Self-Regulation for Parents


By Shannon Loehrlein, LCSW – January 19, 2022 –

Being a parent is hard. I can say this is 100 percent true from my own personal experience with a seven-year-old and a two-year-old. Parenting is a job that offers no pay, little appreciation, and no time off. It’s a 24/7 job. Who in their right mind would apply to that job, right? 

Parenting in 2022 comes with an extra set of challenges. The seemingly never-ending COVID pandemic has put intense pressure on parents and families. The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on health issues in the United States, has been studying mental health related changes due to the COVID pandemic. They found that in 2019, the average number of adults reporting anxiety and depression was 11 percent. By January of 2021, that number rose to 41.1 percent. 

Parents play an important role, because children look to their parents for emotional regulation and safety during difficult times. It’s crucial for parents to be able to regulate their own emotions in order to also regulate their children.

Here are some simple tips to help parents regulate themselves.

1.     Take time for yourself. It’s important for parents to have time away from their children. Some people enjoy alone time and others enjoy spending time with other adults. Do what replenishes you and carve out time each day, even if only 10 minutes.

2.     Prioritize transition times. Have you ever noticed that your own kids act out the most during transition times (bedtime, end of playtime, coming home from school etc.)?  It’s because transitioning from one task to the next can overstimulate the brain. Adults have difficulty with this too. A good way to help with this transition is to doing something you enjoy during the transition. For example, I personally like listening to audiobooks or podcasts during my commute from home to school. I’ve noticed my kids need this time to decompress too. Make a family rule that for the first 30 minutes home from work/school, everyone has “calm time” alone.

3.     Try breathing techniques. Breathing exercises and meditation can reset the brain when you’re feeling overwhelmed. The main focus on breathing is to hold your breath between inhale and exhale and try to exhale longer than you inhale. This type of breathing helps with your parasympathetic nervous system. You can find many examples of breathing exercises on YouTube and different mindfulness apps. 

4.     Spend time having fun. Many times as parents we move from one task to the next, never really finding time to enjoy our day. Make sure you and your kids spend time having fun each day. You could read a book, play outside, have family game night, or watch a movie together. Having these types of experiences also promotes healthy bonding with your children. 

5.     Exercise. Exercise is really important in managing stress and decreasing anxiety and depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can make a statistically significant difference in improving anxiety and depressive symptoms by releasing “feel-good endorphins” in your brain. Any exercise is good exercise, just go at your own pace. 

Remember, this pandemic has been difficult for everyone around the world. It’s okay to have times when you feel overwhelmed. If you don’t feel that self-care is enough for you, it’s okay to seek help from a professional. Now many mental health providers offer virtual sessions, removing barriers to access care. Remember, we are all in this together!