At times I struggled to adult. I have been guilty of arguing with her like a contemporary on more occasions than I care to remember. I know I have often demanded she follow my rule ‘or else.’ Every parent knows who emerges the clear winner in that battle and I soon learned to keep my ultimatums to myself.
Other things that haven’t worked? Giving her a lecture in the midst of a fight, reminding her of all the pledges she had previously made to me or telling her to just chill.
These days the parenting world is abuzz with a rebranded parenting strategy to help children manage their feelings: co-regulation.
The New Yorker describes it as “a caregiver controlling her own emotional response when a child is agitated, and thus modelling the warm-yet-cool composure she hopes the child will eventually acquire himself.”
“According to today’s most prominent parenting gurus, maintaining an infectious state of calm is not only one of the utmost objectives when raising a child but perhaps the single goal from which all other family aspirations can flow,” the magazine adds, quoting an expert who calls this the “holy grail of parenting”.
When I read the piece, I realized I have been practicing a version of co-regulation for a while now: I call it my RMF and think it’s the single most important daily tool every parent needs.
A RMF or Resting Mom Face, never changes its ‘neutral-to-positive’ expression. My term is inspired by the more widely used Resting Bitch Face, when people judge an expressionless face, usually of a woman, to be surly or stand-offish. Incidentally, researchers found that celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Blake Lively have ‘neutral’ faces that register as ‘happy.’
Resting Mom Face takes some effort to pull off. Think of it as mental face yoga. Smile slightly without wrinkling your eyes, then hold for 30 seconds. As you face-off with your angry child, tell your facial muscles to relax. Imagine you’re smoothening the frown lines on your forehead with both fists flat against your skin and moving rhythmically outward. Inhale, exhale—but subtly, and not like you’re heaving or sighing. Consciously erase all traces of alarm, irritation, surprise and criticism from your facial muscles. Now say what you have to say.
Let me tell you the RMF is useful even when your toddler becomes a teenager and then an adult. Your children don’t want you to judge their stories, their lives, their friends, their opinions. I find that when I have my RMF on, my lips zipped firmly and my exclamation points tucked away, my child can’t stop sharing. Honestly, this strategy works with anyone, and not just my teenager.