Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Keeping Calm When You Want To Explode

Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person 
and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, 
and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.
~ Aristotle

This Aristotle quote is a favorite of mine, and I have often kept it in the back of my head when trying to teach my children the concepts of emotional intelligence. Like so many things about parenting (or life, in general), words are easy, but action is so much harder. 

I don't think of myself as an angry person. Generally, I feel as though I am accommodating and understanding and very empathetic. I also have noticed that I can have a hairpin trigger; on occasion my anger has surprised and, frankly, disturbed me. 

I was saying to one of my sisters-in-law the other day that the aspect of parenting that most surprised me was how exposed your triggers become. Once I became a mother I began to see that there were aspects of my own childhood that I never considered to be painful or upsetting but which are suddenly scratched raw by something seemingly inconsequential that my children or husband does.

My kids were out of school for a few days the other week. By day three I found myself physically and emotionally exhausted; my patience was worn thin and I was so angry so often that both my children and I had our share of crying by the end of the day. After the kids finally went to bed, I managed to have an argument with my husband where I had such intense anger that I shocked myself (and perhaps, him as well). 

Where was all of this anger coming from? Why would I get so unreasonably mad at a 4-year old over something that was completely normal for a 4-year old to do? Yes, raising twins can be exceptionally difficult at times and yes, I am aware of my low tolerance for chaos and noise, and yes, my daughter is in an exceptionally difficult "testing" phase, but the fact that she wouldn't stop needling me while I tried for the 10th time to explain the rules of a game to her whining brother shouldn't cause me to explode. It really shouldn't. But it did. And I know that there is more to it than just my being tired or overwhelmed. I know this because the amount of anger I felt was disproportionate to the act committed. 

So, I lay in bed this morning and I thought about my pent up anger. What am I angry about? It's certainly not that my daughter kept interrupting me. What exactly was happening? I decided to dissect it.
  1. I asked her a few times to please wait until I was done, but I wasn't being listened to (HUGE trigger for me from childhood). 
  2. I was being pulled in two directions at once as I was trying to talk to our son, and was being distracted by our daughter who also wanted my attention. Thus, I wasn't able to pay attention to either of them properly (being needed in two places, not able to give either my full attention for me equals not being able to do something well. This is a HUGE childhood issue for me. Interestingly, I was also triggered because by not being able to pay attention to either of them fully in that moment, I felt I wasn't listening to them which brings up my own issues! I know....crazy).
  3. Having effective methods for handling my children's behaviors has become a protective method I developed. The sense of satisfaction and reassurance I feel when I say or do something and they respond favorably calms me and makes me feel in control. When they don't respond to my bag of tricks I feel lost and as if I am free falling (loss of control, HUGE childhood issue).
  4. I am sensing a pattern here.
  5. The combination of these three things increases my stress level greatly and I become flooded. When I'm flooded, I can't think clearly and I am primarily thinking with my primitive brain. I simply react to make the stress stop. I act like an angry child. I threaten, I raise my voice, I slam a door, I throw something. Then I collapse in tears because I know this is not how I want to be. I apologize, I attempt to explain without blaming them, I ask for forgiveness and always, always receive it. 
  6. I start again to try and do things better.
  7. The process starts all over.
The process starts all over again because I still have those triggers. Usually I do handle myself better, but even one time of losing it is one time too many. How do I stop the triggers from controlling me? How do I keep my patience and my calm? 

