Four Steps to Building a New Mind S.E.T.®
If you, your co-parent, or your child is feeling overwhelmed, angry, and anxious in this highly charged emotional time, you are not alone. The lingering weight of the pandemic, on top of the ongoing pressures of parenting, has left many parents in a chronic state of tension. We know that having the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline pumping through our bodies can be harmful to us, not only physically, but also emotionally. In their recent book, Discipline with Love and Limits, Jerry L. Wyckoff, Ph.D. and Barbara C. Unell share how unrelenting stress can lead to some of the most common, serious, and costly health conditions facing our society today, including nine of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., as well as earlier mortality.
It is important to remember that it’s okay to not be okay and that there are resources to help reduce stress. So, what can we do to relieve and prevent this chronic and destructive state of stress? Wyckoff and Unell provide four steps to building a new Mind S.E.T®.
1. Talk to Yourself? That Can Hurt. Or help.
Talking about your feelings and turning to others for support is the first step in building a new Mind S.E.T.
You might first ask the question: Where do my feelings come from? Do they just happen? Biological science has taught us that the answer to that question lies in the “S” of Mind S.E.T., which we use to mean “self-talk.” Self-talk is that ongoing monologue you have with yourself as you experience your day.
There are two kinds of words that you use in your self-talk: One kind is words that are based on logical reality. These words produce emotions that are appropriate to the situation, such as “I may not like this, but I can ask for help.” or “This didn’t go the way I thought. I need to figure out a Plan B.” The second kind of self-talk words is not based on logical reality. These words produce emotions that are inappropriate to the situation. Examples of words that are not based on logical reality include terrible, should, and never. Terrible is an exaggeration word and will usually make the problem worse. “Should” is a demand word and implies that one is mandated to act under severe penalty. And finally, there is the word, “never.” Never is a very, very long time, to infinity, which implies the goal is not achievable. We say these words to ourselves all the time, without even realizing it, when we are frustrated, for example: “This ‘terrible’ meeting ‘should’ not take so long. It’s ‘never’ going to end!”
2. Get in the pro-purge and anti-worry habit
A big help in developing rational self-talk is to make a list of purge words. On a sheet of paper, write these words: awful/terrible, should/must, always/never. Now post this list where you will see it every day and then watch your language. When one of these words pops up, think about the situation. Does the word fit? If not, substitute a more moderate word. An example: I’ll never get this right. Rephrase this as: I might not get it right. The “might not” substitution opens the situation to find solutions. “Never” simply closes that door.
It is also important to watch for the act of worrying. We all do it as we look ahead with dread about what’s to come. Worry is a merry-go-round of thinking and is based on the words “what if.” What if that happens? What if my children tell me they hate me when they are mad at their curfew? The question simply keeps cycling with no route to a solution to the problem. To counter the worry cycle, add the word so, to the what-if question, as in, “So what if my children say that they hate me? What will I do? I won’t like it and I’ll keep telling them their curfew to keep them safe, but I have no control over their feelings. I have enough to do in controlling my own.”
As you can see, the potential problem, one that hasn’t happened, is neutralized by thinking it through as a so-what-if question. Instead of thinking yourself into a problem through the cycle of worry, think yourself through it and out the other side.
3. Make empathy your new best friend.
A catchy motto throughout parenthood and the pandemic is “We’re all in this together.” It can truly be a life-altering motto. The “E” in Mind S.E.T., empathy, is an ability that we are all born with that begins our path of caring about others and putting their needs before our own. Empathy sows the seeds of kindness, respect, compassion, and caring. It’s an emotional muscle that needs exercising to grow.
How do you increase empathy in your children’s lives? Name it! Acknowledge that it was so helpful for a child to think about your feelings, to be so understanding of your pain or to bring you some ice when you trip and fall, for example. Let them know that’s called “empathy,” and it makes you feel so good. Using your innate talents of empathy allows you to get out of your pandemic blues and into brightening the world of others, as it does all children.
4. Teach Problem-Solving, not Problem-Wallowing
The “T” in Mind S.E.T., teaching, begins to happen naturally for you and your children. The big payoff when you use this healthy self-talk and empathy (Mind S.E.T.) is you naturally begin to teach this healthy way to cope with adversity to your children. You prevent toxic stress by building consistently nurturing relationships with self-talk, empathy and the third step, teaching. Problem-solving, not problem-wallowing, feels so much better emotionally and has healing written all over it (think: resilience). Plus, it helps you come out the other side of this pandemic in much better shape, mentally, emotionally and physically (think: preventing toxic stress).
Get the right Mind S.E.T.
You don’t have to wait one more minute to use logical, rational self-talk and empathy to teach children to do the same. Say to your child, “You should…, no wait… it would be helpful for you to pick up your toys and put them in the toy box.” Your self-correction provides a model of self-correction for your child. Saying things aloud will also help others hear a more logical and rational way of thinking; and if asked, you can explain what you’re doing and why. It’s the “right” Mind S.E.T. because it is foundational to optimal childhood development and adult flourishing.
Sharing these good mentally (and physically) healthy strategies with others by modeling them yourself is a win-win—a kind and thoughtful thing to do that shows empathy for your fellow humans as well as yourself. Show yourself that “perfect” is another word to purge, as you admit that sometimes change is the only constant. Then say hello to self-talking, empathizing and teaching your way to a healthy Mind S.E.T. today and every day.
Want to talk more about a healthy Mind S.E.T. and how to care for yourself and your children? Call 913-632-4206 and go to AdventHealth ParentCare for coaching, advice, resources, and education to help guide you through your parenting journey.