You’re frustrated and frazzled. You’ve been nagging at your kids for hours. Snapping. Yelling, even. You’re not happy with how you’re acting, but you can’t seem to stop the momentum, pull a U-turn and get yourself off Witchy Lane and back onto Reasonable Avenue.
Welcome to the club.
Every parent has days when life’s challenges feel… well, challenging. And if you’re the parent of a kid who is struggling, those challenges can feel absolutely overwhelming. Stress (as we all know) can bring out the worst in all of us. And if you’re feeling the stress of herding a resistant child through hours of homework, dealing with angry outbursts, or being stretched too thin, that stress can prompt you to respond in ways you know aren’t helpful.
If the stress of being parent has been turning you into someone you barely recognize, here are five suggestions to make you feel more like yourself again:
Attend to yourself. You may have seen the Snickers Super Bowl commercial in which we get to see what happens to Marcia and Jan when they’re hungry. It’s a hilarious commercial, to say the least. But it makes a good point. When we’re legitimately hungry, we can find ourselves responding badly to stresses or obstacles in our lives.
A self-care acronym taught in many recovery groups is H.A.L.T., which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. It’s a reminder to pay attention to your state of mind, especially when you find yourself making choices that aren’t helpful.
If you feel yourself overreacting to parenting challenges, take a quick assessment. Are you setting yourself up for this kind of overreaction by neglecting some of your most basic needs? Would you (and your kids!) benefit if there were a healthy snack or a quick nap in your immediate future?
Put yourself in time out. Time outs aren’t just for kids. When things start getting too intense, take a break. Go to your room, walk around the block, retreat to the kitchen. Go sit in your car for ten minutes if you need to.
The point is, interrupt the escalation by removing yourself from the situation. Turn your attention away from whatever it is your child is doing that is so frustrating, and pay attention instead to what is happening in your emotions and in your body. Observe yourself almost as if you were a detached third party. How are you feeling? Frustrated? Powerless? Defensive? What’s going on in your body? Are you clenching your teeth? Do you feel tension in your hands? Is your stomach in knots? This kind of mindfulness often diffuses the intensity of what you are experiencing and puts you in greater control.
What’s particularly cool is that research has shown that this kind of mindfulness in educational settings reduces teacher burnout, increases compassion, and improves performance in the classroom. In other words, it helps teachers become better teachers. Can it help you become a better parent? Try it and find out.
Try whispering. Is yelling at your kids working? Probably not. In fact, raised voices can sometimes cause everyone to escalate their intensity and volume. Try lowering your voice instead, speaking in a below-normal volume.
It may take a few minutes for your kids to notice that your mouth is moving, but once they do there’s a chance they’ll be curious enough about whatever it is you’re saying to lower their own volume so they can hear. This may not work every time, but it’s worth a try. It really can de-escalate the chaos and create space for a productive conversation.
Give your family a heads up. One woman explained that, when she’s grumpy or stressed and realizes she’s in danger of overreacting, she lets her family know by wearing a particular piece of “comfort clothing.” It’s her favorite tattered old robe, and her family knows that when that robe shows up, it’s in their best interest to give mom a little extra cooperation and space.
If the tattered robe doesn’t do it for you, try simply explaining, “Okay, gang, I’m feeling stressed and don’t want to say or do anything we’re all going to regret later, so consider yourself warned. I need __________” and you can fill in the blank. No arguing for twenty minutes? Everyone working quietly on homework for a spell? Some space to decompress? Fifteen minutes of everyone picking up toys and straightening the house? Be specific.
The simple act of communicating where you are on the “losing it” continuum—and how your family can help you keep that from happening—can make a big difference in the quality of the rest of your day or evening together.
Realize laughter can be a game changer. Another mom tells the story of being enmeshed in a screaming match with her teenaged daughter when her daughter suddenly glared at her, crossed her arms, and said tauntingly, “Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not my mother.” They stared at each other for a moment and then burst into laughter. The mom explains, “Her accusation was so sassy and ludicrous, it immediately broke the tension. To this day, one of us will say to the other, ‘You’re not my mother’ and we’ll crack up laughing.”
Research shows that laughter lowers blood pressure, decreases stress hormones, and relaxes muscles. Laughter also creates a sense of trust and connection. Bottom line, finding something to laugh about together is a great way to immediately change the atmosphere in any interaction, particularly a tense one.
Everybody “loses it” sometimes, but very of us feel good about the experience after the fact. Put these five tips into practice and you just might find yourself “losing it” a lot less.