Thursday, October 28, 2010

Staying Calm

Yesterday, as the day was just beginning, my two-year old was in the kitchen with me, grabbing on my leg and alternately crying and screaming because I wasn't giving him the marshmallows he saw in a bag on the counter. My three year old was also whining for a marshmallow, and then the boys started fighting--complete with scratching and screaming like dragons at each other--over something. It fries my nerves. Plus, my mom's here visiting, and it fries her nerves, and then I am doubly stressed.

Finding a way to deal with the mommy stress and remain calm is a good thing. The first step in our strategy, I believe, is to make an intentional choice to stay calm--no matter what we encounter. Yet translating that intention into reality is not as easy as it sounds.

Once we've purposed to remain calm, the next step is to recognize when we're heading for the "danger zone:" that place where we're starting to lose our ability to stay calm. Upon realizing we're moving out of calm waters, we can do what we need to in order to keep our cool.

For me, I liken my anger to a volcano. The lava can simmer under the surface for awhile (danger zone 1), then there's a little steam coming out (danger zone 2--flee immediately), and then the volcano erupts. I can tolerate crying, whining, and fighting--for a little while. I can patiently discipline for disobedience, for a while. It's easier for me to stay calm with one out-of-control child. But when those actions and attitudes continue all day, or when all three of my boys are out-of-control, it is much, much harder to remain calm. The volcano erupts. Then I'm not scolding for the immediate behavior at the moment, but for things that happened an hour ago, two hours ago, six hours ago, get the point. It's not good, and the kids feel lambasted by my angry outburst over the collection of their misdeeds.

Here are some other warning signs we're about to lose it:
  • Tight muscles
  • Sweating 
  • Speaking faster
  • Face feels flushed
  • Grind or clench teeth 
  • Heart pounds
  • Lips quiver when you speak
  • Tremble or shake

So what's a mom to do?

The educators at the Boys and Girls Town once came to our town to teach a parenting class called "Caring Skills for Christian Families". While their strategies work well to turn around troubled youth, they're also great for parents to employ in proactive or corrective teaching.

Here are a few of their suggestions.
  1. Develop a plan for staying calm by combining your child's problem behavior, your early warning signals, and a way to stay calm that works for you. For example: "The next time Johnny talks back to me and refuses to go to bed (child's problem behaviors), and I start feeling my heart pounding (my warning signal), I will take a deep breath and let it out slowly before I correct him (what I will do to stay calm). 
  2. "Take five." Instead of blurting out an angry response, take a break of five minutes for yourself. Simply leaving the situation for a bit can help to "defuse" a volatile situation. (The only problem with this, for me, is that children throwing tantrums usually follow me wherever I go, and I can't get the break I need when kids are crying and banging on the bathroom door).
  3. Focus on the behavior instead of what you think are the reasons for the misbehavior. Deal with the way your child is acting. After the child is calm, then take the time to talk about what happened and why. 
  4. Count to ten, very slowly.
  5. If you tend to wave your hands about when angry, intentionally put your hands in your pockets. This is less threatening to a child.
  6. Inhale and exhale deeply. It gets more oxygen to your brain, and you can think more clearly.
  7. Try sitting down.
  8. One parent suggests wearing a rubber band on the wrist and snapping it when one feels like she's getting angry. For her, it's a signal to calm down.
  9. I would add, pray. Remember, "The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Phillipians 4:7).
The good news is that parents who've learned to stay calm report the following results:
  1. Temper tantrums or problem behaviors stopped sooner.
  2. The child's behavior id not last as long and was not as severe.
  3. The parent felt better about the way about the way he or she handled the situation.
We all face different circumstances in our parenting, and each of us must find a way that works best for us to remain calm. I love knowing we have a great helper to guide us in our journey. "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5).

What strategies have you found to stay calm? What are your biggest triggers that threaten you to lose that calmness?


  1. Just reading your first paragraph was enough to fry my nerves!!

    Personally, I find that a consistent, regular dose of antidepressants does the trick. I think Zoloft is a wonder drug for mommies. :)

  2. I am glad I stopped and read this today because I have realized lately that in my parenting I tend to "blow up" and its not only after hours of driving me crazy, Its for the little things as well... At night when the kids are finally asleep I think about the day, and all the times I screamed, I mean SCREAMED! and how damaging or scary it must be to the kids, well mostly my oldest who is 4, I love her so much and I want so badly to stay calm.. but I need Gods help more than anything because it is almost like a natural thing and it is so hard to change... But I know with God anything and everything is possible, I just want everyone to know that if your anything like me, Lets pray to God so that he will be the words the come out of our mouths, I have also been having trouble with ugly facial expressions.. I think its hereditary! Please keep me in prayer... I know it will all work out.

  3. I just stumbled upon your blog after researching tips on maintaining patience and my two boys under 3. With my husband deployed, the intensity of single parenting makes me feel like i am treading water and sometimes sinking a little. Prayer absolutely helps. My daily prayer has been "grace for today" but alas, I frequently fall short. Thank you for the great ideas and for sharing your experiences. It sure has helped me!