10 ways to avoid losing temper with kids

It can be seriously stressful when your kid is having a meltdown or won’t do as they’re told. How quick are you to lose your temper with them? After having many adult tantrums over the last 4 1/2 years herself, Rachel is now a more mindful mentalist, and she she has a few nuggets of parenting wisdom to share with you…

As most mums know, it’s not just toddlers that have the odd meltdown. They can happen to parents as well. I don’t know about you, but all my temper tantrums are related to my kids. It’s happening less frequently than it used to, as I’ve been trying to get my act together. But still, occasionally, when the pressure is on and the kids aren’t playing ball, I feel the hot pockets of rage creeping to the surface – and much of the time I can’t stop them boiling up and over.

Afterwards, sometimes they are crying, sometimes I am crying – sometimes we are ALL crying. It’s a truly ridiculous scene – and, joking aside, it can be quite genuinely upsetting. But it’s all my fault, not theirs. (I do realise this much, don’t worry, I’m not a complete dickhead!) After all, they are brand new humans, with only a couple of years’ practice under their belts. I, on the other hand, have had 35 years’ practice, so I should know by now how to handle something as simple as the morning routine. Or should I? If you think about it, as new-ish parents we’re still learning too – helping our infants to become nice little humans is quite hard work as it turns out.

On the upside, every time I have lost it in the past few years, I feel I have learned a bit about why it happened. I’m a more mindful mentalist nowadays. I attended a workshop about keeping calm with toddlers and this class, along with talking to other mums has made me a bit more mindful about why I was getting so angry. So I’ve been losing my temper a lot less recently.

The list isn’t supposed to be anything other than some ideas to mull over. Some of them you will like and others you might not agree with. I’m most certainly no expert – but I don’t think that anyone is. All we can do as parents is try and support each other and offer tips on what works for us. What I have learned through 4 1/2 years of being a mum is that there is no such thing as perfect; you just do your best.

1. Instead of suppressing the rage, if it’s coming and you can’t stop it, just let it out – but don’t direct it at them. Sometimes I stamp my feet and scream – my 2 year old daughter loves it when this happens, she thinks it’s properly hilarious and it has actually cut dead several of her own tantrums.

2. Look after yourself and you’ll be less likely to lose your temper – and the same goes for the kid. There is a direct correlation between how quickly I am to lose my rag, and how much sleep I’ve had in the previous few nights. Also, if I’ve been out (i.e. got drunk) I tend to be awfully ratty the next few days. The lesson? Take care of yourself and you’ll be able to care for others better: sleep more, drink less alcohol, make time for exercise, eat well.

3. Try not to catastrophise – internal stress-induced monologues will probably end in a strop: “If he doesn’t get his coat on this second we will be late – OHMYGOD it’s 5 to 9 – which means I will get a letter from school, which means I will then be late to my desk, which means I won’t start early on that work and it needs to be done today – it must be done today…AAAAAAAAARRGGGHHH” – aaannnnd here comes the rage, right on cue. Try to stop your thoughts whizzing into overdrive. So you might be late. The world will not end, truly. But you will have had a more pleasant start to the day.

4. Take practical steps to the root cause. For me, it is often a ‘getting out of the house on time’ induced rage. So I tried to take steps to address it, like moving things (breakfast / shower etc) back 15 minutes – in other words trying to get up earlier. Also, I get really hot whilst getting the last bits together to leave the house, so I open the door to let some cold air in. This helps me not boil over, quite literally.

5.  See the funny side. Your kid is apoplectic as you put honey on her porridge (HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW SHE WANTED TO DO THIS??). It’s OK to laugh, even if you have to hide your face with a box of Shreddies. It’s better than shouting at her and making the whole thing worse.

6. Don’t overanalyse your decisions / actions. This is something I think our generation of mums is very guilty of. Everyone has an opinion. And parenting fashions will always come and go. Someone thinks naughty step is cruel. Another thinks ‘love bombing’ is the way to go. Whatever. As long as you consistently give your child love and, importantly, boundaries… THEY’LL. BE. FINE.

7. Choose a few things to have in your armoury. Decide on them pre-meltdown, when you are rational. I personally do use the naughty step. It’s my call. I’ve heard all the arguments for and against – and I still think it’s OK. I need something to ACTUALLY DO to regain control when they have done something naughty and the situation is spiralling. Whether you choose this, or to ignore tantrums and ‘bad’ behaviour – whatever, it’s up to you. But for me, having a ‘plan’ is half the battle in terms of feeling like you are proactively being a good parent. It’s when you feel powerless I think you are more likely to lose it. Your inner voice is saying “Take control”.  

8. Follow through. If you repeatedly give in to them or show weakness, like not following up on threats (e.g. ‘do that again and you aren’t having supper’) then they will walk all over you. We all do it sometimes, but on the whole try to stick to your guns. If you are in control (kind of) then you are less likely to lose it.

9. Attend a Toddlercalm (or similar) workshop to gain insight into how the brain works – both the adult brain and the toddler brain. For me, this workshop wasn’t a panacea; it didn’t give me ‘answers’ as such. But it did give me a morning to myself to step back and consider what it must be like to be a toddler – and to realise that we often expect too much of them, and ourselves.

10. Choose your battles and get some perspective. Sometimes (when I am feeling chilled and zen) I am just able to thrown my hands up and say ‘Oh f*ck it – we’ll have to be late / don’t wear a coat / eat with your hands…” (delete as appropriate). The world won’t end if they are cold / won’t brush their teeth / won’t eat their parsnips. They’ll live.

But sometimes, none of these things will apply and you will just lose it. If it happens… give yourself a break. Your child is the most forgiving person in the world. Hours later, when you are still thinking about it, they’re not. I promise.

2 comments on “10 ways to avoid losing your temper with your kids”

  1. Really wonderful piece. I have struggled with rage since becoming a parent of a gorgeous, delightful, amazing daughter, who is generally very obedient. But there were too many rage filled incidents and I also looked for guidance on why it happened and how to prevent/ manage those flash point situations. I completely agree with your tips, particularly about taking care of yourself and monitoring the inner catastrophic voice.

    I would add to keep in mind that frustrating behaviours will often pass as they grow out of them.

    my daughter is just exiting a two year phase of clinginess, with an extremely difficult habit of demanding ‘play with me mummy, play with meeeee’ 100 times a day. By 4pm all I wanted was her to sodding play by herself and LEAVE ME ALONE. My rage at being ‘forced’ to play another tedious imaginary game stemmed from feeling that I had to play all the time, otherwise I would impair her creative development, harm our bonding etc etc… Basically if I said no or set limits I felt like a bad parent. And so eventually I would finally snap and explode at yet another demand. I’ve learned to set limits on the demands to play, go out more and arrange play dates so she can play with peers, so I’m not her sole play mate. I’ve also accepted that she is this way and probably won’t play by herself (the upside is she’s incredibly creative and highly emotionally aware). But most of all that I can give her the attention she needs with time limits to keep me sane and then firmly, but kindly and without feeling guilty, say no after that.

    Thanks for the post. Glad I’m not alone in struggling with this

    • I’m so glad you found this post useful, that means an awful lot to me, so thanks for commenting. It’s very hard to remain calm at all times – in fact, I’d say it was pretty impossible! It sounds like you have a completely lovely little girl there so I’m sure you’re doing a great job! X

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