Tips for Finding Your Zen and Staying Calm When The Kids Act Out
I think it’s safe to assume, we all experience days when parenting just feels hard and for any number of reasons patience is in short supply for everyone. The type of day I’m describing is not at all reminiscent of last summer’s blissful vacation to the beach. Instead it’s one in which at the end of a long day, after trying to get dinner on the table and the kids to bed, you ask your child to wash up once, twice and then a third time. The aggravation begins to seep in, the pressure rises and then the fireworks begin; she’s kicking, screaming, and full of rage over a very reasonable (and multiple) hand-washing request. If you are anything like me, you want to scream and kick at this point too, never mind staying calm.
Let’s get emotional
Emotions are messy and sometimes they feel unacceptable, maybe even dangerous. Emotions are not dangerous in their own right, but they can certainly feel that way sometimes. When our children experience emotional outbursts, our bodies are similarly triggered. We enter into the same fight, flight or freeze mode. The brain sends a signal to release stress hormones when we are angry, like adrenaline and cortisol. Greater amounts of blood are being rushed to our muscles to prepare for physical exertion as our heart rate, blood pressure, and respirations increase. Your brain views the tantrum in front of you as a threat and while three-year-olds can act like wild animals, they are not often threatening. Therefore the following questions remain, how do we simultaneously remain calm even when our bodies impel us to react and help keep our children calm in the process?
Your child’s anger isn’t bad, and neither is yours. As parents, we model how to navigate through big emotions safely for our children. For example, swallowing the anger we feel and allowing it to fester under the surface could lead to an outburst directed at those we love, or inwards towards depression. Working through anger in healthy and productive ways can be a challenge. Heavens knows I am provided with opportunities for practice every day and sometimes I respond like I hope to and sometimes I don’t. One of the most important jobs as a therapist and a mom is to model acceptance and comfort with all emotions and healthy ways of working through them.
Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting says that, “Children get upset often, because of their inexperience and cognitive immaturity. It’s our ability to stay calm when they are upset. That helps them develop the neural pathways to calm themselves.” In her book, Dr. Markham offers guidance for how we can stay calm, present and connected during moments of stress with our children.
Sounds easy enough, right? Not exactly, but here are a few tips for finding your inner Zen and calming ourselves when our kids get upset.
Take A Time Out (yes, you.)
It is very difficult to move through an emotional situation thoughtfully if you are angry, therefore it is best to focus first on calming your system. You can splash cold water on your face or take ten slow deep breaths starting down in your gut. This sensory input can help stop your internal cycle and begin to calm the revving engine.
Release The Angry Energy
First and foremost, in the event (or build up) of an emotional outburst, stop and remind yourself that it’s not an emergency. One of my favorite strategies for diffusing negative energy is to put on some music and have a dance party. My girls are particularly fond of Katy Perry’s song Roar and singing along enables me to use my voice, move my body and release the energy that’s built up, out, out, out. It also leaves us smiling and giggling which forces our systems to relax, a win-win.
Additionally, I love a good run (the harder and faster the better!) to release any lingering frustration.
Lastly, there are certain times when I tell the kids “I’ll be right back” and slip into my room and scream into a pillow as loud as I can. If my children ask, I explain that I was about to turn into grumpy mama and had to let my anger out. Sharing this information with your children, especially if they ask, allows them to see that it’s normal to feel angry and stepping away for a quiet moment can be a smart solution.
Change Your Thoughts, Your Feelings Will Follow
Your child is acting out; perhaps she’s hungry, tired, or upset about something that occurred earlier in the day. For any number of reasons, she’s craving more physical reassurance from you today and needs your help, but it feels like she’s doing this to you. Sometimes it can be hard to recognize or accept, but negative behavior sometimes is really her way of asking for help. In this case, ask yourself– how can you move towards compassion and empathy?
Listen To And Learn From Your Anger
Remember, emotions are informative and exist to help keep us safe. Once you’ve taken a moment to calm down, tune into what is really bothering you. Anger is often a cover for more vulnerable feelings like sadness and fear, maybe there is something else you need to address or let go of. Ask yourself what’s under those feelings of anger before you release that energy upon your tantruming child.
Wait to disciplining
When you struggle to remain calm, it’s more likely you will threaten with consequences you might not actually want to follow through with. Avoid any physical force or threats and remember that you are modeling how to deal with big emotions through your tone, your actions and your words. It is important to calm your body first so you can be thoughtful instead of reactive when your child experiences any type of frustrating behavior.
Parenting is no easy task, so be kind to yourself and remember we all have days we’d rather soon forget.
* If you find yourself frequently struggling to contain your anger, please seek counseling. Go to PsychologyToday.com to find a therapist near you. You can also search based on your specific insurance plan.