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Responding to Our Children When We’re Stressed-Out: 4 Tricks That Help Me in the Moment

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 24 August 2023

Sometimes I struggle when my child is angry or having a tantrum in public or won't go to bed when I am exhausted and frustrated. 

I navigate these and other high-stress situations better when I have been able to keep my stress levels low and have stayed connected with friends who support my parenting goals.

It’s also important for me to become aware of how often I react in a way I'd rather not and what triggers those responses. I've heard that some parents use wrist bangles, moving a bangle from one side of their body to the other each time they react to their children in a way they'd rather not. I prefer to gently snap a rubber band on my wrist. This helps me become conscious of patterns that provoke a certain reaction from me.

When I’m in the moment, and feel anger boiling up, these are four go-to tricks that work for me:

  1. Do some kind of physical activity. Running around the house, jumping up and down, dancing, or other exercise helps the brain process stress that might otherwise be directed toward my children. It's also funny for little kids to see Mom or Dad suddenly jumping up and down, which can diffuse a stressful situation.
  2. Sing what I would like to say to my child. I can't yell if I'm singing. I also find singing tends to get my kids' attention easier than talking, because it's out of the ordinary. Singing also forces me to control my breath, which helps me calm down.
  3. Repeat a calming mantra. My personal favorite is "Serenity now!" Try yelling that and see if you can keep yourself from feeling better after that. Try writing your mantra on sticky notes hung around the house or maybe on your arm. Bonus points if it makes you laugh.
  4. Leave the room. I've had friends express concern about this because it seems similar to a timeout. The difference is, a timeout is a controlled response by the parent to the child; leaving the room is helpful when you are worried that you can't control your response. Once I'm in the other room, I take deep breaths to calm down. Other parents find they need to scream into a pillow. When I come back into the room with my child, or before I leave the room if I'm able, I explain to my child what happened: For example, "I was feeling frustrated and needed to take a break to calm down." I find this a good way to talk to my children about their strong feelings and healthy ways to deal with them.

Even with these tricks, I sometimes make mistakes. I just make sure to take time to reconnect with my child when this happens and move forward doing the best that I can.

What helps you to stay calm and able to respond sensitively to your child in a moment of frustration?

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