I just read a really fantastic article from this blog: The Peacefull Housewife She listed 101 things to do when you feel like you are going to have a mommy meltdown! I loved all of her ideas, but I found as I was reading, that some ideas are fantastic for "Heat of the moment" anger control, and others were better for "De-stressing", or after math regrouping. Often, what I need is a mood shifter RIGHT now or by golly I just don't know what the consequences will be. So I put together a list of my own that focuses more on the "Heat of the moment" actions one can take to circumvent those less than stellar mommy moment meltdowns. Some, can be used in public, while others would be more effective at home, but all of them are pretty anger dissolving tools. I know this because I have in-fact used each of these at least once in my three years of parenting experience. I'm sure I'll be able to give you an even more impressive list by the time my son is 30.
- Sing out your frustration! See Parenting With Puccini for a fun description of this one!
-If you are at home get out a piece of paper and have your kids draw out their feelings, sit down and do it with them, my mom still has pictures my sister and I drew to describe how we felt when we were angry at each other!
- Get out the play dough and kneed, pull, rip, tear, and smash together. While expressing your frustrations in this safe way, you are also giving your child attention and play which is often what they are crying for when they act out.
-Talk it out. It doesn't matter if your child is following what you are saying or not, you are talking to calm yourself. I have done this in restaurants "Scotty, your running around and refusing to sit at the table is very frustrating to your dad and I, not to mention embarrassing since I think everyone is judging me, what do you need from me so that you can calm down?" I have done this to save myself from exploding, just the other day in fact, it went like this "Scotty, when you ran out of the store just now with the curious George video it classified as stealing, I can not permit you to do that, let's walk back right now and put it on the shelf where it belongs". You will be amazed at how talking intelligently to yourself like this can calm you down.
-Consider stopping what you are doing. I know we feel that it is our right to do the dishes when we want to, or talk on the phone, or write our blog, or watch HGTV, or go shopping, but your child believes it is their right to have your undivided attention ALL the time. I'm not suggesting that from now on you let your child run your life, or determine what and when you will do what you need or want to do, but I am suggesting you be flexible enough to step back every now and then and ask yourself if you are willing to let go of what you are doing right now to meet the needs of your child, and go play! Or shop later! Remember, you are an adult, and they are a child, their whole world is YOU, and sometimes, you need to just get off the phone and go play tag, especially if they are nagging you for the attention.
-Must you really INSIST they wear that shirt, or eat that food? Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, no.
Let it go. You'll both be happier in an instant.
-Jump up and down! Seriously, as high as you can, just JUMP, stomp your feet, growl, scream, go ahead, just don't direct it AT your child. They know the difference, go to your room if you have to.
-Shake your hands out
-Punch a pillow
-Scream into a pillow
-Take your kids to the park and RUN, play chase!
-Force yourself to smile
-Try to laugh
-Square breathe. This is a beautiful technique I used often as a vocalist. If it can calm a soloist before singing the Pie Jesu Solo in front of 1,000 people with a full orchestra at the Washington Center, it can calm the mother of a screaming toddler. Here's how it works:
Breathe in 5 counts (Through your nose)
Hold the breath 5 counts
Release the breath 5 counts (On a Shhhhhhhhh)
Hold the breath 5 counts
Repeat until you are calm.
-I have both called friends to cry and been the friend on the phone to a crying friend. You are not alone, and people want to help you! Allow them to help you.
-This is not an "In the moment" response, but get yourself a family counselor
-If he is around ask the hubby for help. I don't get this option very often, being a submariners wife but when I need his help and he's around I certainly don't hesitate to engage his assistance!
-Read, read, read-I LOVE parenting books and articles, I read something everyday, it keeps me sane and it reminds me I'm not alone. I have been known to pick up an article right in the heat of mommy anxiety. My mom loves the story of when she came into my art room and saw me at the computer and my toddler pulling all of my art supplies out of their neat little compartments and throwing them across the room.
"Umm, Heidi, my mom said cautiously "Is it okay that Scotty is making a mess out of your art supplies?"
"If he is occupied long enough for me to finish this parenting article, yes" I answered
We both sort of paused at that moment and just started laughing. That is life! You learn AS YOU GO!
Be aware of your THINKING!
-Before you FELT angry you had a thought. Sure, you may say "My son made me SO angry when he dumped all the Juice in the fridge on the kitchen floor!" But it's not the spilled juice that made you angry, it was your THOUGHTS about the spilled juice. Thoughts like "He should not have done that" "That juice represents lost money" "Now I have to clean this all up". The truth is, you can choose not to be upset about that dumped out juice. Honestly, ten minutes ago I was in this very situation. I'm busy writing this blog, I thought my son was watching Thomas happily eating the snack I gave him, but low and behold I walked out to check on him and he'd dumped out three containers of juice from the fridge. But instead of getting mad I thought, "It's just juice, and at least it's not on the carpet. Then I handed Scotty a towel. And he went to clean it up. I didn't say a word. He knows.
-I know that sometimes, the thoughts and feeling of angry feel simultaneous and you almost can not distinguish the two, I've been there too. When this happens, recognize that the feeling of anger is a red flag, and look at your thoughts. Replace the angry thought. Scripts as our family calls them, are so powerful. "You make me so angry" is a script. Like a line a play-write gives a character. You are giving the character (you) lines all day everyday. Give yourself a line that HELPS you, instead of makes you feel angry. Here are some of my favorites, I try and remind myself of when I find myself in a place of emotional response.
"There's nothing wrong here."
