If there’s anything I know about, it’s losing it with my kids and feeling awfully guilty about it 2 seconds later. I’ve written about it a few times on this blog and probably have many more scenarios I could share, but I will spare you.
What makes it worse for me is that I really do know better! I have many great tools and yet I still fall back on this old, useless tool of yelling, throwing a grown-up tantrum and making pointless threats.
Why? Because I’m not taking care of myself. Because I’m not always practicing being mindful. Because I have set it up in my mind that a particular moment is going to be hard…and then that moment lives up to those expectations. Because I have expectations that the day will be wonderful and when it’s not, I am disappointed. Because I have unresolved triggers from childhood, my first marriage, or just life in general. Oh, yes, in any given moment there are myriad reasons why I (or you) may not be parenting the way we want to be in any given moment.
But even if we behave awfully, or just lose it for a moment, we can’t wallow in those feelings. We need to make repairs and reset the course of the day. We need to get back to the real us and the real connection with our children. But how?
I think that I’m not alone in feeling these frustrations and wanting to make changes. My posts on keeping calm when you want to explode and triggers, tantrums and mommy time outs are two of the most widely read and shared things I’ve written on this blog.
Even if we are all working on the introspection to untangle triggers, the deep breathing, the stepping away when we feel stressed, there may still be times when we screw up and yell or make a snarky remark or sigh and roll our eyes. We’re human and we make mistakes. But my goal of deeply respecting these two, little people who need me, trust me and love me unconditionally is more important than any frustration I may feel momentarily.
But sometimes it can be hard to let go of the irritation. Sometimes I feel stubborn and want to hold on to my anger. I feel justified in my annoyance in that moment. But I know that not only is it not useful to anyone to stay angry, it’s actually damaging to my relationship with my children.
1. Be Kind. Rewind.
One of the best things I ever taught my children was the concept of rewinding. This was probably way easier to teach in the days of the VHS tape (where the slogan at the local video store was “Be Kind. Rewind”), but nevertheless, your children will get the point.
At whatever point you manage to catch yourself doing things poorly – whether it’s just that you notice your connection is “off” with your child or if you have already reached the point where you have been yelling and throwing things – you can stop and ask for a rewind.
When my children were little I used this when they would get stuck in a mood or seemed unable to get out of a struggle with each other. As they were too young to really get into a discussion about it, I just modeled the idea: “Oh, you really wanted that toy and he won’t let you play with it. And then you cried and hit him. Now he is crying, too! I think we need a rewind. Let’s do the rewind dance!” and I would do it by myself. Now that they’re older, they are often the ones who ask for the rewind whenever they feel the disconnect or when mommy is especially grumpy. Rewinding is also an awesome tool when you suddenly realize you’re stuck in a power struggle.
Just the act of doing something silly and out of the ordinary will likely alter the mood, but I love connecting it in their minds with starting all over again. Our “rewind dance” is just us being goofy, wiggling our bodies, rolling our arms rather like John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” (minus the finger pointing in the air) while saying “rewind, rewind, rewind”.
We then stop suddenly, smile brightly and say, “Good Morning!” We continue the goofiness by recounting some of the days happy events as if they are just happening now: “Time to wake up! Would you like eggs for breakfast? Let’s go to the park and play on the swings. Then let’s make sandcastles that are so tall they touch the sky!” and so on.
By the time we’ve “re-lived” the day all the way back to the current moment, the bad feelings have dissipated and we can reconnect and talk about what they were feeling or having trouble with.
2. Recharge Your Patience
Obviously, as parents we each need different things to allow us to feel recharged. However, it’s not always possible to have 10 hours of sleep or a yoga class every day. So, when I am able to notice that I am feeling depleted and on edge, I have to ask for help. Most of the time there is no one to help me but my kids, so we came up with this very simple idea.
When nothing is going as intended (and things have gone “a bit pear shaped” as my British friend, Jackie, likes to say), you may feel frustrated, annoyed, and like you’ve got very little left before you blow. Try to catch yourself before you boil over, describe to your children how you are feeling and tell them that you need help to “recharge your patience”.
Verbalizing your feelings reconnects both hemispheres of your brain and helps calm you down.
It also helps your children understand that parents have feelings as well.
Doing something unexpected often halts whatever unwanted behavior is happening with the kids.
Asking for their help gets them engaged and focused on something other than the behavior that was frustrating you.
Now that you’ve asked for the help, give your index finger (or multiple fingers if there are multiple kids) to your child and ask him to hold it as if his hand were the socket that your finger plugs into. I usually add a few sound effects of buzzing and shake my body as if receiving electric shocks…which never fails to get a laugh (another mood buster).
Moving your body this way is not unlike an animal “shaking it off” after a negative encounter; it releases some of the negative energy stored in your body. Plus, a little goofiness goes a long to way to relieving tension and changing the energy for everyone involved!
3. Go To Alaska.
As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t use time outs in our family. But we do our best to continue to teach the children that at times everyone needs to cool down…even mommy. When the children were little they created a “cool down corner” that they named Alaska (as it’s very cool there. Get it?).
