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After a year of working and schooling from home, parents are burned out. That can make it difficult to calm in the moment when kids are irritating, disrespectful, or just loud.
According to kids news agency,”The truth is that we don’t lose our tempers because we’re weak parents or bad parents or we don’t love our kids enough, or whatever unhelpful story parents are telling themselves. Rather, we lose it because we’re overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, frustrated, confused,” said Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mother of two and author of “How to Stop Losing Your Sh-t With Your Kids. “Our buttons are huge and super sensitive, so when our kids come along and push them, we lose it almost immediately.”
Advice like “take a deep breath” isn’t particularly helpful when you’re already at the point of losing your temper. Instead, changing your mindset beforehand can keep communicating flowing. Here’s how real parents, and parenting experts, are keeping their cool more than a year into the pandemic.
Identify your triggers
We all have things that set us off. Knowing what triggers you can make it easier to intervene early, Naumburg said.
“Figure out your red flags and respect them. We all have our ‘tells’ — the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and bodily sensations that let us know we’re about to lose our tempers,” she said.
When you find yourself clenching your fists, do anything besides blowing up at your child. Jump around, make a funny face, or — Naumburg’s personal favorite — cluck like a chicken. “Literally anything will work, as long as it’s not making you more upset,” she said.
Stay level-headed, but don’t hide your emotion
No one wants to yell at their kids, but expressing emotion in a healthy way can be beneficial, said Dr. Richard Brucker, a pediatrician and dad to a four-year-old.
“By staying level-headed, you are teaching your children how to communicate with others in a respectful way, even when feeling upset,” Brucker said. “But being level-headed does not mean that you need to be happy and zen all the time. It can be a powerful tool to show your kids your emotions, especially when you are able to place a label on the feeling.”
The important thing is to emphasize that your child is not the reason for the emotion you are feeling, their actions are. Instead of saying “You’re really irritating me by screaming,” you can say, “I feel very irritated when I have to listen to screaming.”
Give your kids permission to help
Sometimes, kids see us teetering on the edge before we notice it ourselves. Giving them a way to intervene can be empowering. Heather Osterman-Davis, a mom of a seven-year-old in New York, made a hand signal that she and her daughter can use to indicate that the conversation needs to be paused.
“It’s kind of an accordion movement with our hands and when either of us makes it we have to take a few deep breaths together no questions asked, no excuses,” Osterman-Davis said.
Carrie, a mom of a two-year-old in Louisiana who asked to omit her last name to preserve her child’s privacy, takes a similar approach. She told her son to speak up when he thinks she needs to take a deep breath.
“It snaps me back into my more rational mind and helps me see me from my kids’ point of view,” Carrie said. “Plus he gets to see a coping mechanism for hard feelings modeled.”
Cut down on multitasking
Most often, parents get grouchy when they’re trying to do too much, which leaves them overtired and overtaxed, Naumburg said.
“Slowing down and focusing on just one thing will help decrease your stress and help you stay calm,” Naumburg said. “I know it’s not possible to single-task all the time, but it’s a super powerful strategy for staying calm amidst the chaos.”
When Kelly Morse, of Virginia, finds herself losing patience with her kids, seven and four, she pretends to be her child’s preschool teacher.
“I temporarily pretend that these kids are in my class and I need to take care of them in a loving way,” Morse said. “This perspective-via-pretending has been really helpful, as it changes my point of view: by pretending to be someone else for a bit, I am able to gain distance to see them as little people doing age-appropriate responses, instead of getting caught up in the moment and in my frustration.”
Brucker incorporates imaginary play to get his son to do tasks like cleaning his room.
“We both have smiles on our faces and that little bit of effort finding a way to make the boring task of relocating to his room paid off in dividends,” Brucker said.
Say sorry and forgive yourself
If you do lose your temper with your kids, it’s important to apologize and own up to your mistakes.
Ambreen Ali, a New Jersey mom of three, always talks to her kids if she happens to lose her patience.
“I try really hard on this issue and when I fail, I try to own up to it and apologize immediately,” she said.
When you’re making amends, don’t forget to forgive yourself, Naumburg said.
“Self-compassion is an incredibly powerful response to difficult parenting moments,” she says. “We can remember that parenting is hard for everyone, that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and that you don’t have to be a perfect parent in order to be a great one.”