What Do You Do, When You Don't Know What To Do As A Parent?


As parents we often have those days when everything goes wrong. You wake up late, the kids seem to have lost their ears, lunches didn't get made, shoes can't be found and you hit every stop light on the way to school. You find yourself screaming, your kids melt down and you feel like you couldn't "parent-fail" much worse. You get a moment of peace as the kids head off to school. You take a deep breath and start to cry. "Why can't I keep it under control?" "Why can't I just let it go?" "Why do I just snap?" These are all questions parents ask themselves at one time or another.

I'm here to tell you it’s not a parent-fail, it is parenting without knowing about the window of tolerance.

The window of tolerance is a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegal to describe the "zone of arousal" in which a person is able to function most effectively. When in this zone, we are typically able to readily receive, process, and integrate information and are able to respond to the demands of everyday life without much difficulty. This is particularly true of parenting! There is no more demanding time in which stress and your environment will push you out of this optimal zone than the season of parenthood.

When in the window of tolerance, you are in the "zone" and it means your brain is responding to stimuli effectively and you are on point. As a parent you are able to think rationally, reflect on what is happening, and make those myriad of decisions with calm. When we get stressed we can have times where we become either hyper- or hypo-aroused and outside of our "Optimal Zone". Hyper-arousal is also known as the fight/flight response. This is when we are on edge, we are anxious, our thoughts race, we are emotionally reactive, and we get snappy. Whereas, Hypo-arousal also known as the freeze response, creates feelings of emptiness, lack of thought, disconnection, and feeling "out of it." In either of these states, a parent can no longer process stimuli and the environment effectively. This is all because our brains are not functioning well. When we are not able to think rationally or make decisions we become dysregulated. We become reactionary to our environment and the people in it or we become rigid and have to have things "our way!" It is during these times that we have moved out of our window of tolerance and our ability function as a healthy parent is diminished.