When Mommy Needs A Time Out
I actually don't believe in time outs; but I do think everyone, grownups included, needs to cool down on occasion. Here are some of the things I use to keep my sense of calm. It takes a lot of practice and I believe calming methods need to become part of an every day ritual, like meditation - especially if you are as tightly wound as I am. Many of these ideas I am teaching to my own children as the reality is, we have the exact same emotions our children do - we just have had more years of practice regulating them.
Deep Breathing. It works wonders.
  • Know Your Triggers. Dissecting your anger as I did in this instance is so helpful in understanding where your triggers are. Once you know your triggers, you can help yourself by either not putting yourself in those situations or asking for help if you can't avoid them. If you can't figure your triggers out yourself, ask someone you trust or a therapist for help. 
  • Express Your Emotions. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to narrate your feelings. Way before you lose control, check in with yourself. Notice if you are getting agitated, anxious, short tempered. Verbalize this - even with your children. "Mommy is getting really frustrated right now. I feel it in my stomach, it's getting tight. I am feeling hot, that means that I am feeling mad". This isn't a warning to your kids, you are simply offering this information in a descriptive tone. Just giving voice to your feelings begins to relieve some of the tension. It also helps your children begin to be able to notice where anger resides in their bodies and to then be able to express their anger in a more acceptable way. 
  • Deep breathing. This is an especially effective method if you get overly anxious (as I do), but it works any time your brain is flooded. Any type of deep breathing is good medicine. However, if you can learn the 6 second method it can be exponentially more helpful. Putting one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest, fill your belly in the first 3 seconds (letting your stomach expand), then your chest in the last 3 seconds. When you exhale, do it through your mouth and use the 6 second rule again: release the air first from your upper chest in the first 3 seconds, and then the air from your belly in the next 3 seconds. It's actually the out breath that regulates your brain when you are flooded and you can sense your body calming itself as you breathe out. Begin teaching your children deep breathing as a way to calm down as early on as possible. My kids use it regularly.
  • Know Your Limits. My tolerance level is pretty high. Both for pain and for stress. I can take a lot. This is a good thing in many ways, but it also works against me because if I am not paying attention I don't notice that I am getting overloaded until it is just too late. I keep trying to handle the situation on my own, getting more and more stressed, and then I explode. However, when I am centered and paying attention to me (and not just to everyone else) I will notice that I am getting anxious or that a situation is going to go badly soon and I can call in the reinforcements or I can simply remove myself for a moment to collect my thoughts. Being a mom of twins means needing to keep 50 plates spinning at once, but don't pride yourself on being able to do it all - ask for help before you become a weeping, frustrated mess.
  • Recharge Your Batteries. I know I am way more patient and way better at keeping my triggers in check when I have had enough sleep and have eaten well that day and have had a little time to myself. I know, you are thinking, "Yeah, I remember those days. That was before I had children!" So if you can't get all of those things in (I know I can't) then find at least one thing that helps keep your batteries charged up. I make sure to get a little down time during the day where I am alone and no one needs anything from me. It's a priority that I've set and I make sacrifices in other areas to get that. I would happily trade it for 10 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep; alas, I think it may be years before I get that. Find your daily thing. Maybe it's catching up on the phone with a friend, a therapy appointment, exercise, a quick cat nap...whatever it is that makes you feel like your best self that day, DO IT. Your family will thank you.
We will all lose our tempers and have moments when we are far from our best selves. For me, the key is to own those transgressions. I always talk to my children afterwards and explain that grownups make mistakes sometimes and that it's not ok for anyone to yell at them or to make them feel sad. If it happens, I tell them, the person needs to apologize. I know that when our son says to me "calm down, mommy" that he feels safe expressing himself and entitled to ask me to act in a better manner. I am not a perfect parent, but every day my children teach me how to be a better one.

What about you? Do you ever lose it? What works best for you when you feel like your emotions are getting the best of you? I'd love to know your advice!

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

I've been nominated as one of the top 25 Parents With Multiples bloggers by Circle Of Moms! But I need your votes! And you can vote once a day until 5/30/2011. Click here or click the button to the left. Thank you!

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24 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

We're going out of town soon. I'm trying to to explode or implode!

Million Dollar Mamma said...

My friend just posted this to her FB page and it couldn't have come at a better time. I totally lost it with my 3 yo yesterday and I am still recovering from the heart ache. I feel deeply guilty about loosing it. Thank you for normalizing this for me. :)

The Twin Coach said...

Christina, I hope your trip goes well. Deep breathing...don't explode! :)
Million Dollar Mama, I'm so glad you found me. I totally know how you feel - the feeling after losing it is the worst. This was a really hard post for me to share, but I'm so glad I did because so many people have shared their own stories & showed me that I'm not alone!

Fawn said...

I definitely have days where the fuse is wayyyyy shorter than usual. I don't have any good tips for coping -- sometimes I just manage to tell myself to cool it. I will definitely keep your techniques in mind!

Nina said...

