My husband and I have weekly check-ins where we discuss bills, date nights, and—you guessed it—parenting difficulties. This past week, my husband confessed he was having a hard time staying calm when our children throw huge tantrums, especially as they seemed resistant to our typical go-to moves (time ins, time outs, taking away toys). When he asked how I stayed calm so much more than him, I had to remind him that I struggle with it almost as much as he does.
Most parents understand that tantrums are just part of parenting, but it can be difficult trying to stay calm when your little one develops sass that would make a teenager proud or even throws in a well-timed elbow or kick that catches you off guard. Loving my children comes very easy, but staying calm during tantrum after tantrum has been a true test of my patience.
Loving my children comes very easy, but staying calm during tantrum after tantrum has been a true test of my patience.
When parents are overwhelmed and feel frustrated or even angry with our children, it can be easy to judge ourselves and point fingers. “I’m a bad mom because I was mad my child did XYZ.” We may find ourselves comparing our reactions to parents on social media who say they never yell at their kids. But parents are human, and sometimes, we are going to get angry. What is important is that we work on healthy ways to cope with our anger so we can behave appropriately when our children are also struggling to regulate their emotions.
Here are a few ways for parents to center themselves during tantrums.
1. Put yourself in time out
One of the best pieces of parenting advice I have ever received was from the nurses at the hospital after my babies were born. They told me if I was feeling overwhelmed, I should put my baby down in a safe place and take a few minutes to calm myself. And while that particular bit of advice was aimed to prevent parents from shaking their babies, it is useful in almost all stages of parenting.
When you are dealing with powerful emotions like anger, it can take some time away from the situation to calm down. Emotions are not logical. They are visceral, meaning that they are not always easy to control or ignore. And if we are faced with parenting a child who is consistently pushing buttons, not responding to the parenting strategies that previously worked, etc., it can be hard to take a breath and calmly evaluate the situation.
It’s OK to be human, recognize your own needs once the child is in a safe environment, and take yourself to the bathroom or your bedroom for a few minutes to center yourself. You can often find that by moving into a different space, you are giving yourself a chance to honor your own emotions and then look at things in a clearer mindset.
2. Share what you are feeling and co-regulate together
If you do not feel comfortable leaving your child in a different room for whatever reason, you can work together to co-regulate. In the first few years of life, caregivers are essential to teach children self-regulation, which is defined as the act of managing thoughts and feelings before they become too overwhelming and shift focus.
…it is important to practice with our children so we can give ourselves a safe space to feel what we need to…
While many adults have long since learned this skill, it is important to practice with our children so we can give ourselves a safe space to feel what we need to, model recognizing one another’s emotions, and create an environment that will foster self-regulation in the future.
For example, the other day, my eldest son had a snow day from Kindergarten, and I soon found myself angry and frustrated from breaking up fights between my two children. By the third time out, I finally had a moment to reflect and realized that none of us had set expectations for the day with all of us home and we weren’t listening to one another with care. The excitement of the snow day, plus exhaustion from playing nonstop, left us all worn out with a short fuse.
But when I was able to take a moment and explain to them and myself why I was angry, we were able to validate one another’s emotions enough to create a plan that would help us move forward and enjoy the rest of the day. Self-regulation takes practice, and by modeling a healthy way to regulate, I am able to both center myself and teach my kids valuable skills moving forward.
3. Practice mindfulness & easy meditation with your child
One of my go-to ways to center myself during tantrums is to practice mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness helps ground you in the present and, according to Psychology Today, ” … to observe and label thoughts, feelings, sensations in the body in an objective manner.”
Depending on how I am feeling, I will either meditate in another room for a few minutes or start in front of my kids with an easy-to-follow video on the television that will show them how to join in. This allows me to not only check in with my feelings without judgment but also model a healthy way to cope to help all of us feel centered. I’ve also found that once I focus on prioritizing my own emotions even for a few minutes, I am more likely to react out of a place of love rather than anger.