I will say this until I believe it. Your mind will fight this, you have an ideal that you hold, a vision of how your child should act, and how YOU should parent. But life does not always give us ideals, the trick is to be okay despite the imperfection. We want ideals because we believe they will bring us joy. And often they do, but as your three year old lays on the floor and cries because they want Curious George, you have the power to smile and say to yourself "There is nothing wrong with this behavior". It' how your child is choosing to express themselves in that moment, as long as you don't engage in their behavior by thinking it should be different, you have the power, the patience and the peace to shift your emotions. And remember, no negative emotion can sustain itself for a long period of time. I have watched my son throw massive fits, cry, scream, bite, kick and fight for 45 minutes straight while I watched, empathized as I needed to, and waited. Then in an instant, as quickly as it began, he will stop. There is nothing wrong here. Everything is as it should be. He is learning, and so am I. There is nothing wrong here.
-Another perspective I love to remind myself of is the 3 minute, 3 hours, 3 days, 3 years perspective. There's a great book on this called 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch. Basically, you ask yourself if this will matter in the next ten minutes, ten months, and ten years. I love to apply this to parenting as well, especially in the heat of the moment, in most cases the whole thing will have blown over in the next three minutes. Really.
-Count. Sweet, simple, effective. There's a reason you hear this advice OVER and OVER and OVER. It shifts our thoughts and focuses our mind on something else.
-Consider your child's perspective. This is what we know as empathy, but have you ever considered having empathy for the fact that your child has only been exposed to emotion for a few short years? They are trying to process and figure out their mind and thoughts with just a few short years of experience. Look how hard it can be for us, and we are adults!
-They heard you, don't tell them again. Children don't need to be told to do anything more than three times, less if they are older. (My 3 year old really only needs to be told once) More than that and it turns into nagging, no one likes that. As you tell your child over and over to do something they can easily tune you out. Children are smart, they know the drill. Try these approaches.
"I see you spilled some juice, here is a towel."
After you've set the table and called the family sit down at the table.
When you go out to the car, let your child open the door and get in their seat.
Have a clean up song you sing when it's time to pick up toys instead of asking them to help, just start cleaning and singing, they will join you.
I could go on and on with examples, the point is to consider the child's innate desire to choose when and how they will do things, find ways to guide them to choose internally what you need them to do versus telling them what to do all the time, over and over again.
-As your child is dilly dallying remind yourself "I have all the time in the world". Kids pick up on our stress and anxiety, the bigger the hurry the more inclined they feel to take their own sweet time. As you wait, count your blessings, or day dream over your dream kitchen. Your tot will come around, without your coercion.
-Once while I was driving, my son wiggled his way out of his car-seat, I quickly pulled over and wanted to scream at him to tell him how dangerous that behavior was. He was angry at me and throwing an impressive fit. As I pulled over, I calmed myself down by saying "There is no emergency here". This is a powerful script when your fight or flight mode gets engaged. It's easy to rage in this high emotion state, calm yourself by saying over and over, "There is no emergency here".
Make it a GAME!
-What child doesn't love games, I have turned many "NO! NO! NOOOOO's!" into yes's as soon as I turned it into a game. "You can pretend to be daddy and open the car and put your Snowbear in his carseat! Oh, I think Snowbear is lonely in that seat, can you sit with him?"
"Mommy can't open the door when you kick it, oh no, try knocking and see what happens?" (We have an issue with kicking doors in our home.)
"How fast can your truck drive your folded laundry into your bedroom?"
Try it, it's FUN! Really!
-Mirror their behavior, in a fun lighthearted, humerus way. Sometimes, seeing mom kicking and screaming is enough to jolt a child into the moment and get them to go along with you. If you are not in the proper mood this can look demeaning, and there is a difference between humor and condescension, so be careful with this one.
DON'T GIVE UP!
Never forget that the Lord sent YOUR child to YOU, because you are a perfect match. You are meant to be this child's parent. Trust that the Lord knows your heart and the heart of your child and together you two will figure things out and be just fine. Only you know what is best for you child. Be open to ideals, and hold a vision of the parent you want to be, but keep in mind that the ultimate goal is joy. To be a joyful parent, raising joyful children! The face of your parenting approaches are evolving and changing on a momentary basis, and that is a good thing! It means we are all growing. You will get angry, but let that be a flag to you! Let it alert you to the need to shift your thoughts and actions so you and your child can be in a place of joy again soon.
I am a mom just like you. I have lost my temper, I have given my kid a little swat, I have dragged him out of stores kicking and screaming, I have yelled, I have run into my bedroom slamming the door behind me crying tears of anger and frustration, I have wondered if I am cut out to be a mom, I have wondered what my mom thinks of my parenting, my mother in law, my neighbors, the mom at church with five kids all folding their arms reverently during prayer while my child runs ecstatically from pew to pew, I've changed poopy diapers and then went and threw up because I had the flu and my husband was deployed, I'm there with you, you are not alone. We are all doing the best we know how. We are all trying to figure out what works to bring us and our families joy. You will have great days, and not so stellar days, and whether you just had a parenting triumph or a parenting flop, it is all for the good of your experience. Now you can grow. You can choose something different. You can have empathy when you see a mom with three tots running amok carrying five grocery bags and a crying baby, you can carry her groceries and assure her she is just where she needs to be, all is right in her world, there is nothing wrong here, and even in this harried, chaotic moment, there is joy to be found, contrast to be felt, and the wonder of LIFE to be experienced!
I wish you joy in your parenting journey.
In the fits of tears
in the diapers
in the hugs
in the smiles
in the laughter
in the screaming
in the curls
in the messes
in the naps
in all the wonder
in all the frustration
in all the love,
The Domestic Diva.