So interesting and timely. My son is big into asking "are you mad" when my tone of voice isn't totally happy. Sometimes I'm just distracted but often I am at him Doing something he know he shouldnt or whatever. Just this morning before reading this I was laying in bed thinking wow, I say and am mad far more than I like. I mean he's 3.5, why am I expecting so much more. And what purpose is being served by me being mad. Is it changing his behavior? Accomplishing anything besides upsetting him and prolonging my anger when I so want to just let it go. I need to figure out how not to be that way. Part of it is I'm super stressed out with life things I can't control and so -ridiculously I know - have excess anger in other areas of life. Anyway thank you for this andfor giving me add'l food for thought.

Monica said...

I am so glad I found your blog. This couldn't have come at a better time. I think so often I focus on avoiding my kids' triggers and overlook my own. Thank you so much for helping me look inward and realize I have my own triggers that I can learn to avoid or control. It's interesting how often I find myself in the middle of a power struggle with my 5 year old and as it escalates I ask myself why and how it ever went this far and when did I turn into such a rotten parent. I desperately want my children to grow up to be kind, responsible, thoughtful adults but I am sure that I am expecting way too much from them for the ages they are. I have consciously tried to become a more calm and forgiving parent. Thanks so much for your guidance in how to avoid the anger I have been feeling both towards my children and myself.

The Twin Coach said...

Fawn, thanks for the note. I know what you mean about the short fuse. :-) I hope some of my methods work - report back if you try them!

Nina, it does show how in tune kids are when they can tell by your tone that something is different. I love that you are noticing that you're angry more tha you would like to be. I think being aware of that is the first step to changing that dynamic. And you hit the nail on the head when you say "why am expecting so much more"? Remembering they're children is key! Thank you for such an honest note.

Monica, I'm so glad you found me, too! Those power struggles are the worst, arent they? You & Nina notice the same point: that youbare expecting too much of your children. I think I do the same. Please don't beat yourself up. I believe the fact that you are struggling with this shows that you're far from being a rotten parent, but are, in fact, doing your best. I'm so glad to be of any help in the matter.

Love to you all,

Dana said...

It was a hectic weekend around here and I finally found time to sit down and read this. I knew from the headline when you posted it last week that it was one I wanted to read. You did not disappoint.
I have absolutely no advice. I've developed an exceedingly short fuse as our family grew in number and NOISE and especially when I first learned I was going through premature menopause (at 38). I'm taking new supplements and doing other things that seem to have calmed the ever present rage, but I'm still left with the trigger of four children under 6 who demand/need attention at once, etc.
I think it's helpful to keep in mind that just about every mother flips out. I always offer a sincere apology after, address their fears, answer their questions and try my hardest not to repeat the behavior. But, of course, it happens again. Thanks for this post. It's a reminder to be aware and be better. I'm going to try the breathing trick next time.

The Twin Coach said...

Hi Dana, I'm so glad you found the time to read it & can relate! Or maybe I should be sorry that you can relate. ;-) I do think remembering that we're not alone is super helpful. And, like you, remembering to connect & explain when we blow it does help I believe. Thanks so much for the note!

MarĂ­a Corcuera said...

I love your blog, thank you for sharing your fantastic ideas. Greetings from my creative activities blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post. I am a mother of a 4 year old daughter and two year old twin boys! I have 3 wonderful and healthy kids but find myself getting frustrated more than I should. I want my kids to grow up with lots of love and laughter not me flipping out. It's a terrible cycle I get angry, feel guilty, and then promise myself I won't get that upset again. I've never thought about taking time to look at my triggers and work on them as well as my kids. Again, thank you for such an honest and helpful post.

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for this post, I experienced the same emotions & the same post incident review. For me, not being heard, feeling split between the needs of two children (ignoring my own), & feeling lost, out of control & useless as a parent when my usual methods for connecting with my son fails.


Jean said...

I needed this post and it came at just the right time. The frustrations I feel with my 2 year olds and then the guilt for snapping at them, weighs so heavy on me. I tried so hard and for so long to have them, that I feel just awful for having those feelings. I will keep this close to me, but am also thankful to know I am not alone, which I feel so often.

Victoria said...


