"I've not seen you like this before", commented my friend as I struggled to defuse an escalating situation with my 3 year old in the garden over whether I should go fetch him a pair of dry socks.
You know how it goes: he'd walked to his trampoline over wet grass despite my requests that he put shoes on or go barefoot. Now he was stuck in a loop, and I wasn't helping. She was right. I'm usually better at this, usually able to remain compassionate, usually able to effectively engage my executive 'problem-solving' brain systems. "He's been hard work all day", I toss back as way of an explanation. Although she'd come over to my place to crowd-share the child entertaining, my friend very kindly steps in and starts interacting with my son and her two kids, allowing me to start finishing (yes I did just write "start finishing") the grass-laying project I had been neglecting all week. Adrian instantly appreciated a calm and responsive adult presence and more or less left me to it.
At one point, he did get a bit carried away with pruning the apple tree. This irked me until my friend explained that the not-quite ripe apples could still be used for a crumble and asked me for a peeler. (She knows me well enough to know that if left to me, those apples weren't going to find themselves at the top of my Todo list.) So, while she peeled apples and helped herself to sugar and the microwave (and kept the kids happy!), I went back to my grass. 45 minutes later and I was more relaxed than I had been in days and the garden was looking less rough around the edges too!
But here's the reason why I'm sharing this. That hard-work 3 year old who had been out-of-sorts all day was now back to himself. His behaviour and mood swings that I'd been struggling with were just gone. That's not to say that I was the root cause of his behaviour. Granted, I certainly could have defused a couple of situations better, and absolutely he might have been picking up on my stress, reducing his own capacity for emotional regulation. But if anything, it's about the 'stories' we tell ourselves, and importantly, the reality that that generates. So if you tell yourself your child is hard work at the moment, confirmation bias means you'll notice all the thing they do that agree with that statement. You'll spend time worrying about the problem and in the meantime the problem will likely get worse. But change or share the story, and it will allow you the head space to identify the issues that are actionable.
In my case with the apple tree incident, it was the waste of unripe apples that was the 'story' that was troubling me, not that my son doesn't yet understand why picking them off the tree wasn't a good idea. That problem was solved by my friend putting them to good use. (For someone else, the story and it's solution would have been personal to them.) Had my friend not been there, my own stress levels wouldn't have allowed me to problem-solve and the story would have had a different ending. I noticed this when I popped out later in the evening to drop off some of the completed crumble as a present to my friend. "It wasn't the end of the world", I added as my friend relayed to her husband how my son had de-appled the tree. "That's not how you felt earlier", she pointed out. Yep, the story of my afternoon had changed because my mood had lifted.
Self-care is so important. We cannot expect our kids to emotionally regulate if we're struggling to do so ourselves. Lean on your friends. Be open with your struggles. Accept help when offered.