Parenting can be a rough ride. No matter how much we love our children, there will always be times when they stretch our patience to the limit. No one wants to lose control, but it can be difficult to stay calm, loving and logical when nerves are frayed and the two-year-old has just dropped the car keys into a sewage drain. These 10 tips will help keep your emotions in check when life hits the tipping point.
1. Maintain perspective
Is this a life or death situation? Is anyone going to lose a job, limb, marriage or bank account if the problem is not immediately resolved? Sometimes the answer is yes, and decisive – perhaps even aggressive – action is required. Usually, however, the stakes are much lower.
2. Act, don’t react
Children are incredibly talented at pushing buttons. Don’t let them goad you into a knee-jerk response. In particular, don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by your child’s insulting language or by complaints about tangential issues. Focus on the primary problem; there will be time enough for the others some other day.
3. The First Temper Tantrum to Manage is Yours
We tend to assume that hot-blooded parental anger is the result of misbehaving children. In reality, children seldom behave worse on angry days than on happy ones. The difference lies in the parent.
Exhaustion, stress at work, financial worries, poor eating habits and chemical mood swings can all change the way we react to our children. Learn to recognize your own temper tantrums for what they are. Resist the urge to pin the blame on someone else.
4. Look for Silver Linings
Every situation, no matter how grim, includes a few rays of hope and humor. Like the glowing sunbeams that light up the edge of storm clouds, these positive elements can help us find joy in the midst of crisis.
Try to focus on the positive, even when it’s so miniscule as to be ludicrous: “Well, honey, the car broke down and now we have to walk five miles in the rain. But hey, at least you don’t have to take that math test today!”
5. Consider Pint-Sized Priorities
A popped balloon may not seem like a crisis to an adult, but ask any toddler and the answer will be quite different. Understanding your children’s priorities may not change your decisions as a parent, but it can help you not to go ballistic during a fifty-minute bout of adolescent self-pity. It can also help with Step 6.
6. Search for Holistic Solutions
A parent’s first response to squabbling siblings is often to enforce a parental decree. (“John, you take the orange cup. Mary, you’ll have to be happy with the blue one.”) The second instinct is to require a compromise, which is usually just a parental decree in disguise. (“Let’s switch off. John gets the orange cup today. Mary can have it tomorrow.”)
Sometimes these techniques are appropriate and desirable, but often they keep us from reaching the ultimate goal: A solution that makes everyone happy.
Give John and Mary a chance to discover what they really care about. Is it the color of the cup? The size? Is there a patterned cup in the cupboard that Mary likes even better than the orange one? Would John be willing to give up the orange cup in exchange for a turn on Mary’s ipad? Get your children talking about solutions, and you’ll be surprised how inventive they are.
7. Decide not to be Bothered
Feelings aren’t a choice, but actions are. If your children’s bickering is getting on your nerves, by all means, take steps to alleviate it. But do so decisively, by creating and enforcing a rule. Do not allow yourself to become part of the squabble. Take a deep breath, remember that you are the parent, and take active control of your behavior.
8. Make Eye Contact
It’s easy to yell instructions across the room while your arms are full of groceries – but it’s seldom effective. Slow down, free up your hands, and focus on one child at a time. If your child responds well to touch, place a gentle hand on her arm or shoulder. Speak in a normal tone of voice about what you’d like to have happen next. Create the option of eye contact, but do not force it.
9. Create Enough Space for a Resolution
When tempers are flaring, it can be hard to slow down and consider the needs of others. Help your children get along by deescalating the situation. This may require temporarily confiscating a disputed toy or sending children someplace where they can be alone, but it may also be as simple requiring that children don’t all talk at once. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and be heard. Help each child to know that his needs are important.
10. Take Steps to Reduce Future Stress
The best time to solve a problem is before it even happens. After a crisis situation has been resolved, take time to ask yourself how things got so intense in the first place. Are there actions you could have taken to head off the conflict earlier? Do the children need more sleep, healthier food, or more one-on-one time with adults? Life is tough, and no one is perfect, but there’s always a silver lining: Every conflict gives us tools to help manage the next one.
Featured photo credit: ecerroni via morguefile.com