Keeping Your Cool as a Parent

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Earlier this year, I wrote a book review on No-Drama Discipline, which helps parents understand why their children throw tantrums and how to react. The book uses the acronym HALT to help parents identify why their child may be melting down. Are they Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? While this method can be helpful for toddlers, it has been crucial in my own self-awareness.

Recognizing Triggers

The first step to keeping your cool is realizing you are about to lose it. More importantly, it is realizing why you are about to lose it. When I feel frustrated, I ask myself the following questions: Am I hungry? When was the last time I ate an actual meal? (Scraps from my toddler’s meal don’t count.) Am I angry at my son because he harmed something of value to me? Am I lonely for adult interaction? Am I tired? Did I get enough sleep last night?

When I first asked myself these questions, I felt bitter. Of course I haven’t eaten an actual meal recently! I spend all of my time focusing on my son’s meals. Of course I’m mad that he ripped that book—we paid good money for it! I am always lonely for adult interaction if adults aren’t there. And up until my toddler slept through the night, I was always tired. I was trying so hard to be a “good mom” by putting my son’s needs before my own that I was setting myself up to be continually frustrated with him. Basically I blamed all my patience issues on the existence of my son. Which isn’t really fair. So I’m trying to be better.

Minimizing Your Triggers

Here are some things I’m doing to minimize my triggers.

Hunger- I’m working on eating more consistently. I’m working on telling my son, “Mommy needs to eat right now” or, “This is Mommy’s eating time.” I’ve learned to eat meals behind closed doors with a frustrated toddler screaming underneath the crack. I’ve learned to leave the dinner table with my toddler strapped into his booster seat. Because if I don’t take care of my hunger, I know I’m going to lose my cool. And I’d rather spare my toddler the screaming banshee that I would become.

Anger- I’m working on recognizing why I’m angry. My toddler often doesn’t realize the natural consequences of his actions, but I do. Glass will break. CDs will snap. I’m trying not to keep a mental list in my mind of all the money my toddler owes me due to things he’s broken. Because honestly, he doesn’t know any better. And is it really worth yelling at him for something he can’t change?

Loneliness- I’m working on having more adult interaction. Or even just doing more adult things, like writing. I schedule playdates with other moms. When I work from home I try to reach out and connect with other adults. This is why so many moms are on FB and Instagram! They are trying to address their loneliness.

Tired- I’m working on getting enough sleep. It’s easier now that my son sleeps through the night. To all you moms of babies and light sleepers, I wish I had a good solution. But I don’t.

Taking a Time-Out

Minimizing your triggers won’t take away all of your anger.  After you’ve done what you could to minimize triggers and still find yourself angry, institute a parent time-out. You take a time out to eat. You take a time out to scream into your pillow. You take a time out to call a fellow adult. You take a time out to power nap. I really liked the idea in this article of creating an “upset spot.” I think everyone in the family should have one of these! The most important part of having an “upset spot” is using it, and enforcing its use by explaining to your kids why it is there.

You don’t have to be the only one to notice when you are losing your cool. Your kids can help too. I like the suggestion of creating a special word or phrase your child can use to let you know that you need a time out. Ask your child to say that word whenever your tone of voice scares them, and then take a time out.

The nice things about time-outs is that they can vary in time. Whatever time you chose to take out, set a timer and stick to it. While it would be nice to take a day long time-out, you do still have to parent your children. Some days you may take more time-outs than others. Acknowledge that everyone has bad days and move on. I think ultimately if you take a time-out, it will be better if you can come back calm than if you just stayed angry the whole time.

What is your biggest trigger from HALT? Do you use an “upset spot”? If so, where is it?