ABC PLEASE Skills – Parenting with DBT: A Series on Effective Parenting Strategies

Things are out of control at home.

The days are long and challenging. Emotions run high. Tempers flare,  you bump up against your child’s emotions, and you lose control. Sometimes, things are so intense that it feels like you won’t make it until bedtime intact. You’re worried, frustrated, and even feel like life is devoid of meaning at times.

What Are The ABC Please Skills?

ABC PLEASE falls under the Emotion Regulation module of DBT. These skills help us reduce our vulnerability to what DBT refers to as “emotion mind.” While we can’t necessarily avoid emotional triggers, we can reduce our sensitivity to them. ABC PLEASE skills help us maintain better control of our feelings and behavior and are part of the foundation for building a life worth living.

While ABC PLEASE might sound like a preschool lesson, these skills are for you, the overtired, frustrated parent who needs help managing their emotions. We can teach ABC PLEASE skills to our kids, too, but it’s important that we use them first to lay the groundwork for improved emotion regulation in the home.

So what are they?

A – Accumulate Positive Emotions: This means that we’re doing things that bring us joy and make us feel good. In the short-term, it means spending time (however brief) each day doing something pleasant. Longer term, it means setting up your life so that you’re able to experience more joy and positivity moving forward.

B – Build Mastery:  This means that we’re doing things that help us feel accomplished and effective. We participate in activities that lead to us experiencing a sense of competence. Over time, this feeling can chip away at negative feeling states such as hopelessness and helplessness.

C – Cope Ahead of Time with Emotional Situations: Here, you anticipate challenges and devise a plan on the front end in order to cope effectively with situations that might lead to intense emotions.

PLEASE: These skills help you regulate your emotions by attending to your physiology; they honor the strong mind-body connection we all have. Most of us recognize that we’re more sensitive to strong emotions when, for example, we’re hungry or sleep-deprived. PLEASE skills focus on the following:

Treat PhysicaL Illness

Balance Eating

Avoid Mood-Altering Substances

Balance Sleep

Get Exercise

Here, you’re setting yourself up physically/engaging in self-care to reduce emotion vulnerability. PLEASE skills are likely not available to parents in total (not many parents, especially  of young children, get great sleep or have ample time for physical activity, for example), but we can do what is available to us. Maybe we focus on avoiding substances or adequately nourishing ourselves or attending to symptoms/concerns that are causing us pain or physical unease.

Parenting Using ABC Please

While the ABC PLEASE skills are helpful for anyone regarding reducing emotion vulnerability and laying the foundation for a life worth living, they are particularly useful in parenting. Think of a time when you felt out of control emotionally with your child. Maybe something your little one did triggered you into frustration or helplessness and you weren’t able to bounce back. Now, imagine that you were regularly engaging in activities that you found pleasant/positive, that you were engaging in things that helped you feel good about yourself, that you had anticipated that this time might be challenging and had coped ahead, and that you had taken care of your physiology in order to reduce your susceptibility to emotion – much better, right?

Here’s an example: Claudia dreaded facing the evening routine with her kids on her commute each day. It seems like everyone was tired and cranky, and often, emotions flared and she ended up saying things she regretted. Claudia decided to give ABC PLEASE skills a try. On the way home from work, she played a couple of her favorite songs, which helped her Accumulate Positive Emotions. She also ate a snack in the car (Balance Eating), as she realized that being hungry didn’t help her tolerate her kids’ behavior. She predicted the evening could be challenging and prepped herself in advance (Cope Ahead). She planned to take deep breaths and pause when her kids frustrated her. She reminded herself that she could always retreat into her room, if necessary, for a minute in order to calm herself. She gave her kids more advanced warning for completing what they needed to do prior to bedtime. Overall, she kept her cool by planning things out and taking care of herself.

Again, ABC PLEASE skills are also important for our children. Are they experiencing pleasant events and a sense of competence? Can you help them cope ahead? Can you try to ensure they’re getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, and physical activity? Routine and structure are helpful. When everyone is engaging in ABC PLEASE skills, things flow more calmly and flexibly at home.

More Help With DBT

If you want more help integrating ABC PLEASE and other DBT skills, it’s possible that DBT therapy is a good fit for you. Here, you’ll learn a whole host of DBT skills that can reduce suffering, parent more effectively, and help you create the life you want to live.

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