Jack, my 4-year-old, can seriously push my buttons. Sometimes I think this is his sole purpose in life. I have really struggled to stay calm lately. Losing my temper always fuels a negative situation. I have often felt reading gentle parenting books and posts that we need to be robots with no feelings or responses. I do agree that our responses make or break the situation, but we must remember that we are human and cannot act perfect all the time. I try really hard and when I mess up I focus on apologizing to Jack and reconnecting. Connection is the only way we will make progress. In anything. Forever. Here are some of my personal tips on keeping cool when things start to heat up.
- Alter the Inner Thoughts: Losing my shit is always connected to the things I say to myself. During a stressful moment I might tell myself, “I can’t handle these kids,” “I am not cut out for this parenting thing!” “Jack is always making things difficult,” “I don’t have time to deal with this shit!” And on and on with berating myself and my child. This is like throwing gasoline onto a small fire. Soon enough I am exploding my flames all over the room. I try to change the way I am thinking when I see a situation brewing. “I can handle this,” “I am a good mom,” “Jack is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time,” “I have plenty of time, this is the place I am needed most,” “I want to be kind and help my child, that what he needs from me now.”
- Stop, Drop and Roll: Not literally, but what helps me in a tight spot is to remember I can back out at any point. I do not have to stay in this negative space. Once I catch my thoughts I can see the situation more clearly. And there is always a way out. Short of having to grab a toddler out of the street most situations are escalating because of my irritation at Jack not doing what I want him to do like get dressed or stop kicking the door. Stop what I am doing, put everything down and step away. I can start over again in a few minutes. I always have the choice to let it go. It’s really, really hard, like so hard for me to let things go even for a second, but it’s also kind f freeing that I can have this power over how things go in my own life.
- Breathe In Breathe Out: Deep breathing is one of the most useful ways to ward off that fight or flight response we get when we are triggered by a perceived threat. For me the struggle is to remember to do it. I can get so wrapped up in my agenda and anger that I choose not to stop and change the course of this situation. As I feel the flames rising from my chest I try to imagine my deep, slow breaths are putting those flames out like a fire hose. The visual imagery is an added bonus to refocusing my mind.
- Little Needs: Now I need to figure out what my child needs in this moment. There are always needs. Big ones, small ones, needs that we understand, needs we don’t quite get, so many needs. It’s my job to figure out what he needs so that I can meet these needs. Focusing on his needs can take the final fizzle out of my fire. Maybe he needs me to slow down, or speak more kindly to him or give him a hug or extra attention. Maybe he had a tough time in swim class and I didn’t notice or I hurt his feelings by accident. Maybe he has been trying to tell me something for last half hour and I keep putting him off. Now that I can focus on his needs I can meet them and we can move on.
- Connection, Connected, Connecting: This type of post is fun to write because it is a slice right out of my life, but it is really important for me to keep emphasizing that I am just a mom like you. I am not an expert in keeping cool, but I am a Social Worker with tons of experience with kids and big emotions. I lose my shit all the time because I am human. And I recognize and respect how important it is to go back and reconnect because this is what relationships are built on, what change is executed with and what raising kids is all about. They learn from us and not just the good stuff. They learn from our mistakes too. You can’t stop making mistakes, but you can show your child how to reconnect. I screw up a lot. And then I calm myself down, ask Jack if I can speak to him and I apologize. I tell him that I know it’s scary when mommy gets angry and yells, that I don’t want to scare him or hurt his feelings and that I will try to do better next time. I make sure to stay with him for several minutes after this and let him take the conversation where he wants it to go. Whether that’s asking questions or showing me his trucks.
Good luck mamas and papas! You’re going to need it. And you’re going to do great.