Self Care | Know What Gets Under Your Skin

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Whether you’re a parent or professional caregiver, chances are there are some things children do that annoy you, irritate you, push your buttons, scratch your last nerve, or burrow under your skin. Back in my community center director days, it was the snotty eye-rolls I got from school-age kids when I requested they not throw the pool cues, or suggested they at least look at their homework, or begged that they not pee in the bathroom electrical outlet…again. As a father, it was usually the behavior my kids displayed that reminded me most of myself–my daughter’s cutting snark and sarcasm, my son’s cocky smirk.

One thing about having things get under your skin…

…is that it’s a universally human condition. Think about all the adults you interact with on a weekly basis–are any of them button-less? If you put your mind to it, and wanted to make trouble, do you know what it’d take to annoy or irritate them? For example, if I want to mess with my wife, Tasha, all I need to do is mention foam rubber touching her skin. We’ve all got buttons.

Another thing about having things get under your skin…

…is that the more stressed and burnt out you are, the more difficult it is to control how you react to having something get under your skin. When I was well rested, unhurried, and in the moment, my daughters sarcasm was laughed off—‘That’s hilarious, your mind is so quick. Now, please, put away your markers.‘ When I was tired, rushed, and scattered, it could set me off–‘Go to your room! Why can’t you just keep your mouth shut and put your markers away without all the commentary?’

We’re better at being the boss of our buttons when we take care of ourselves.

When We’re Not Taking Care Of Ourselves…

…we’re less likely to operate as our best selves. We’re less thoughtful. We’re more likely to respond with anger or strong emotions. Reactions become Over-Reactions.

Managing our emotions day in and day out–while helping children manage theirs–is physically and emotionally draining. As parents and caregivers, we tend to put our own needs on the back burner. We seldom invest time in our own care. We focus on the needs of others and suffer silently when our own needs go unmet. Example: There are professional caregivers out there who keep meticulous records about each child’s every poop and pee throughout the day who can only attend to their personal toileting needs by A) allowing kids to follow them to the bathroom, or B) waiting until 2:17 in the afternoon when Miss Jenny arrives for work 17 minutes late.  It’s no wonder caregivers can blow up when the dog tracks mud across the kitchen floor, Ben can’t find his left shoe, or Beth makes another #foodgasm post during her leisurely lunch hour.

In the long run…

…we could all probably benefit from a tad more self care, a touch more attention to our own needs, a little more energy devoted to keeping our heads clear, focused, and tuned in. Maybe you could:

In the short run…

…grab a piece of paper and a pen. Now, make a detailed list of all the things that get under your skin–and why.

All of them. Take your time, you don’t need to do it all in one sitting. Don’t cheat yourself by tapping them into a device, there’s research indicating that old fashioned writing is a better choice for activities like this.

It all boils down to this: It’s easier to address problems you’ve taken time to identify. Making this list forces a confrontation with all your buttons. Spending a bit of time contemplating them increases your self awareness. These irritants exert more power when freely roaming your mind–writing them down corrals them and takes away some of that power. This process brings them out of the haze of your head into the physical world–which makes them easier to deal with the next time you confront them.

Cold Hard Fact Alert:…

…The world never stops tossing irritating situations in your path. You have very little control over what happens, but you do control how you respond. Making a What Gets Under My Skin list serves as a starting point for developing effective strategies for controlling how you deal with the annoyances life tosses in front of you. After some reflection, I decided I would take a couple deep breathes before responding to my daughters snark and sarcasm–and that I’d try to be more judicious in using those things in my own interactions with her and others.

Moving forward…

…keep your list handy. Review and update it from time to time. If you start investing more time and energy in self-care, you may find that your list shrinks. If the list starts to grow, there’s a good chance your stress and burnout are increasing.

I’d love to hear about what gets under your skin in the comments below.

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Jeff is an early learning speaker, toymaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ who is really bad at getting his picture taken.