“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” –Joseph Campbell
Once when my son was having an embarrassingly loud and horrific tantrum at the grocery store, without thinking, I told him I was going to take back the cookie he had just eaten. Of course it was a ridiculous thing to say, and after it came out of my mouth, I laughed out loud. But I was also horrified with myself. One look at his innocent and perplexed expression took my breath away. I didn’t like the feeling that I, his sole protector in that moment, had just hurt him. My best attempts at preventing these mindless moments may be impossible to forgo altogether, but they do happen less frequently. Check out these reminders on how to avoid losing all control.
1) Remove yourself from the situation. Just go away for a spell and breathe. Don’t run away (although that may sound nice) but gently step away from the fire for a breath or two…go find peace in the bathroom, take a shower, sit on the toilet, hide in a closet, anything to just get away before your anger melts into saying or doing something you will painstakingly regret later.
2) Try to get in touch with the need underneath their pesky behavior. If your child is really misbehaving and getting on your last nerve, try asking yourself, “What is he or she asking of me in this moment?” Could it be that he or she just wants your undivided attention and complete presence for a moment? Maybe they are desperately in need of a cuddle, a hug, or a kiss.
3) Help them identify what they are feeling (and what you are feeling.) “I understand you are frustrated, but it is time to go.” Last week when my children were both mad at me for telling them it was time to leave a restaurant, my daughter told me she was frustrated, angry, and sad. I had to smile, because we were all feeling irritable and overtired. At least she voiced how she was feeling and knew it was okay to feel it. It also seemed to dispel some of the palpable tension in the air.
4) The art of distraction with ridiculousness. If your little love muffin is annoying you beyond repair, just muster up something incredibly ridiculous to take their mind off of whatever is bugging them (and you.) Transform the anger into absurdity. Make them laugh. Say something really weird. For instance, last night in the bathtub my kids were carrying on about something that had no relevance to anything whatsoever. I walked into the bathroom turned off the lights, shined a flashlight on their faces, and started singing a terribly offensive operatic song. They looked like deer caught in headlights, but they stopped arguing and started laughing. (A quick cautionary note about this technique, you have to be willing to look and act like a complete idiot…the stranger, the better.) And also on a more serious note, humor can feel dismissive, so tread lightly and know this is one that probably works better with younger kids. Sometimes using humor may just really irritate and further escalate the situation. But more times than not, humor is life saving!
5) Build up your resilience. It is hard in the heat of the moment to remember what you are supposed to do…should I breath, dance, count to ten? That is why it is so crucial to work on building up your tolerance to dealing with difficulties when there are none! When all is smooth, praise your kids (and yourself…repeatedly.) Building up resilience means taking care of ourselves by including time in our schedules for relaxing and having fun. We need support and breaks as parents. And we need a lot of both. Utilize the help of neighbors, teachers, families, therapists, babysitters, and friends. Then maybe when something does set us off, we will feel less overtaxed and less likely to explode.
And if and when you lose your cool, use the opportunity as a teachable moment for your kids. Personally, I think it is nice for our kids to know right off the bat that we are not perfect, we’re human. By being accountable and apologizing, we teach our kids to do the same. We lead by example by showing them how to pick up the pieces because…we all fall DOWN! And then we get back up with the tender thought that we are all trying to do the best we can.