Q: When everything is so upsetting and chaotic in a moment of bad behavior and anger, it seems unrealistic to be able to stay calm and figure out the right words to use and the proper consequences! How do you keep your cool?
A: Give yourself time before you talk.
Be honest and say, “I am so angry that I can’t talk to you right now.” It is ok to delay a consequence temporarily while you regain composure. It only takes a minute for that intense emotion of anger to dissipate, and then you can walk back in and talk to your child rationally, with respect and compassion.
Even at a young age, children can understand if you tell them you need a minute to think about how to handle this situation. You can ask them to sit in one place while you take a minute to calm down and that you will then be ready to talk about what happened. Or with very young or out-of-control children, if you can’t walk away, you can simply hold them tight on your lap but say nothing until you have taken deep breaths. In fact, if they are out of control, hold them until their moment of anger passes also before you begin talking. Holding them close provides them with a safe yet controlled place to be while they are emotionally and perhaps physically charged.
As children get older, it is a good idea to involve them in the decision-making. Once you have regained your calm, you might say, “I have thought about what you did, this is why it was inappropriate…, what do you think the consequence should be?” The more we get children involved in thinking through the cause and effect of their actions, the more we are helping them learn to discipline themselves. That is our ultimate goal.
If there is a situational reason you can’t walk away during the moment of anger, such as a spilled gallon of milk on the floor, then, without exploding, say, “I need to take care of this but I am too angry to talk to you right now. When I calm down I will come and talk to you” or “Please help me clean up but I do not want to talk right now. I am upset that this happened. We will talk later when I am calm.”
It might seem hard to not explode in temper, but with practice and conscious effort, it is indeed possible. In the meantime, if you do loose your cool, just catch yourself and stop as soon as possible. Say to your child, “I am sorry I blew up at you. I am learning that angry behavior does not accomplish anything and I will try to stop yelling. Now I have calmed down and I need to talk about what just happened.”
Our children need to know that everyone make mistakes and then we try again. That’s what you want them to learn. It is important for them to understand that they are good people and that they should keep trying. If you present yourselves as infallible, if you make them feel as if they are the only ones to make a mistake, it sets an impossible standard for them to live up to. So show them your imperfect self, and let them know that you are still learning and doing the best you can.
Keep striving to wait until the height of emotion passes before you talk. Soon, you will be able to keep your cool!