Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

4 Steps To Keep from Losing It With Your Child

“I don't want to yell at my children. But they don't listen, and finally I just get mad.  And you’re right, then my child looks like the enemy.  I yell threats and things I'm sorry for later.  I know I should do what you suggest and walk away,  take five to calm down.   BUT I CAN’T.  I’m just too mad, so I lose it, and I have a tantrum of my own.  But I'm afraid of what I'm modeling.”

Of course you get mad.  You’re human.  Not to mention you live with immature humans who by definition act childish.

But as we’re always reminding our kids, feeling angry doesn’t mean we have to explode into a tantrum.  One of the reasons we “lose it” is that we feel powerless to solve a recurring problem.  Our frustration mounts, and before we know it, we’re past the point of no return. 

Think you can’t get your kids to listen?  Here are four steps you can take as soon as you start to get annoyed.

1.  When you see something, say something. 

When you start to feel bothered, address your concern while you can still do so with grace, and try to get cooperation by offering choices or reminding kids of rules.

“Water stays IN the tub.  Let’s pour the water in the big container.”

Turn off the TV and hand your child his backpack, with two words: “Homework time!”

“The noise level in this car is too much for me.  Can you discuss this more peacefully, or should I put on some music we can all listen to?”

Note on dinner table:  SOS:  Who's the hungriest pet of all?  Please solve riddle and address before sitting down for dinner.

2.  If you keep feeling irritated, express what’s underneath. 

You’re angry, but that's not all.  Anger always springs from a more vulnerable emotion: fear, sadness.  Look for it and express it.  Clarifying your concern vents it so you don’t get swept away by anger, and it gives your child a chance to work with you to get the problem solved.

“Water on the floor makes it slippery.  Remember when you slipped last night and got hurt?”

“When you procrastinate on starting your homework, I worry that you won’t be able to do a good enough job on it, and things will get rushed and tense after dinner.”

“When it’s this noisy, I can’t drive safely.”

“I'm so sad to see him suffer.  It’s not fair not to feed a pet; they don’t have hands to feed themselves.  Please work together and agree whose job it is to feed him every night, and we’ll put it up on the family calendar.”

3. If your child still doesn’t participate in solving the problem, take action to solve the problem for yourself. 

Set your limit as kindly, calmly and firmly as you can, but set it. The more you do this, the more confident you’ll be that you can actually always find a way to get your needs met, and you’ll find that you don’t lose it so often.

“Ok, let’s take the containers out of the tub. You can play with the boats instead.  I know, that makes you sad.  Tomorrow we can try again with the containers.”

“I will sit here at the table with you and do my paperwork while you get started on your homework.  What do you want to work on first?”

Pull the car off the road, pull out your book, and ignore the arguing kids.  Read until the car is quiet.

Take your child by the hand and lead him into the kitchen:  “The calendar says it was your job to feed our family pet tonight and he’s hungry. Now!”

4. Still a problem?  Ready to blow your stack?  Find a more permanent solution. 

Sometimes the problem gets repeated over and over until you feel like screaming.  What can you do instead? It’s okay to express your anger as long as you don’t attack.  Kids need to know that you’re serious. And if you refrain from punishing while you set your limit, your child will actually learn what you’re trying to teach, instead of getting distracted by thoughts of revenge.

“Oops, you’re pouring water on the floor again.  Goodbye containers.  We’ll try them again next month.  Where’s your boat? Now you’re crying. You’re so sad because you love to pour water on the floor. But water stays in the tub, that's the rule.  You are really mad, I see.  I guess bath time’s over, let’s get you out.”

“Sorry, it’s too hard for you to turn off the TV and start your homework, so I've decided.  No more TV during the week until your grades go back up.  You can tape any show you like and watch it on the weekend after your homework is done.”

As you get in the car, separate the kids and put on music that makes talking impossible. Show the kids your novel and warn them that if there's any fighting, you'll be pulling over and they may be late to practice; they can explain it to the coach.

“I see your pet still wasn’t fed!  I’m heartbroken for him.  From now on when I see him hungry, I will take my own time to feed him, and you kids will be responsible for taking my place that night washing the dinner dishes. Your choice.”

Notice that:

  • You didn't lose it because you took back your power and got the problem solved while you could still be reasonable.
  • This isn't about winning, it's about solving the problem before you're so frustrated you lose it.
  • Your child "listened" and learned a lesson without you yelling, attacking or punishing.
  • This will work 100% better if you spend daily one-on-one time connecting with each child so they feel more cooperative.

And if you still feel like losing it?  Take Five! No, you're not letting them win.  You're modeling great anger management.

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