Thank you so much for your wonderful, honest, and most helpful posts. I found your blog through Facebook and I really love your posts and links. I too have boy/girl twins who will turn 4 this February. They are really good kids who in general have good self-control, but who do have their tantrums from time to time. We have been working on connecting with them in their right brains until the emotions settle and then talking it through once they can focus again. Today each of them at different times had one very big tantrum, and each of them screamed at me, "GO AWAY" as they ran away from me. I didn't know what to do. My instinct was to stick with them to tell them that I knew they they were upset and to try to voice for them why they were upset. But they kept either trying to hit me away or they would run away while yelling at me to "go away." How do you suggest connecting with a child in this situation? I am not scared of the anger or the sentiment that they told me to go away. It rolls off b/c I know that they are upset and they are needing to express their emotions. It was just so upsetting to me to see them so upset and not to feel like I could connect with either one of them in the heat of the moment. Do I leave them alone, or do I stick with them? It was also made more complicated when my son was crying over something much more minor while my daughter was in full tantrum mode. I know they both needed me and there was only one of me to go around. I will say that in the end when each of their storms cleared, I did connect with each of them in a positive way - the moment itself was just very rocky. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you all for your lovely notes. I am so glad this post was so helpful to so many. I think, from my own experience, what helps is knowing that I am not the only one who sometimes loses my temper is so comforting. Whenever I do, I feel like the worst parent in the world....but the fact that we recognize it and want to make repairs is what tell me we are actually very good parents. Parenting just can be hard. :)

Victoria, thank you so much for reading & following what I post about. That means so much to me. As for your kids & their tantrums...I feel for you. It's so hard to feel pulled in two directions!

To answer your questions, when your kids are pushing you away I believe it is important to both acknowledge what they are saying ("I hear that you want me to go away") but also let them know that you can be counted on. I like to tell my children something like "You are having really big emotions right now and that can feel scary (overwhelming etc.). I am not going to leave you alone with those big feelings. I will just be here (by the door, in the corner, on the bed...wherever you are close, but not on top of them) & if you need me I am here for you". Don't keep talking to them, let them have their feelings & just be there to help or hug when they are ready. I don't think at 4 years old they know what they need - even if they tell you "Go Away!", there is a part of them that is actually afraid that you WILL go away because they are having these emotions. Leaving them alone to tantrum, I believe, send the signal that when they feel that way they are unloveable.

When your kids are BOTH crying at the same time, you can only do as much as you can. Take deep breaths to make sure you are in a calm place. Remind yourself "This is NOT an emergency". Getting yourself calm before jumping in will make a huge difference in how you react. As for your children, if one seems less upset that the other, perhaps you can comfort that one by saying you understand that he/she is upset & that it is very important to you to give your full attention to the problem, but right now sister/brother is also having a hard time so once you have solved that issue, you will come back.

I applaud you for keeping you calm as much as you did in those moments - tantrums in stereo are VERY frustrating. Please let me know how things turn out & if this is helpful to you!

Jo said...

Thank you for this post - as many people have said it has come at a good time. My 13 month old is very physical/strong and ironically over the last few days I've noticed this as a trigger for me (although until reading your post just now i hadn't thought to call it this), as I was also starting to reflect as to WHY I was getting angry so quickly e.g. when I'm holding him to comfort him at night and he kicks or wriggles again and again. So, thank you, thank you, thank you for the post, and the breathing idea and knowing that i'm not alone in these feelings. I'm going to put this in my favourites folder so I can come back to it when I need a reminder :)

Mary Willis said...

I can, of course, resonate with all of this, when I was a mom of younger children. As a result of how limited my toolbox was, I got Montessori training, after watching the teachers at my children's school talk to children, I wanted to be able to "do that".

There are several tools that we use in the classroom that I think are helpful at home. Remember, we have 18 children, so there are a LOT of opportunities to feel overwhelmed, unable to adequately listen, and not listened to!

