If you stopped me on the street and challenged me to come up with the top rule in my household, I would likely say; “Kind thoughts, kind words, kind actions.” Having a 4 ½ year old boy and an almost 6 year old girl, just 16 months apart and often wildly competitive with one another, necessitates having to repeat these words often.
As a child development specialist and professional speaker, of course I am supposed to live these words daily. And I try. I believe that my friends and family would say that I am kind-hearted and loving. But there are moments that I disappoint myself, as many mothers and fathers would likely admit, if not in public at least in the privacy of their own heads.
Have I upheld my top value? Have I been truly kind today?
We all lose our cool. Children whine and push our buttons. They fight and ignite frustration in us as we are trying to cook dinner, clean up and simultaneously give baths and kiss our spouses hello. Or try to kiss our spouses hello. Or honestly, maybe just think about acknowledging our spouses as they enter the home. Or maybe we can’t even do that.
For me, the frustration is cumulative. I have days when I give myself a pat on the back for taking a breath, centering myself and responding to my children as they jump on the couch one more time, push their sibling once again or talk rudely for the umpteenth time with a calm, kind, encouraging prompt; “try again, my sweet.”
But there are other days, usually after a nice long string of commendable ones, where I just crack in half like a twig and all that I’ve held together, all I’ve been praising myself for, comes oozing out in a toxic stream of yelling, or worse, grabbing my child and yelling; “No!” (and likely more words than that) in a tone that would likely put my own children in time out.
Now don’t get me wrong. Discipline is vital. And I will not tolerate hitting, hurting and overall disrespect or meanness within our family. But how can you stop a tantrum when you are having one yourself? While strong, definitive words are a must, control is also necessary. When we “lost it” with our children, control goes out the window. And believe me, I say this to myself as a parent as much as I say it as an “expert.” It’s hard. And sometimes, we just have to scream.
So I’ve been finding ways to wring out the frustration even while the frustration is happening and perhaps they’ll work for you too. And maybe, just maybe, if we talk about this topic, frankly taboo at a time when social media dictates saving face, smiles and sharing the “perfect life,” we can all grow from it. Or perhaps just not feel so alone in it.
- Discuss it with a close friend: You know that friend who looks like s/he has it all together? Don’t be fooled. While everything may look flawless, every parent has challenges. Talk about your own frustrations and get it out of your system. It’s cathartic. But also listen. When friends share their parenting issues, you won’t feel so alone and you’ll be helpful them out too—which feels good. You may also pick up an idea or two that can help.
- Take a shower, a bath or a walk: When things get really heated, make sure your children are in a safe place and go cool off in a hot shower. There have been times when I needed to put my child in his room to calm himself down while I jumped into the shower to do the same. There’s something about the sound of rushing water (especially when it’s drowning out a tantrum) that can recalibrate you. You are welcome to scream in there too. Or mumble expletives to your heart’s content. You can also repeat a mantra like “calm down” or “It’s OK” if that helps. When you emerge, you will likely be composed and able to talk to your child with kindness even during a stern or serious conversation. Of course, if a bath or shower aren’t possible, take a walk, exercise, clean or take a moment to stomp your feet in the closet. Whatever works. No judgment.
- Remember they are still learning: This has been a transformative thought for me. These little beings have only been here on Earth for a short time. Their synapses are still connecting and working hard on firing away, yes. But while they grow and learn each day, they have not yet mastered the skills to always speak with tact, respond with poise and control their every action. Heck, adults are often still working on this too. So when I see behavior that seems off kilter, out-of-control or flat-out rude, I try to remember this incredibly important fact. They are still learning. That implies, we must teach them. Our babies. They deserve that from us even when they behave in a way that makes us crazy.
- Use your ABCs: In this case, Actively Be Calm. Why? Because calm begets calm. I know; that sucks. And while you might be cursing this tip (and I mumble under my breath at it myself sometimes), as I mentioned above, you can’t tame a tantrum while having a tantrum yourself. I say “actively” be calm because it takes work and I don’t assume it’s easy. It’s not easy. It takes self control and focus that I don’t always feel I have access to in the heat of the moment. But there it is. Calm begets calm. Sucky but true.
- Freak out only when necessary: Notice above that I didn’t say “Always Be Calm.” That’s because sometimes we need to make a point. When our child pushes another child on the stairs, throws a rock at your head or runs away from you into a busy street, you are welcome to have a freak-out session that tells yours child; this is serious. But here’s the problem—and I know you know this already but I’ll say it here. If you scream about everything, they will hear nothing. They won’t know when the issue is really serious when you provide the same response when your child calls her brother a “dingbat” and when she hits him in the head with a helicopter.
I could go on but I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? If I were to leave you with one other thought it would be “you can do this.” You are doing it. I’m doing it. Let’s not be so hard on ourselves (or other parents) given that we, too, are still learning. We were not born with the knowledge of how to be perfect parents and we will never be perfect Mommies and Daddies. Let’s simply try to be the best parents we can be. The best, perfectly imperfect, incredibly flawed but beautifully loveable parents we can be. And on days when we lose it, don’t worry. There’s always tomorrow.
Try again, my sweet.