them through and out of your body, bringing balance back to the nervous system.
Here are a few Somatic Experiencing (SE) techniques.
Creating the “voo” sound
The intention of this technique is to regulate your body's responses and override the nervous system.
This is a wonderful technique for bringing a feeling of harmony back into the body by creating a particular vibration in the entire body.
Here’s how to do it 👇
1. Find a space where you feel comfortable and free to be loud.
2. Find a comfortable position, preferably sitting on a chair or on the floor.
3. Scan your body and physical sensations to bring your awareness to the moment.
4. Then bring your attention to your breath for a few moments, breathing deeply and slowly without altering your breath, just bringing it to your awareness.
5. Inhale deeply and make a “voo” sound and vibration that resonates through your abdomen and chest as you exhale.
7. At the end of the exhalation, allow the next inhalation to come in naturally.
8. Report the cycle for 10 breaths each, three cycles to get the best results.
Let your body tremble
Have you ever seen two animals fight and as soon as they’re done they go into their own quiet space and shake like crazy?
This happens because there is still a lot of emotion and energy present, so they literally “shake” the emotions and energy out -- allowing them to return back to a calming state.
As humans, we tend to shy away from shaking because we think that somehow it's weak, but I’m here to remind you that shaking your body is human.
Here’s how to do it 👇
1. Find a space where you feel comfortable shaking your body and moving it around,
2. You can do this by either lying on the floor or standing up, whichever feels the most comfortable for you,
3. Imagine energy moving through your body as you shake your legs and feet.
4. Imagine energy shaking off of you as you shake your arms and hands (imagine you are shaking off a bunch of sand)
5. Explore any other movements that might feel good for your body.
7. Come back to a resting position, sitting or lying down.
8. Use box-breathing to come back to yourself.
Self-Regulating Physical Touch
Again, using the body to our benefit, a good way to process the feelings of anxiety and feel them is to ground yourself physically.
According to Healthline, hugging yourself has been proven to lower cortisol levels in the body.
Humans thrive when they feel connected and safe, so hugging themselves more often, will create that feeling of connection and safety that can calm the nervous system down.
Here’s how to do it 👇
1. Sit down or lay down in a relaxed position.
2. Wrap your arms around your shoulders (like you are hugging yourself.)
3. Begin gently squeezing your shoulders and arms all the way down to your forearms and go back up. Repeat this for a few minutes.
4. Begin slowly moving onto other body parts, gently squeezing them.
Another SE exercise is to recall moments of kindness.
What this does is bring your body back into an experience of kindness, love, and openness -- all of which soothe your nervous system and bring it into a state of coherence.
Therefore by frequently recalling moments where you experienced kindness, you will frequently bring your entire state back into one of coherence.
Plus, when you’re kind studies show that your blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels, and inflammation go down. So the health benefits are real.
And when you feel better, you show up better.
Here’s how to do it 👇
1. Sit down and think of a moment where you were kind to someone or they were kind to you.
2. Remember as much detail as you can by first paying attention to images, sounds, noises, smells, and tastes.
3. Recall the feeling of that event. Ask yourself, “What did this event make me feel?” or “What did I feel in this moment?”
4. Focus on the “feeling tone” of your body or the subtle vibration that moves throughout your body, the energy behind everything. This will help you notice and magnify the feeling of kindness.
5. Spend as much time as you want here. Add in the “voo” sound to make it more intense or hug yourself if you’re being hugged in the vision.
6. Smile and repeat “Thank you” for 60 seconds or longer before coming out.
Another great technique is scream therapy or the “primal scream” that we all have.
It’s also an ancient form of Chinese medicine, which is used to release energy that is beneficial for your health.
So finding somewhere to scream can be a healthy way to express your emotions and also release old emotions.
Here’s how to do it 👇
1. Find a place where you feel safe to scream and grab a pillow or a Scream Box.
2. If you feel angry, sad, or irritated sit there and let the feeling bubble up and scream into the pillow.
3. If you don’t feel angry or sad but know you have some stuff to let go or someone to forgive, think of something or someone that brings the emotion up, whether that’s a past event or an imaginative conversation with someone.
4. Let the emotion bubble up and scream.
5. If the screams turn into cry’s, let them and fully open yourself to letting it out.
6. Begin breathing deeply when done to come back to a balanced and relaxed state.
A 3-Step Approach To Releasing Your Emotions In The Moment
Learning how to release emotions that have been stored in the body is great, and what’s even better is learning how to release them in the moment.
