Parenthood is full of wonderful surprises – priceless moments we’ll never forget. It might be an unexpected "I love you" whispered in our ear, the cutest-ever prayer murmured into a pillow, or a big bear hug from a teen who normally plays the aloof, cool dude.
But parenthood brings with it some not-so-great surprises too – like crayon scribbles on the dining room wall, a phone in the toilet bowl, or a smashed tail light our teen never mentioned.
One of the worst discoveries of all is just how quickly we can lose our cool with our kids.
Every parent has, at some time, lost their temper with their children. And it’s a rare parent who hasn’t, in the heat of the moment, said something they later regretted. But it’s not okay to keep repeating inappropriate behaviour when you’re upset with your kids. Even when thoroughly provoked, parents need to remain in control of their reaction. That means no screaming, throwing things or using hurtful words. And causing physical harm is never okay – not ever.
Try these ideas to help you stay composed. Remember, your kids will learn how to manage their own anger by watching you. Give them the best example possible!
1. Speak slowly and softly. When you feel your anger rising, slow your speech way down and talk quietly. This will help you resist the urge to shout. Don’t lecture – it will make you more upset. Simply say to your child, I’m feeling really upset/angry/frustrated right now. I need a few moments to calm down before I deal with this situation. This lets your child know that there’s going to be a "pause" in the proceedings. Naming your emotions in front of your child is important too. In effect, you’re sending your child the message, Watch and learn – this is how to deal with anger.
2. Take 10 deep breaths. Rehearse a verse of Scripture like James 1:5 or Romans 12:2. Then pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help you put self-oriented thoughts aside and respond in a way that lovingly meets your child’s needs and nurtures their emotional and spiritual growth.
3. Throw open the window (or the fridge) to help you calm down. Let the cool air rush over you as you take your ten deep breaths, then pray.
4. Remove yourself from the situation if needed (provided your children will be safe in your absence). Keep a stash of calming Scripture memory verses in the bathroom (or another calm-down retreat, or in your purse or wallet) and pray through them until you feel more under control.
5. Think snack, sleep, sick or snuggle? Ask yourself, What’s needed most right now? Is discipline really the top priority? Perhaps you or your child (or both of you) are not at your best because your blood sugar is low, or you’re tired, or you’re coming down with an illness. Maybe your child is seeking attention in a negative way because his or her "love tank" is running low. The best strategy might be to stop whatever you’re doing and curl up under a cozy blanket with a book so your child can get one-on-one attention or some much-needed sleep. You can discuss the discipline issue later, when you are both in better shape to process what happened.
6. Don’t expect too much of your child. Remind yourself, My child’s behaviour is typical for a ___ year old. I’m the parent, and I’m responsible before God to show him or her a better way. Remember that you will likely deal with the same misbehaviour several times before your child is able to learn better self-control.
7. Dig for the truth. Anger is a secondary emotion. When you feel yourself getting upset, listen carefully to your thoughts to reveal the primary emotion underlying your reaction. Is it fear? Resentment? Hurt? Grief? Disappointment? Stress? For example, you might be thinking, If my kids don’t leave me alone, I’ll never meet my deadline. Your children didn’t set your work deadline, so be honest about who really owns that problem. Learn to say, Underneath it all, I’m really feeling angry because ____.
8. Lighten up and channel your inner comic. Defuse the tension in your body by going overboard with theatrical hijinks. Someone burned a tray full of toast? Give the toast an hilarious lecture about stinking up the house, then throw it outside, as far away as you can! Learn to laugh with your kids first, before you talk about how they might do better next time.
9. Exercise it off. Turn up the music and dance with the kids, or run through an exercise routine until the surge of energy from your anger is used up. Or spend your energy vacuuming, tidying up or cleaning windows or mirrors.
10. Call a friend for two minutes. A brief chat with another parent you trust will help you put the situation in perspective.
11. Count your blessings. Rehearse in your mind all the things you love about your child/children. This moment of frustration will soon pass.
12. Ask your kids to help! Once you’ve told your kids, I’m feeling very frustrated right now, ask them, What do you think I should do? Their cute answers may just melt your heart. At the very least, you’ve got them actively engaged in thinking about good ways to manage their own anger.
After the storm has passed
Always provide closure after an unpleasant interaction by reassuring your son or daughter of your love. Don’t ever leave your child wondering, Does Mummy/Daddy still love me? Even teens fear that one day they’ll push mum or dad too far. Nothing could make you stop loving your teen, but your teen might not know that.
If you slipped up and lost your temper in a way that was hurtful to your child, be quick to apologise and seek forgiveness. Your children don’t need a perfect parent, but they do need a parent who will teach them how to restore relationships. Forgive yourself and show yourself grace. And be sure you have forgiven your children if needed – you don’t want to become bitter toward them.
Learn from your experience so you’ll do better next time. Try to ensure you spend time with the Lord early in the day, each day – even if it’s just reviewing memory verses in the bathroom! Work at building awareness of the feelings and physical signs that tell you you’re growing angry, and plan a calming strategy to use next time.
Poor time management can create a lot of stress and frustration in a family. If you’re often running behind schedule, work hard on planning better. Learn to call ahead and apologise when you expect to arrive late, so you won’t feel quite so stressed about getting the kids in the car.
Keep your children informed about each day’s activities. Unclear communication or unfulfilled expectations that leave a child disappointed or confused can trigger misbehaviour. If you feel pushed for time, dropping an activity from your day might be a good idea, but keep your children’s expectations in mind.