How to stay calm with your child

How to stay calm with your child
I’ve been short with my toddler. Rude. Frustrated. And there are days when I seriously can’t wait until he’s down for the night. But in over two years, I have never yelled at him, thanks to one miserable day when I vowed never to do so again.

The little guy was a mere eight weeks old, too young to be anywhere near “easy,” but old enough for me to wonder if this parenting thing will ever cut me some slack. I had been rocking him to sleep, trying unsuccessfully to get him to nap. Not only was he not falling asleep on the ball, but he cried the entire time (and my toddler until now is no quiet crier). We were both miserable, and I could feel my frustration growing.

I continued to rock him on the yoga ball, wishing that he would stop crying and fall asleep already when I yelled at him, “Why won’t you just go to sleep?!” Of course that did little to calm the guy down. Instead, he let out a series of frantic cries I had never before heard.

Those cries have since forever been imprinted in my mind. He cried not of discomfort, hunger, tiredness or even crankiness. He was frightened—of me. Of what I had become, and whether I would hurt or abandon him. He grew terrified of the world he knew so little of, and wondered why this person who had coddled him in the past was now so angry.

Remorse quickly took over and I held my baby close, feeling guilty for having resorted to these antics when the little guy needed so much more than that. I cried right along with him, and continued to cry even as he fell asleep in my arms. It was then that I vowed never to yell at him or get so frustrated that he would feel frightened of his own mom.

And thankfully, I kept my promise. Granted, I still get upset and even raise my voice, but have yet to resort to that kind of anger. The biggest reason I’ve been yell-free was because of that cry I can’t forget. I can still remember his frightened cries and they to this day continue to serve as a reminder—a check on myself—not to resort to anger and yelling.

The second reason I’ve been able to keep my temper cool has been the realization that anger doesn’t do any good. Yelling at him did nothing to get him to sleep. In fact, it did the opposite and escalated his frustration. Even these days I find that being rude or frustrated at him ends up exacerbating the problem rather than mindfully trying to resolve it in other means.

When I do find myself on the brink of losing my mind and taking my frustration out on my toddler, I try the following suggestions:

  • I give myself a break. I remember one time when my toddler was frustrating me beyond imagination, and I plopped him down in the bedroom, walked over to the living room and crawled into the couch with a blanket over me. My husband took the cue and dealt with LO on his own, providing me a chance to cool down and compose myself.
  • I ignore him. Ignoring is so much better than getting into an all-out battle with a two-year-old when tempers flare. I’ve sometimes mentally shut him out for a moment and focus on something else just so that I don’t lose my cool.
  • I pick my battles. There are just some days when letting your kid “win” is needed to save your sanity. I’ve since realized that letting the little things go doesn’t turn kids into monsters who will take advantage of their parents forever on out.
  • I take a step back. When I’m lucky, I still have part of my parenting cap on my head enough for me to pull myself out of the crazy tornado. It’s almost like I’m watching myself in action and see and feel the emotions in me without reacting to them so quickly. During these times, I’m able to realize that this is temporary, that there are better days to come, and that a calm mom is more effective than a hysterical one.

All of these suggestions happen quickly, but sometimes it’s all I need to keep from going bonkers. Almost all of them are less than ideal, but much more preferable than yelling or doing something I’ll regret or worse, frighten my toddler.

Sometimes parenthood brings out terrible traits you never you knew had and never had to deal with in the past. I decided I was ready to share That Terrible Day in the hopes that other parents on the verge of yelling at their kids can find alternatives to doing so.

When have you lost your cool with your kids? How do you stay calm when you’re frustrated?

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18 thoughts on “How to stay calm with your child

  1. Definitely NOT easy. I am trying to be yell free. Sometimes it’s just a gut reaction and just comes out, like if I notice she just colored on the walls or something. But I notice that whispering has been successful with us!
    Also, I heard a man in public scream at his kid the other day. It eas do scary and awful. It was also pretty embarrasing for the kid. It was a good wake up call for what NOT to do.