Emotions can either stay around for five minutes or five decades. What determines that is your choice to express, and when you make that decision if you do.
So before I wrap this article up I wanted to share a simple 3-step approach to releasing emotions at the moment as they come so you don’t end up weighed down by them in the future.
Step 1: Becoming Aware
In order to allow emotions their expression, becoming aware of their presence is of paramount importance.
Many of us hold our emotions in unknowingly because we don’t even know that the emotion is present, causing us to invariably deny it’s fulfillment.
Remember, all emotions seek their fulfillment.
What I mean by that is that all emotions seek their expression, because emotions are energy and energy is always seeking to express itself.
Knowing this, you can train yourself to begin noticing your emotions and letting them flow in their natural cycle.
When it comes to becoming aware of your emotions at the moment, there are a couple of key things you can do to improve your emotional awareness.
How to improve emotional awareness:
1. Begin opening your heart more to bring the feelings of your emotions to your awareness. A closed heart makes it difficult to feel an emotion.
Here are a few ways to open your heart ❤️👇
- Breathe through your belly more often
- Holotropic breathwork (Here is my favorite channel for guided holotropic style breathwork)
- Say “Thank you” more often
- Be kind & show compassion to others around you
- Cry when you want to cry, laugh when you want to laugh, and dance when you want to dance.
- Getting a pet
- Forgive people who you feel have let you down
- Give unconditionally (volunteer, tithe, support someone, etc.)
2. Become mindful of your bodily sensations.
Begin taking the time to be more present with the sensations of your body, and do so often.
The repetition of intentional present moments will make it more normal and easier for you to feel your body.
Feel the air on your skin, the feeling of your hair, and clothes, and also pay attention to the physical sensations of emotions.
3. Enhance your emotional vocabulary.
Another reason many people struggle with releasing emotions is that they don’t even know what emotion they are feeling, or they have no way to put it into words.
Therefore, by enhancing your “feeling vocabulary” you will find it easier to be aware of the emotions you experience at any given moment.
Below is an emotions wheel that is used to label emotions with more accuracy, allowing processing it to be easier.
And here is a great video too on how to label emotions.
4. Pay attention to your thoughts about things more often.
How do you respond to events that show up on a moment-to-moment basis? What do you think? What do you think? What do you do? What triggers you?
These questions will help you reflect on past moments where you can then ask yourself:
“How did this make me feel?”
“What did I think at that moment?”
“How did I react?”
You may see common patterns that give you a good idea of what kind of feelings you’re holding on to.
Aside from reflecting on the past, train yourself to be more mindful in the moments where you get “triggered” to pay attention to your thoughts about the situation, which you will then be able to follow back to a feeling.
Like an old mentor once told me.
“The triggers are the guides.”
Now that you have a few ways to improve your emotional awareness, let’s dive into a quick reflection process you can use in the moment to label and release feelings.
The check-in process:
1. When you feel the emotion stop and ask yourself this series of questions.
2. “What does my body feel like? Is there pressure or tingling? Does it feel heavy or light? Contracted or free? What is the texture, weight, and shape of sensations you notice in your body? What am I noticing?”
3. Begin vocalizing anything and everything you’re feeling.
Ex.) “I feel depleted. I notice a heaviness in my throat and a contracted chest. It feels like a ball of pressure.”
Step 2: Choosing To Express
Having awareness is great, but what you do with that awareness is where the magic happens.
In this case, using that awareness to then express ourselves is the magic.
Becoming aware is not enough. Our well-being demands expression.
Or should I say, authentic expression.
What is “authentic” expression?
Authentic expression is when you express an emotion in the way you truly desire to. In a way that feels good to you both mentally and emotionally.
In a way that is you - without apprehension due to your own fears - an unimpeded flow of emotions.
Ask yourself, “What does this emotion need? To do? To say? What feels right in the moment? What do I need right now? Who do I need to be to let this feeling express?”
There is a multitude of answers that can come up.
Maybe you need to scream, laugh, punch a pillow, journal, cry, walk, work out, meditate, breathe deeply, or maybe you need to say something.
What we’re aiming for here is a catharsis - or a release of emotional energy.
Whatever you feel will release energy at that moment, do it.
And let’s be real. You know what you need.