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(Editor's Note: While this article is geared to tips on how to deal with your stress and impatience with your kids, it is also very applicable to relationships and communication with other adults.)
If you are irritable, frustrated, disillusioned, and feeling guilty—if you are yelling, stomping your feet, or crying—trust me, you are far from alone. When my daughter was little I was irritable, exhausted, ashamed of my anger, and feeling totally guilty.
It’s weird, we expect children to be respectful, yet we continually order them around. We make demands of them, then we are surprised when they are demanding. We yell, threaten, and punish, demonstrating to them that power and coercion are our go-to tools. Unsurprisingly, this causes disconnection in the relationship.
Cool the Flames When Things Get Hot
There will inevitably be times when you lose it. What do you do in those moments?
When we’re about to lose it, the nervous system perceives a threat or an obstacle. So you must let your body and mind know that you are safe in the moment. One way to do that is by stepping away from the scene. As long as your child is safe, it is far better to go to the next room than to scream at your child. When my daughter was young enough to still be in a crib, I remember being about to explode because she wasn’t listening to me. I put her in that crib, walked out of her room, onto my bedroom balcony, and closed the door to breathe and calm down. Walking away when you’re about to lose it is a skillful choice.
Talk yourself down.
We can let the nervous system know that we’re safe by telling ourselves, “This is not an emergency. I can handle this.” Saying these words helps to bring the verbal prefrontal cortex back online and slows down that stress response. You can try saying, “I’m helping my child,” to remind your nervous system that your child is not a threat. These are ways to use the power of thinking to calm down the body.
Shake it out.
The stress response has built up your blood pressure, made your muscles tense, and prepared your physiological system to fight. The anger has built up an excess of energy in your system that you need to release. Try shaking it out—literally shaking your hands, arms, legs and whole body to release the energy. Shaking is a simple and effective way of releasing the stress from your system. You’ll look silly, but feel good. Actually, it’s a lovely bonus when you can laugh at yourself—laughter is the antithesis of anger!
Strike a pose.
Yoga provides effective body and breath practices to calm down the nervous system. A simple way to calm down is to do a forward fold or coming down into child’s pose (start kneeling, then fold forward, resting your head). These poses cut off our outward engagement to help us focus inward.
“Take a deep breath” is cliche because it’s true. With deep breathing, you are increasing the amount of oxygen in the body, showing the nervous system that everything's "okay," and helping the heart pace to slow down, creating feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Create your unique plan.
Our responses to difficult parenting moments are as varied as ourselves and our personal stories. You may have grown up with a parent who withdrew or became passive aggressive when angry. Or you might be playing out the generational pattern of the adult temper tantrum, yelling like I did. Because our experiences are so varied, there’s no perfect one-size-fits-all solution to yelling less.
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Exercise: Create Your Yell Less Plan
In the exercise below you’ll find a set of tools that will help you respond to difficult situations—those moments when you’d normally yell—in a more skillful way.
Plan out your ideal response. Pre-committing to your choices will substantially increase your chances of success when you are angry. Choose a set of responses from the list below, then write out your plan and post it in a handy location.
❏ Tell yourself that you are safe: "This is not an emergency. I can handle this."
❏ Adopt a mantra to keep your perspective. "He's only 1, he's only 1," is one example. Repeat it to yourself several times when you feel like you're about to explode.
❏ Create a mantra for yourself. Some mantras that help are:
“I am a ninja mom.”
“When the kids start yelling, I get calmer.”
“I choose peace.”
“This will pass. Breathe.”
“Just be kind.”
“It is what it is.”
❏ Take a break. If you know you're going to lose it and you're on your very last nerve, put your baby or toddler in a safe spot, such as their playpen or crib, and walk away for a few minutes.
❏ Five-Eight Breathing. Breathe in for a count of 5. Breathe out for a count of 8.
❏ Sigh it out to promote relaxation. Repeat at least five or six times.
❏ Mindful walking. Walk slowly and deliberately to breathe and let go of your anger and frustration. Place one foot down as you breathe in, place the other foot down and breathe out.
❏ Think like a teacher. Don’t take misbehavior personally, but instead look at it as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself: What do they need to learn and how can I teach him that?
❏ Whisper instead. It’s almost impossible to sound angry when you whisper. And it might help you find your sense of humor about the situation.
❏ Use a funny voice/act out a character. Channel your energy into being a robot!
❏ Tense and release your muscles to help calm yourself down.
❏ Drop into child’s pose, folding forward on the floor with knees bent, and breathe deeply.
❏ Wait ten minutes—or 24 hours: It’s fine to wait ten minutes, or even wait until the next day, to come back and talk with your child about inappropriate language or behavior.
❏ Ask for help from another adult. Tag out of the situation so that you can calm down.
Don’t worry if you don’t remember your new plan right away. Initially, you’re likely to remember this new plan after you’ve yelled. That’s perfectly normal. As long as you keep trying, keep reminding yourself, and keep setting the intention not to yell, eventually you’ll remember mid-yell, and even before you yell.
Taming your temper will help your relationship with your child grow stronger. As you practice these tools, you’ll be giving your child something that most of us never had—a model of how to take care of the energy of anger. If you are able to stay present with your child’s big feelings, rather than shame their emotions, they’ll develop a healthy emotional intelligence—knowing that it’s okay for them to have all emotions. You can do this. When you do, you’ll change the dynamic in your home, creating more peace and ease for everyone.
©2019 byHunter Clarke-Fields. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted from "Raising Good Humans", p.45-51,
New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids
by Hunter Clarke-Fields MSAE
With this book, you’ll find powerful mindfulness skills for calming your own stress response when difficult emotions arise. You’ll also discover strategies for cultivating respectful communication, effective conflict resolution, and reflective listening. In the process, you’ll learn to examine your own unhelpful patterns and ingrained reactions that reflect the generational habits shaped by your parents, so you can break the cycle and respond to your children in more skillful ways.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audiobook.)
About the Author
Hunter Clarke-Fields is a mindfulness mentor, host of the Mindful Mama podcast, creator of the Mindful Parenting online course, and author of the new book, Raising Good Humans (New Harbinger Publications). She helps parents bring more calm into their daily lives and cooperation in their families. Hunter has over 20 years of experience in meditation and yoga practices and has taught mindfulness to thousands worldwide. Learn more at MindfulMamaMentor.com.