Sure, it’s great to be a parent, but it’s also one of the most stressful, exhausting roles on the planet. The fact is, meltdowns are inevitable in any home, and even more so these days when it everyone is leading treadmill-paced lives. So let’s be clear: Anger is normal, but how you choose to deal with yours can make you the Role Model for your family or the Wicked Witch of the North. The important parenting secret is finding a way to keep those meltdowns to a minimum.
I was honored by Dr. Drew to be selected as his “Lifechanger” for his show to help parents I recall helping one mom on a segment who needed help, ASAP. Her stress was in high-octane mode (and for legitimate reasons). And now her whole family was in crisis. Everyone picked up her stress. Her children began to act out. Her relationship with her husband was unraveling. Her kids couldn’t sleep. Her whole family was suffering. I worked with that mom with Dr. Drew to identify the time the stress was the highest (no surprise, dinner time). And found one way to reduce it (her mother-in-law helped her one hour on Sundays make casseroles and then freeze them. At least dinner was more relaxing). Then she found one of the following strategies that helped her relax. She chose “elevator breathing” and practiced it again and again. She also set up a signal that warned her children and husband that she was about to explode, and gave herself a “time out” in her bedroom for a few minutes so she could calm herself. Yes it took time and work, but when she told me (in tears), “I have my family back. We’re all happy again”), we both knew it was all worth it.
The truth is our stress affects our children. Call it, the “trickle down” effect: kids pick up our anger, our tempers, our stress and mirror it. Beware: parent stress and kid stress has never been higher. We must help ourselves if we are to help our kids.The good news is there are a number of strategies that will help us keep the peace and cool those quick tempers.
The real trick is discovering works best for you, and then rehearsing it over and over until it kicks and becomes a habit.
Here are seven tips that help you stay calmer, control anger and keep your household more peaceful and harmonious.
My girlfriend bought herself a nature tape of rain sounds because the noise has always soothed her. When her “witching hour” approaches (she admits it’s four o’clock every afternoon), Sharon retreats to her bedroom, closes the door, turns on the tape, switches off the light, plops on the bed, and zones out—that is, for just five minutes. She swears those five brief minutes are enough to fortify her to calmly handle an inevitable colicky baby, fix dinner, and survive the evening homework routine. (By the way, she arranged for her mother to phone her preschooler each day at four o’clock, and tucks the baby safely in her crib for a quick nap. Can you find a way to “take five” each day?)
Give yourself a time-out
The very moment you feel your blood pressure start to rise, acknowledge it. Stress comes right before anger and studies show we usually have only seconds to stop that pressure buildup. So start tuning into your own unique physiological stress signals (the pounding heart, the clenched fists, the grinding teeth, the raised voice). And then give yourself a quick break from your kids to calm yourself down. Just announce: “Mommy needs a time-out.” In fact, promise yourself that from this moment on whenever you feel you can’t control your temper, just walk away. If you need to lock yourself in your bathroom to get back in control, do it! It’s the best way to prevent your own meltdown and you’ll also be modeling to your kids how to use self-control. What a great lesson!
Learn to say a simple, positive message to yourself to control your temper. Ideas might be: “Stop and calm down.” “Stay in control.” Or: “I can handle this.” Choose a phrase you feels most comfortable saying, then rehearse it a few times each day until you can use it. One mom told me that she actually wrote her calm-down phrase on a card and put it in the diaper bag. Her baby was a real “mover and shaker” and changing his diaper used to drive her to the edge. She’d open the bag, read the card, and immediately remind herself to calm down. It worked!
Teach: “stop and breathe”
As soon as you feel you’re losing your temper, say to yourself: ‘Stop! Calm down”, and then take a deep, slow breath (or two or three), pronto. Getting oxygen into your brain is one of the fastest ways to relax. There’s a reason why flight attendants tell you to always put your mask on first, before you put one on our children. You must breathe so you can help our kids.
Try it! I used this strategy when my kids were young, and they quickly figured it out. From that moment, they loved being my little reminders anytime my patience-level dropped: “You need to do that ‘Stop and Breathe’ thing, Mom!”, they’d chime. (Isn’t it amazing that our kids can read our stress signs before we can? If they could only figure out their own. Sigh. Next step!
Imagine something calming
Think of a person or place that helps you feel calm and peaceful—for instance, your spouse, the beach, your bed, your backyard. Right before your temper stares to flare and you feel those body warning signs kick him, close your eyes and think of the face or the spot while breathing slowly.
This is a great strategy to also teach your children. “Where is a place that makes you feel peaceful and calm?” Maybe it’s the treehouse, the sandbox, basketball court, Grandma’s house. Once your child can identify it, tell him to “go to that place in your mind and take slow breaths.” Some parents take a photo of the place and put it by the child’s bed in a frame to remember. You can do the same: put it on your smartphone as your screensaver!
Try elevator breathing
Close your eyes, slowly breath out three times, then imagine you’re in an elevator on the top of a very tall building. Press the button for the first floor and watch the buttons for each level slowly light up as the elevator goes down. As the elevator descends, your stress fades away.
Find the spot in your body where you feel the most tension; perhaps your neck, shoulder muscles, or jaw. Gently close your eyes, concentrate on the spot, tense it up for three or four seconds, and then let it go. While doing so, imagine the stress slowly melting away.
Anger management isn’t just for parents. Why not get your whole family involved in learning how to cope with quick tempers?
A mother of two sons aged 13 and 11, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, told me she realized that her whole family needed tune up self-control. She began by writing “Self-control” in huge letters across the top of a monthly calendar and taping it on her refrigerator as a reminder. She also looked for family videos, children’s literature, and news articles of real people using self-control and used them as a springboard for describing why the trait is so valuable. Finally the mom taught them the “Stop and Breathe” strategy and then made sure they practiced it as a family. The result: a calmer, more peaceful household.
Figure out what works to help you keep your stress in control. And then practice it over and over until it becomes a habit. Remember: calmer parents make calmer and happier kids.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
You can also refer to my blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.
My new book, UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World will be in print June 2016. (Yahoo!) I’ve spent the last five years researching and writing this book as well as literally flying around the world to find the best ways we can activate our children’s hearts. My goal is to create a conversation that makes us rethink or view of success as exclusively grades, rank and score and includes traits of humanity! It’s filled with common-sense solutions based on the latest science to help us raise compassionate, caring, courageous kids. It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!