Do you ever get so upset with your kids that you do something that leaves you (and the rest of the family) asking, "Where did that come from!"? In the book Parenting from the Inside Out, Siegel and Hartzell write: “[At times] we’re not really listening to our children because our own internal experiences are being so noisy that it’s all we can hear. . . We often try to control our children’s feelings and behavior when actually it’s our own internal experience that is triggering our upset feelings about their behavior.” An example of this would be when your child is being really clingy, and instead of seeing that she’s communicating that she needs your comfort and attention, you get furious with her. Your fury is not really because of her developmentally appropriate need for you—it’s because you feel smothered because you haven’t done anything for yourself in a long time, or because you had a parent who relied on you to meet her needs, and in this moment, you feel resentment again at being needed.

So what do we do? Well, we need to pay attention to what’s going on inside of ourselves when we are upset with our children, so  we can flexibly and lovingly respond to them in ways that we feel good about and that are good for their development. Now this isn’t easy. When we’re upset, our brains are often in a more primitive mode of functioning, and we have to intentionally force our minds to pay attention and reflect on what’s really happening under the surface. But with practice, we get better and better at moving from rigidly reacting to flexibly paying attention to what’s really happening inside of us in the moment. Then we can appropriately respond to our children, instead of reacting to our own feelings or to something being triggered from the past.

I strongly suggest journaling your answers to the exercises on page 29 of Parenting from the Inside Out; if you don’t have the book, start with their third question, which is: “Think of an issue in your life that is impairing your ability to connect flexibly with your child. Focus on the past, present, and future aspects of this issue. Do any themes or general patterns come to mind from past interactions? What emotions and bodily sensations emerge when this issue comes to your mind now? Are there other times you have experienced these feelings?”

Getting more clear on these issues and emotions might help you be more patient and generous with your children, and with yourself.