Q: I feel so guilty when I lose my temper with my kids. How do I become more patient?
First let me say: We’ve all been there. I have a naturally patient disposition plus six years of graduate education, but when my kids were young, there were definitely moments when I stood in the middle of our family room and yelled, “Stop screaming, all of you!” Obviously, this was not helpful. It certainly isn’t on anyone’s list of recommended parenting techniques. It’s also very human.
We adults value calm, order, and logic, but kids are often noisy, messy, and unreasonable. We need to get stuff done and be on time. Kids live in the moment and don’t want to put their shoes on or stop what they’re doing. We love our children, but sometimes they’re hard to live with!
In the moment
Let’s start with some emergency, heat-of-the-moment strategies, for when you’re about to explode or you’re started on that path.
– Clap your hands once, loudly.
Hearing and feeling that sharp clap can help you stop and think. The sting in your hands can also help you remember that you don’t want to hurt your children.
– Delay your response–even just a few seconds.
Unless it’s an immediate safety situation, you can pause before you respond. A short delay to take a drink of water or suck on an ice cube or wash your hands or fold a towel can give you a moment to regain self-control and think about how you want to respond.
– Step away.
Sometimes, to regain self-control, the best thing to do is to step away from the situation. Make sure your kids are safe than find a space where you can be alone for a bit. Tell your kids you need a break to calm down. That’s useful modeling! Go to your room, or the bathroom, or even just outside and let yourself breath for a few minutes.
Don’t rehearse in your mind what’s making you feel upset. That will just get you more riled. Instead, try distracting yourself by reading, listening to music, doing some stretches, or a small chore. You’ll be in a better frame of mind to deal with the situation when you return.
Focus on prevention
The best strategy for dealing with parent blow-ups is prevention. Here are some ideas:
– Take care of yourself.
You probably make sure your child gets plenty of rest, healthy food, exercise, and fun. Do the same for yourself. What do you need to refuel? Make it happen. You can’t possibly be the kind of parent you want to be if you’re running on empty.
– Get outside.
When my kids were younger, “Everybody outside!” was my parenting answer for what ails ya. Somehow, being outdoors calms tempers and quiets noise.
– Adjust your thinking.
People are meaning-making creatures. We create stories about our experiences. If you’re telling yourself that your kids are doing whatever they’re doing to try to get to you or because they don’t respect you, you’re going to ramp up your fury. That’s really not how kids think. What are some other possible reasons for their misbehavior? If you’re not sure, be curious. Instead of taking the misbehavior personally, maybe try to look at your child as if you were a scientist, trying to understand what’s happening and why.
– Make a plan.
The situations that are most frustrating with kids often happen again and again. That means we can think ahead of time about what does and doesn’t work and how we want to handle things next time. You may want to take some notes about rough spots with your kids. Noticing what happens before, during, and after can help you identify patterns, so you can change the story. Walking into a difficult situation with a plan can make you feel better equipped to handle it.
– Involve your kid in coming up with a solution.
– Lean on someone.
We don’t get any extra points by doing life the hard, alone way. Think of who can offer you practical or emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Do you need a break or do you need company? Do you need help or do you need to do less or hand off some responsibility? Sometimes people are afraid to show their less-than-perfect side, but that’s how intimacy grows.
And if you still blow it?
What if, despite all your efforts and good intentions, you still lose it with your kids? Use that as an opportunity to teach relationship repair. Apologize, if that’s appropriate. Think about how you want to handle things differently next time and maybe tell your child what you’ll try to do from now on. Then keep going.
Because love means trying again.