  2. I still remember the day I got mad at my son because he was afraid to put his Big Wheel back in the garage. “You weren’t scared to go in there to get it, so you can put it back NOW!” He really was scared though, and I didn’t understand that until later. I vowed to acknowledge my kids’ feelings and fears after that.

  3. I feel the same way sometimes. And I do ignore him and give myself a break sometimes. But sometimes it’s just too much to handle. But I just think of the famous phrase “It’s just a shall pass.” That helps me too. Thanks for sharing. I needed to read this. 🙂

  4. That’s a great post. And, ugh, do I know how the mistakes we make as mothers haunt us forever! Yes, I’ve had experiences like these that nearly bring me to tears when I think back on them. So thankful and grateful that they don’t remember!
    On a lighter note, I’m about to nominate you for an award. I just haven’t gotten around to, but I will soon!

  5. Great, great post. I too yelled at my baby once after weeks of no sleep and a night where she just wouldn’t go to sleep and I cried the whole next day, because I felt so guilty. As she gets old and can talk and walk, these will be important lessons to keep in mind!

  6. I don’t ever want my kid to be scared of me so I made a decision long ago not to yell and I haven’t. But I certainly have shown frustration in less than ideal ways (I made a fairly loud and exasperated grrrr noise once and my daughter copied it for weeks!) I’ve also been snippy and impatient.

    Removing myself from the situation if I’m about to lose it is a must. Like you, I figure that a less than ideal response (ignoring her, picking my battles or even turning on a short video) is better than me losing my cool.

  7. These are really helpful tips. I use to literally never leave my toddler by herself, not even for a few minutes. I would end up tired and frustrated from the lack of a break. Recently, I started letting her spend time in her playpen. It was strange at first, but now I think we both enjoy the time apart. She knows I’m coming back, and I love cuddling when we reunite…even if it’s only been 20 minutes.

  8. Oh yes, yes, yes. You aren’t alone in that one. I know. The feeling afterward is horrible. Learning to recognize my breaking points before I snap has been key for me, but I still snap at times – I’m no angel.

  9. Pingback: Admission of Guilt « coffeepoweredmom

  10. I have felt the exact same thing as you when my youngest was awake from 2 till 4:30 many days in a row when she was probably a month or two old and I was so frustrated I had yelled at her exactly what you did. It only made her more upset and the cries broke my heart. Exhaustion and frustration can be a very cruel combination.

    Just recently as of last week I have started to put many of those suggestions to use as I was angry and frustrated all the time and I have to say my life is so much easier and happier and everyone seems to be so much happier.

    Sometimes just letting it go works better for everyone then yelling and getting frustrated 🙂

    Thanks for your post:)

  11. I really needed to read this post because I’m going through a series of tantrums with my son because he’s teething, and sometimes, I just feel like I’m going to lose my mind. Your point that yelling isn’t effective anyway to me is the most powerful. I lost my temper in the same way you described when Lane was an infant. It didn’t help. He freaked out. And I felt terrible. As a rule, I don’t yell. My mom was a yeller and stressed me out as a kid. But I forget when I’m in the midst of a tantrum that I can separate myself from his fit. Most of the time, I just try to wait it out and feel like I’m losing my mind in the process. Everybody deserves a break, even Mom.

  12. I don’t know if it’s because Oster is just 13 months, but I’ve been lucky so far where his tantrums last less than 30 seconds. Usually he screams, lies on the floor, puts his head down and arms to the side, and then gets back up again to play or read.

    I know the major tantrums are coming down the line soon and this post AND readers’ comments will be very helpful for me when the time comes. Thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences.

  13. I did the same exact thing!!! My daughter was about 9 weeks old and I was rocking her to sleep and she just cried and cried. I finally yelled ‘can you please go to sleep’ and she was frightened and started wailing and I felt like such a horrible person. We cried together for a while. For the most part I have not yelled. There was one instance where I went into the other room and screamed into a pillow and my daughter was none the wiser and I felt much better.

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