Editor’s Note: This guest post comes from the folks at EmpoweringParents.com, a wonderful community of parents, teachers, grandparents, mental health professionals and caretakers. The writer is one of the site’s contributing experts. — Susan
By Debbie Pincus, MS, LMHC
There’s no question about it: Working a full-time job and raising children is tough. What makes it even more challenging is handling angry, defiant and screaming kids after a long day in the office. It often leaves many moms feeling anxious, stressed and scared. Will their behavior keep getting worse? Is there anything that can help stop the chaos? And is it really possible to stop feeling triggered when your child pushes your buttons?
I know what it’s like, because I’ve worked and raised three kids myself. There are times when you feel guilty and want to be a more effective and less reactive parent, but you don’t know how. We tend to react, explode and scream at our children because we’re tired and think it’s the only way to get them to listen and behave. If they are yelling, we yell louder and a power struggle occurs. We think that the only way to assert our parental authority is by raising our voice, but in reality all that does is give our power away.
By letting our reaction depend on our children, we lose the chance to be an objective, calm parent. We send the message, “I am vulnerable and out of control, and I need you to help me feel better.” And when kids know their parent is vulnerable, it makes it easier for them to get what they want. It also can make them feel anxious and reactive, too.
To get back in control and be a calm parent, here are some tips that will help you change the dynamic between you and your child:
Accept that your child is an individual—and separate from you. We don’t always like the choices our kids make or the way they behave. That’s okay. The important thing to remember is that your child isn’t you, so don’t take things personally. Creating an emotional distance will allow you to be a better parent.
Losing it is not allowed. Promise yourself that you will no longer let yourself get upset. Be mindful of when your child tries to push your buttons, and remember that it’s your choice to lose it or stay calm. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes some practice—keep trying! It will get easier the longer you stick with
Stay calm by finding the space between action and reaction. Specifically, you can find calm if you force yourself to pause between your child’s action and your reaction. We’re often used to those “knee-jerk” responses, but identifying triggers and then controlling your response will make a big difference in how
Here’s an example of how you can apply these tips: Let’s say you’re driving home and anticipating that your 13-year-old hasn’t completed after-school chores like you asked. Your heart is beginning to race. But, you tell yourself that you’re not going to explode like before. You arrive home, and just like you expected, your kid hasn’t done chores and instead is on the couch playing video games. When you ask if he will do his chores before dinner, he tells you to leave him alone. Normally, this would set you off and you’d scream back. Instead, you pause. You take as much time as you need to slow down. This could take a minute, or ten. You may even leave the room until you get your bearings and breathe through the emotion. Then when you feel calm, and he has stopped screaming, you re-approach the situation and say, “This needs to get done now.”
When parents use these tips and begin controlling their reaction, their children become calm, too. Calm is contagious. I know parenting isn’t always perfect, and sometimes even when you’re in control, your children will still defy you. They are who they are, and that’s okay. By using these tips and committing to being a calm parent, you’re showing your children how to handle their emotions in a better way—and helping them become healthy adults in the future, too.
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.