How to Stay Calm
by Susie Michelle Cortright
My beloved car had just blown its engine, pregnancy was making me crazy, and we had no money in our pockets (or anywhere else). When I slammed our front door, I knocked the only plant I had managed to keep alive all season off the windowsill. Just as the pottery hit the floor and cracked, so did I. I lay face down in black potting soil and pottery shards and let my Labrador lick the tears off my dirty face.
That was just before the birth of our first child. Since then, there have been countless times when I've wanted to curl up on the carpet and scream, but the ever-watching kids have made that a luxury I can no longer afford. Now that I have a two-year-old, I have to struggle to not act like one. I have to keep my temper under control.
It's more difficult now, too. One of the biggest surprises of motherhood, many moms agree, is the absolute anger we can feel in no time - and with very little provocation. Start with a sleep-deprived parent, throw in a troubled teenager, a whining child, or a colicky newborn, and even the coolest cat may lose her mind.
Releasing our anger in the wrong ways can lead to emotional and physical scars on our kids. When infants are shaken, even for one heated moment, they can die. And it takes only a moment to harm their little souls. Weeks ago, I snapped at my two-year-old. It was an instance that I thought would be forgotten after a hug and an apology. Until, that is, the next day when she kept asking, "Mommy, are you mad at me?" Even today, she can sense irritation in just the set of my jaw and she'll ask again. It breaks my heart to know she must remember when mommy was mad. It proves how sensitive and impressionable she is and how she is always,
always watching her mommy.
As they watch, these young ones are paying particular attention to the way we handle difficult situations. And what we model for them will, in large part, determine their success at controlling their own tempers as they grow up.
So, even in the face of total exasperation, we must stay calm. For a long time, the advice has been to simply go away for a moment and count to ten, but, as all moms know, sometimes that's not so easy. A small child may be frightened when mommy leaves to take a time-out. Sometimes counting to ten just doesn't do it, and there's no time to count to 100.
So here are a few more tips, compiled just for moms, to help you deal with anger and stay calm with your kids.
The best time to work on staying cool is before you're hot.
*Declare a zero-tolerance policy on the out-of-control temper.* You must decide, for yourself, that behaving this way is simply not okay. Remind yourself that it is possible to manage your emotions. Think back to times when you were successful at controlling your anger. Perhaps you bit your tongue rather than hollering at the boss. Or you were just about to let it fly at your husband when your in-laws called and suddenly you couldn't believe the sweetness of your own voice. See? We all have the power to suddenly change our mood.
*Be prepared.* Lots of things can go wrong each day; be ready for them. For example, if you've got babies, pack a bag with at
least one extra shirt for everyone (even Dad), a complete outfit for each toddler, and several for the infants. Stow them in the
back of the car with extra diapers and plenty of baby wipes.
*Is there anything specific that triggers your anger?* Keep a journal for those times when you feel like you're ready to fly off the handle. Do you notice any patterns--time of day, hunger level, lack of exercise, a full calendar? Even noise from a TV or radio can contribute to a feeling of over-stimulation, which can set off an emotional explosion. Create a nurturing environment for yourself.
*Take care of yourself.* We're more likely to react to a situation - rather than to simply act - when we haven't gotten enough sleep or we haven't been eating right. Start your day with a light breakfast that includes carbohydrates and protein. Then continue to eat for energy throughout the day. More Energy for Moms features information on how to control your moods with food.
*Daily exercise* provides a physical release to help you control anxiety and aggression throughout the day. A half-hour of kickboxing can release tension you didn't even know you had. I know I'm not the only mom addicted to Tae-Bo tapes. We
kick and punch our way back to sanity every afternoon.
*A regular routine of prayer and meditation* can calm a chaotic mind. Sit quietly for at least 15 minutes a day. Practice a few yoga stretches when things get tense.
*Decide how you'll deal with certain situationS before they arise.* What makes you want to blow your top? Whether it's toddler temper tantrums or the preschooler's occasional whine, determine how you will handle those things beforehand - while you're calm.
*Understand your child.* Read up on child development and put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: "What's it like to be two and not have the skills to express what you want?" "What's it like for a newborn who finds herself with a gut-wrenching bellyful of gas and doesn't understand why it hurts?" Kids act the way they do for a reason. Often, there's a developmental milestone associated with a child's behavior. Understanding the reasons behind our kids' actions can go a long way in helping us develop a sense of empathy, compassion and, ultimately, tolerance.
IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT
*Take a few deep breaths.* Diaphragmatic breathing helps reduce stress. This will also give you a time-out, long enough to make
a rational assessment of the situation and to help you regain a sense of control.
*Visualize* yourself as the cool, calm, person you strive to be. Whom do you know who embodies these traits? Imagine this person's reaction to the situation.
*Stop. Think. Then speak.* Remind yourself of the importance of keeping yourself under control. If you feel anger building inside,
don't pick up a baby. Ask for help or wait until you are calm.
*Consciously lower your voice.* Yelling will only make a child angry and defensive, and it can scare a young child. A soft
tone says you're in control.
*Don't catastrophize.* Resist the temptation to blow something out of proportion. Avoid using the words "always" and "never"
when you talk to yourself and when you talk to other people.
*Distract yourself.* Is there any way you can laugh about the situation? Ask yourself: what is the real significance of the situation that triggered your rage? It's more important to model a healthy approach to stress than it is to win certain battles. Choose those battles carefully.
Afterwards, reinforce your love for the child and retreat to assess the way you handled the situation. What did you do right? What will you do differently next time?
Copyright 2003 Susie Cortright
Susie Cortright is the founder of momscape.com and Momscape's Scrapbooking Playground. Join her scrapbooking club or learn more about starting your own scrapbooking business on Susie's team.