How to control your temper as a parent
Every parent loses their patience and yells at their kids at times, but is it damaging and what can we do to keep our anger in check? A parenting and childhood development expert weighs in.
You know that guilty, sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’ve just lost it at your kids? Once the wave of anger has passed, you realize that you probably could’ve handled the situation better and avoided yelling at them. You feel ashamed and start to berate yourself internally. “Why can’t I control my temper?!” you wonder.
Given all the pressures we’re under in our fast-paced lives, it’s not surprising that most of us don’t have the patience and poise of the Dalai Lama. We commiserate with our friends about how stressed, tired, impatient and cranky we are with our kids. It makes us feel a little better to know that we’re not alone, but deep down we know it’s not the best way to raise our children. We want to be better parents, but how can we break the cycle?
Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, renowned psychologist, parenting expert and professor for the audio/video series Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids, believes that parents can learn to control their temper with a little practice and that children will benefit from having calmer role models.
“Getting yelled at never feels good,” she says. “It can be especially upsetting for very sensitive and self-critical children. As parents, we are our children’s first mirrors. We don’t want their view of themselves to be shaped by harshness. Our interactions with our children also influence their understanding of how to be in a relationship. We don’t want our children to grow up believing that it’s normal to be nasty to loved ones.”
So, how can you become the Zen mama you’ve always wanted to be? Dr. Kennedy-Moore suggests six concrete ways to tame your temper and five positive discipline tactics to employ instead of yelling.
How to control your temper
Some of these techniques might come naturally to you while others will take a little practice. Try to be patient and kind to yourself as you learn to implement them.
- Focus on prevention
“Make sure you’re not running on empty,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “Get enough sleep, exercise, healthy food and relaxation so that you have the patience to deal with the normal frustrations of being around children.”
- Change the way you think about misbehavior
“We tend to get furious when we believe our children are deliberately misbehaving because they don’t respect us or are trying to make things harder for us,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “That’s rarely the case. Reading about child development can help you know what’s typical for your child’s age and have realistic expectations. Also, consider other possible explanations for your child’s misbehavior, such as she’s tired or sick or hasn’t yet learned a better way to handle a problem.”
- Watch your words
“When we’re angry, it’s easy to lash out and say mean things,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “But we can’t help children move forward by convincing them of their badness. ‘You’re a brat!’ suggests no way forward. Instead, use ‘I’ statements to describe your feelings and focus on behavior. Say, ‘I’m so mad because I asked you to pick up your clothes and they’re still on the floor. Please put them in the hamper now.’”
- Create a plan for routinely difficult situations
“If there’s a situation with your child that often gets you aggravated, plan ahead to come up with a different way of handling it,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “For instance, getting out the door in the morning might be easier if your child picks out clothes the night before, you get yourself ready before waking your child, you change the routine so that he gets dressed before eating breakfast or brushes his teeth downstairs, or you offer a quick game if he’s ready by a certain time.”
- Learn to cool down in heated moments
“Delaying your response, even for a few seconds, can help you regain control and resist the urge to yell,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “When you feel like yelling, take a drink of water, suck on an ice cube, take deep breaths or do math facts in your head. You may also need to step out of the room for a little bit. Going outside can also give everyone some breathing room.”
- Seek support
“Parenting is too hard of a job to do alone,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “If you have a partner, come up with a signal to tell each other that you’ve reached the end of your rope and need the other to take over. Spend time with sympathetic friends who understand what you’re going through. Pay for or swap child care so that you have some time off.”
How to positively discipline your children without yelling
Kids won’t listen to you until you lose your bananas? Dr. Kennedy-Moore recommends trying these five discipline tactics instead. “They make it easier for children to listen and make homes more peaceful,” she says.
- When/then statements: Instead of locking horns with your kids whenever you want them to accomplish a task or chore, Dr. Kennedy-Moore recommends using statements such as: “When you’ve put your dishes in the dishwasher, then you can play.”
- Problem-solving:“Say, ‘We have a problem. Every time it’s time to get into the car, there’s a big argument about who gets to sit where. What can we do that’s fair to everyone?’”
- Situational control:“Set up the environment so your child can be successful. For example, your child may be less distracted if he does his homework at the kitchen table.”
- Routines:“If you always do things the same way, there are fewer arguments.”
- Playfulness:“Do something silly or unexpected to make your child laugh. Turn tasks into games, such as a kids-versus-the-grown-ups contest.”