It’s not a punishment to go there; it’s a place to relax, collect yourself, regain composure and chill out until you’re ready to join the group again. Sometimes it’s nice to be there alone, sometimes you want company.
Make yourself your own cool down corner and be sure the space is comfortable and inviting. If you are headed there while home alone with the kids, you will probably not have a long time so have whatever you need there that will help you calm down and able to remember your priorities. It can be anything:
- A framed photo of your children looking their happiest.
- A gratitude journal which you can flip through to remember all you’re grateful for.
- A memory box filled with little trinkets you’ve collected during happy outings with your children.
- A favorite quote that always brings you back to a more present state of mind.
- Music that helps you relax.
The earlier you recognize that you need to go to “Alaska”, the better. If you yell in the heat of the moment “I need to get away from you and go cool down!”, you’re just going to have a screaming child clinging to you for dear life. Because, of course, that kind of response from a parent feels life threatening to a child. However, if you start to notice you are tensing up, instead of ignoring the feeling, verbalize it.
You will need way less time to get past your initial tensing jaw than you will need to repair a full blown temper tantrum in which you made yourself and your children all cry. A little time in Alaska, coupled with some deep breathing, and you should be ready to re-connect with your family.
4. Reframe Negativity
Have you ever looked at a room full of scattered toys and thought, “What a mess!” Or listened to your children running through the house, yelping loudly and thought, “Stop making so much noise!” Or sat with your child as she has a tantrum and thought, “She is so difficult. She makes things so hard when she screams and cries.”
Consider that if you could stop and reframe those negative thought patterns you would drastically change not only the way you see your life, but the way you experience it.
That “messy room” could actually be viewed as a sign of fun being had.
The loud children could be looked at as joyful children.
The difficult child could be seen instead as one who has big emotions she needs help understanding.
Try making a list of all the things that make you frustrated, angry, unhappy. Then see how you can re-frame each of them. Some may feel like a stretch, some you may need help with in order to see them as positives, but don’t give up on it.
I catch myself getting irritated (especially with noise) and because I have been working on re-framing for a while, I am now able to more quickly switch my thinking to focusing on my positive version of what’s happening. I can instantly feel my body relax and soften when I do.
This doesn’t mean that I let my kids run wild or that my house is a mess (well, sometimes it is). It just means that by re-framing, I allow myself the opportunity to approach each of those things from a calm state of mind and am able to be the connected parent I know I can be. It felt awkward at first, but with repetition, it has become more natural.
Dr. Laura Markham explains this idea of training your mind in a recent post on her blog:
“Because we can’t switch our minds off, our inner critics are constantly looping through negative thought patterns. Brain research shows that our minds actually follow certain patterns that get etched into our neural pathways with frequent use. So when our child does something we don’t like, it starts a cascade of negative thoughts: ‘Oh, no….He’s doing that again…He never listens when I….There’s no way to get him to…..Why does he always…..I am so sick and tired of this….If I had behaved that way when I was his age….I need to nip this in the bud or he’ll be completely out of control in the teen years…..I must be a terrible parent…’
Sound familiar? The bad news is, many of us walk around in a low level of negativity. It’s so easy for our children to set it off. And the things we say or do from the grip of fear never give us the results we want.
The good news is, you can disarm your inner critic. You can develop the mindfulness to notice when you’re in a bad mood, and take steps to feel better. You can even “re-train” your mind to to make appreciation a habit, which has been proven to make us happier. Not surprisingly, you’ll find that you feel more peaceful inside, which allows you to be a more patient, compassionate parent.”
5. Give Yourself Visual Inspiration
Sometimes we all need reminders. As much as we may know that remaining composed is a better way to parent, we can still get triggered and lose control. If you find you’re doing it often, or doing it often at one particular time (say, during the bedtime routine), then giving yourself a visual reminder of what you are trying to achieve can be very helpful.
- Make a vision board. Use photos and quotes that sum up your parenting goals and hang it in a place where you see it every day. Or hang it in the place where you need the most help staying grounded and in the right frame of mind.
- If arts and crafts aren’t your thing, you can simply hang Post-It notes around the house with words on them that will help you. “Nothing Is An Emergency” is one of my favorite reminders!
- Make a public declaration to your children of your intention to change your behavior. I recently took Dr. Laura Markham’s suggestion of taking a “Vow of Yellibacy”. My kids have created a chart that they put stickers on at the end of the day if they feel I’ve done a good job of speaking respectfully to them that day. Having that visual reminder out in public is a good way for me to keep my tone in check!
The most important ingredient in all of these methods is forgiveness. You need to be able to forgive yourself in those moments when you are far from perfect. Having a few tricks that help bring you back to being the parent you want to be will allow you to have some sense of control in an otherwise very out of control moment! These are just a few of the ones I use to help me. I’d love to know what you think and what you might add! Leave me a comment below – I’m sure you’ve got some great ideas as well!