You’re red-faced. Nuclear. Ready to blow. You’ve repeated the same thing two hundred thousand times and your kids still aren’t listening. Still don’t get it. You feel the rage boiling up inside of you, about to manifest in either a scream, or for some parents, a smack.
What can you do? What can you tell yourself in the moment to keep from losing your cool?
There are a million little tricks people suggest for calming down, almost all of them centered around the concept of ‘Breathing in and out” as if you’re the Buddha himself. But if you were the Buddha himself, you wouldn’t be thinking of going ape-shit on your kids. The Buddha didn’t have kids. That’s probably how he became the Buddha.
Here are 10 ways to control your anger and keep from going ape on your kids:
1. Ask Yourself, “Is Yelling Worth It?”
The fact is, if you raise your voice loud enough, you can probably intimidate your kids into doing what you want them to do at that moment. But is it worth it? What are the costs, for you and for them? For most parents, screaming often results in a boatload of guilt, followed by some kind of “Sorry I yelled” apology. You feel like crap and your kids are reduced to tears. On top of that, if your wife is around, well, let’s just say it’s not the sexiest thing in the world to see your husband turn beet red and completely flip his shit. Just stop and ask yourself if you actually feel better or worse after freaking out on your kids. Most likely, the answer is worse. The trick is remembering that in the moment. If you can remember that yelling just isn’t worth it, you’ve taken the first step in learning to keep cool with your kids.
2. Try A Mantra
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, or studied mediation, you might have heard of a mantra. It’s a little phrase you repeat over and over to yourself to help calm your mind. Something like, “I won’t be a dick to the kids today… I won’t be a dick to the kids today…” The trick to using a mantra like this in parenting is to do it everyday, not just when you’re in the heat of the moment. You want to be pre-emptive. For example, if you notice your little angels are starting to grind on your very last nerve for several days in a row, and you just know that your lava eruption moment is coming, do this: Stand in the shower that morning and repeat your phrase: “I won’t be a dick to the kids today.” At breakfast, when they’re running late for school and you’re the only who seems interested in getting them there on time, you say it again, “I won’t be a dick to the kids today.” Keep saying it all throughout the day. Then, when the final moment comes where they push you over the edge and you’re ready to break… hopefully you will remember your mantra, you will have pre-programmed yourself. And you won’t be a dick to the kids today.
3. Have A Plan
Sometimes your kids are so disrespectful or ignorant to what you are asking of them, that it actually seems like a little yelling will do them good. A “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality. But is it possible you’re just losing your temper because you really don’t have a better plan? Yelling is the low-hanging fruit of reactions. It’s right there for you, so easy. And they deserve it. But maybe, if you had a backup plan at the ready, something else that was as easy, you’d grab for that instead. Think ahead. Have a well-thought out punishment or disciplinary action that you can reach for just as easily as you can reach for yelling. When the moment comes, sit down and say, “I’ve been thinking about how this has become a problem, and here are the consequences for not doing your homework the way we discussed.”
4. Delay Punishment
This is a kinda the opposite of having a plan. Often, when your kid does something to drive you nuts, we usually can’t think of a reaction. So we just go for the first thing we think of. Yelling, taking away screentime, taking away something else… whatever. But who says you have to come up with the consequence right there on the spot? You’re not supernanny. Next time, instead of yelling or making a snap decision about a punishment… don’t. Take some time. Say, “Okay, the way you’re acting is not acceptable. You’re going to get a consequence for this.” Invariably, your kid will ask, “What’s my consequence?” And you say, “I don’t know yet. I’ll talk to mom, and we’re going to figure it out together, and we will let you know your consequence later tonight.” This method is magic, because it gives you time to think of an appropriate response. And, it puts some serious fear into your child; they don’t know what’s coming. What’s more, they feel like since they haven’t actually been punished yet, they can still have some influence on the consequence. Watch them offer to help you bring the bags in from the car, watch them apologize in their sweetest voice. After all, the jury is still out.
5. The Adult Time-Out
Sometimes, you just need to isolate. Let’s say the kids are misbehaving and you’re about to snap. You feel it coming. What’s to stop you from just turning around and walking out of the room? Nothing. You’ve given your kids timeouts. Why not take one for yourself? It’s a fantastic move. So dramatic, so unexpected, that your child is likely to freeze on their spot in confusion. “Wait – where the hell did dad just go?” Expect them to follow you down the hall to your room or even better, the bathroom. Listen as they knock on the door. Don’t respond angrily or upset. Simply say, “Daddy’s taking a little time out.” They won’t be able to handle this, of course, and will probably stand outside the door. But you can use the time to peruse a magazine or your phone and calm yourself, while thinking of a reasonable, peaceful solution to the situation.