One tool called, in the Montessori curriculum: grace and courtesy(remember, she wrote a lot of this in the 19th century:). What this means is that we take time to teach skills that will help us all live together. This is done as a role play, and, of course, when we are not upset, so it is a game. One good one we use is : "how to interrupt". The way we do it is, the child touches us and says our name. Then waits. Sometimes we indicate, with one finger up, that they can wait and we will be with them in a minute. Other times it is just not a good time and we say, calmly, "I am not available." (of course, there are other teachers and children who can help them, as in your twin). If there aren't I still think it would help to say: "I cannot help you with that right now" and maybe give them a time when. When a child is asking for help doing something I know they can do, I might just say: no; as in "can you help me put on my mittens? No. (Smile, walk away) Amazing to see what they figure out to do!

Other things to practice, how to ask for something nicely, how to respond to a gift (even one you don't like), how to invite someone to play with you, how to respond to "no"...these are always playful and fun, and a little silly, and the children love to practice. If the other grownup will join in, it will be even more fun. The grownups like to act out the "bad way", to gales of laughter. "If Lynn asks me to do a work with her and I say,"no", does she hit me? Does she lie on the floor and scream? Does she throw a book at me?" (Gales of "NOOOOOOO!!!")

To be honest, we have to repeat and practice and repeat often. (Ages 2-4)AND we have to be consistent. At this time of the year, I will not respond to a child who just walks up and interrupts me, unless there is an emergency. They know better, and quickly correct themselves. When I am treated with respect, I am much more willing, when I AM available, to sit down and listen.

I find that teaching these skills allows me to attend adequately to those to whom I am talking, but give me permission not to be scammed or overwhelmed...

Take care,

Leslie said...

Such an honest, vulnerable post. yes, I have been there. Too many times than I care to admit. I love how you dissected it and found your triggers. Such a good practice! The beauty of all this is as we figure ourselves out, we can help our children in the same way.

Victoria said...

This is very helpful, Gina. Thank you! I like that it is a combination of giving them space and being there for them at the same time. They can be heard and attended to simultaneously. So I feel like I can meet the need that they and I have for me to be there for them, while respecting their space.

All throughout their infancy whenever I was on my own with them and they were both crying, I always used to say to myself, "I am one person, I am doing the best that I can, they are learning to wait and to share, and this too shall pass." This got me through alot!

I really love your blog and posts and will continue to enjoy reading them. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my questions!

Anonymous said...

Very helpful! Thank u for puting these things we all feel and live every day, in one from Nataly

kaelee said...

Wow. So needed. I kicked a hole in the wall this week. ME? Kick a hole in the wall? It sounds insane and scary. SO many things built up on top of me throughout the day, and by the end of it I lost it for a moment. Like you said, I then was so disappointed in myself that I began to cry. Some days are so, so easy. Some are so, so hard.

Anonymous said...

as most mom's have already said, i read this at a perfect time (i actually just found your blog today!). my 4yr old win and i ALL had tantrums yesterday and then they left for dad's house last night for the weekend. that resulted in my sitting here alone this morning, feeling very guilty. after reading this i called and talked to each one separately and explained that while how they were were acting (fighting, pushing each others' buttons, disobeying me) was not ok, mommy should have handled in very differently and that i was sorry for yelling so much. i told them that next time all 3 of us will find a much better way to deal with it and that i will keep myself under control. they, of course, forgave me. just as importantly, i forgave myself.

just wanted to say THANK YOU! we've been hitting some rough patches lately, and with preschool coming to a close for the summer, ive been worried about how i'll be able to find more "me" time (as a stay at home mom) to regroup. i know i'll be re-reading this many times in the future :)

Ang Meltingmoments said...

You have just described me to a T. Everything feeling and issue you talk about. I am also a mum to twins :-) loved reading this. I try to do the deep breathing. I also end up giving myself a time out and crying into my pillow.
I hate feeling that angry and when I do blow I always feel one hundred times worse from the guilt. That is not the parent I am or want to be.
Feeling pulled in to many directions and being wanted by two people at the same time and feeling like you're not giving either of them what they need and your full attention is so hard.

Anonymous said...

I calm down by trying to see the situation from my kids point of view,and by reminding myself they won't be small much longer and its worth digging deep to find patience while they are little. It's a unique chance to give them a good upbringing and be a good example on how to manage emotions so I don't want to blow it. Also I remind myself how wonderful they are and how they deserve my respect and not to be bullied.

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