I’m sure all of you have seen the Snicker’s commercials where someone is acting totally out of character at the beginning and then a friend steps in and gives them a Snicker’s bar, with the tagline “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.” Well, what you didn’t know is that they came up with that based on me...just kidding! But I am definitely that way in real life; when I’m hungry please don’t mess with me.
Sometimes our kids are perfect angels, and other times we’re standing there staring at them as they flail about and wondering what the heck happened to our perfect child. One morning my toddler woke up early, which is very uncharacteristic of her, and was screaming at the top of her lungs. Of course, I had a big class to teach that day and wasn’t thrilled that I now had to wake up earlier than expected to deal with a crying toddler. However, I was able to keep my patience in this moment due to the skills I’ve been teaching and practicing myself - one of them being to remember to HALT during these difficult times.
What does HALT mean? Well, it’s an acronyms that comes out of addiction models, and stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. A person should be aware of these conditions and never make decisions or have important conversations when they are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired - which I try to practice myself as much as possible. By acting impulsively and not being intentional, it’s easy to start screaming and yelling at your toddler because you are not in the best place. I always say it’s 10% what they’re doing and 90% what’s going on with you.
Why is it important to HALT?
When you’re Hungry - Your stomach is empty and your blood sugar is low, which sends signals to your brain to find food immediately. Your brain is not equipped to make good decisions at this time. Instead, take an adult time out, eat some protein, and think about the situation again from a more rational perspective. Come back when you feel nourished and ready to have a productive conversation or make a good decision.
When you’re Angry - Anger, stress, and frustration trigger your instincts for aggression. You are forced into a fight or flight situation, and your brain is primed to fight when you feel angry. The problem solving part of your brain is shut down during these times. Instead, reach out for support in that moment if you have someone available, and ask for help. Take some time to cool down, engage in belly breathing, and talk compassionately to yourself in these moments. Never make a discipline decision out of anger.
When you’re Lonely - Loneliness and isolation are difficult emotions to deal with. They can enhance insecurities that you may already have, such as questioning whether you are a good parent. Instead, find a support group or reach out to others that are in a similar situation. Bring yourself back to the present situation when you find your mind moving into a global way of thinking. Find a way to manage this moment, and then work on ways to feel less alone after the current problem has been addressed.
When you’re Tired - If you’re tired, your resources are depleted. You have trouble accessing your coping skills or thinking critically. Your body needs time to heal and rest. Instead, reach out for help from your partner, friend, or family member. Your body physically needs to recover from a hard day, and you need sleep to make good decisions. You have to find a way to work in adequate sleep. It may seem impossible, but with some creative thinking you can find a way.
Trust me, every parent has made mistakes when parenting and yelled, lost their patience, or said something that they didn’t mean. The first step is becoming aware that you need to stop and think if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, and then take the appropriate steps that will set you and your child up for success instead of failure. If you’re engaging in a parenting behavior that you don’t like, or just doesn’t make you feel like yourself, remember to HALT.
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx. I specialize in working with couples in conflict, infertility, and the transition to parenthood. I recently teamed up with Marriage and Family Therapist Melanie Graves to offer parenting skills workshops entitled Keep Calm & Parent with Purpose. We teach parents how to be intentional with discipline decisions, stay calm in stressful parenting situations, and develop a parenting plan so that everyone is on the same page. To learn more or register for our next class, click here. We’d love to have you.