6. Overly Dramatic Sadness
This works better on the very young, and wears off around 8 or 9. Rooted in the great Catholic and Jewish traditions of guilting children into proper behavior, this one requires a little acting on your part. Upon hearing or seeing their bad behavior, instead of raising your voice, you just stand there for a moment looking very disappointed. Then, you screw up your face as if you’re going to cry. Maybe you lean against the wall, and slide down, until you are sitting on the floor. Put your head in your hands, and cover your face, and then just stay like that. Again, big-time shock value. Kids aren’t expecting this one. They will most likely approach you, suddenly guilty, and ask if you’re okay. You say something on the lines of, “I just thought we had talked about this, and that you understood… I thought I was doing a good job as a daddy.” Yowch! Emotionally manipulative? Sure. A little twisted? Okay, maybe. But effective? Try it and see.
7. Energy, Energy, Energy
Sometimes it seems like all parenting issues come down to a question of energy. Have you slept enough? Are you burnt out at work? Are you hungover? If so, your threshold for snapping is so much lower than if you were well rested. When you lose your cool, you owe it to your children to think about whether it was really because of their behavior, or your own. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep, or you feel out of shape and sluggish, and find yourself getting angrier than when you are happy and healthy, it may be time for some diet and exercise. The difference between how much crap you can put up with when you are feeling fit is astounding.
We already have an article up about the 7 Best Whiskeys To Drink In A Pinch. And it’s not a joke. Taking the edge off around 5pm or later is absolutely within your rights as a parent. It’s in the handbook the doctor gave you before you left the hospital. Section IV, line 6: “Any mother or father who seeks to imbibe alcoholic beverages after the work day, in order to more easily deal with pain-in-the-ass kids – may do so at their own discretion.” Don’t feel guilty. There should always be an open bottle of wine or whiskey nearby.
9. Tag Out
You have to have a partner who’s willing to play this game with you, and you have to be ready to return the favor. If you are, then tagging-out becomes a totally legitimate option. Like professional tag-team wrestlers, if either one of you is in over your head, the other one takes over. Just leave the house. Take an hour, go to the grocery store or Best Buy, whatever – if you can do something for the household and run an errand, even better – but just go. If she knows you’ll return the favor for her, then you have the epitome of marriage: two adults who have each other’s backs in the face of the tyranny of children.
10. The Fake Phone Call
File this one under manipulation, along with #6. The fake phone call is when the kids are behaving so badly, you act like you’re making a call to someone to talk about them. If you’re in the car for example, and they’re throwing fits in the backseat, you pick up the phone and call “mommy” or “grandpa”. Then you act out this script: “Hey. Yeah. I’m okay, I guess. Nothing, it’s just the kids.” At this point, the kids should be all ears. You’re talking about them? They want to know what you’re saying. So you start to vent to the imaginary person on the other end of the line. And the strange thing is? Venting to nobody actually works! It actually will make you feel good to verbalize all the things that are bothering you about how they’re behaving. And you’ll have their rapt attention. Especially if you’ve “called” someone whom they really respect, like grandparents. Eventually, of course, they will realize you’re screwing with them, and you can start to smile, and they’ll start to smile… More often than not, they’ll be so tickled pink by your little display of acting and trickery that they’ll actually start to behave for the rest of the ride.
Every parent comes to the eventual conclusion that yelling and losing your cool is, for the most part, a complete waste of time. The question is how long it’s going to take you, how many sore throats, how many guilty feelings before you start to do something about it. The key, more often than not, is having a plan in place before those moments hit. If you have some alternatives at the ready, such as pre-made consequences, or a mantra that can bring you back to a calm state, you can usually catch yourself before you lose it. Energy also plays a big part in keeping yourself together, so make sure you’re getting proper sleep and exercise if you have young kids. Energy also helps you come up with creative solutions, such as putting on a show of being completely crushed by their bad behavior (aka guilt-tripping them), or pretending to place a phone call to someone they know, which is sure to catch their attention. You can also just walk away, either by taking an adult time-out, or by asking your partner to take over while you leave the house for an hour. And of course, when all other options are exhausted, take a trip to the wonderful world of Oz. That’s Oz as in ounces. 16 of them, ice cold, or 4 of them, on the rocks or neat.