Losing Your Temper with Your Child? 8 Steps to Help You Stay in Control


Do you ever struggle with temper tantrums at  your house? You know what    they involve:  yelling, screaming, bad-language, and all-out loss of   control  until you almost  can’t take it anymore and you just want to…put yourself in  time out? Yes, I’m talking about our own parental “temper tantrums,” which we’ve  all been known to experience at one point or another as we raise our kids. Read  on for tips on how to stay in control.

“The  first step to look at is why you lose your temper. Understanding your triggers  as an adult is just as important as trying to figure out what sets your kids  off.”


Children are notorious for bringing out the best in  us as parents.  There are moments when we  find we are better people because of them; we may  model better behavior, be  more honest, forgiving, caring, and kind. And  then there are those moments when our kids bring out the very worst  in us.  These are the times when we are  exhausted, overworked, stressed to levels we  never knew existed — and  the next thing we know we are no calmer  than a toddler, yelling and screaming,  red-faced and enraged. Here’s the truth:  losing your temper is a fact of life,  one that is very normal, albeit  upsetting, when it happens. But there  are solutions that can help you stay calm and regain control. Follow these eight steps and  you should be able to see a change in your approach very soon.

Related: How to stay calm and keep your temper under  control (even when your child is pushing your buttons!).

Step 1: Recognize  your triggers. The first step to look  at is why you lose your  temper. Understanding our triggers as   adults is just as important as trying to figure out what sets our kids off so   that we can help them control themselves.  As the mother of a proverbial middle  child teenager who also has ADD,  and has a hard time controlling his  impulses, I know that what triggers me is  his bad attitude. When he starts  with negativity or backtalk, it’s  important for me to take a step back and  really focus on how I’m feeling at the  moment: my neck tenses, my cheeks  feel  flushed, and, having a hot temper myself, I can almost taste the words  readying  themselves to roll off my tongue in response! By  recognizing my emotional triggers as well as the physical sensations  in my  body that are associated with them, I am better equipped to say, “Okay, I  know  that I’m not going down a good path. Stop.” Some triggers at your  house  might include your toddler saying “No!” for the one-hundreth time that  day,  your middle schooler rolling her eyes at you, or your high schooler  failing to  do their chores…again. When  you are able to recognize what frustrates you  the most, you are on the path to  stopping your temper from boiling over.

Related: Learn how “trigger management” can help your child and  you stop losing it.

Step 2: Find new  ways to communicate. For most parents,  what we feel the worst about  after we lose it is how we’ve talked to our child.  Too often parents fall into  bad communication habits we learned from our own  parents when we were growing up. These can include giving our kids the silent   treatment, withdrawing from the family, giving overly harsh punishments in the  heat of the moment,  yelling, saying snide or sarcastic remarks, swearing and  name calling. It’s very easy to fall into this pattern, especially  when  you have a toddler screaming at you or a teenager swearing and getting in  your  face. But again, it’s important to remember that you are modeling how to  deal  with anger and frustration for your child, not just in their childhood and   adolescence but for when they are adults as well. This is not to say that  you can’t express  anger, disappointment, or frustration with your child.  Sometimes it’s important  that our kids know we aren’t happy, but we have to  find ways to express our  feelings in an appropriate manner. When you are  feeling overwhelmed and fear  you might resort to less-than-helpful ways to  communicate your frustration, finding a way to stay calm is key. (More on that  next.)

Step 3: Find your strategies  to calm. Finding a calming  strategy that works for you  can stop you from losing your temper.  Some  ideas are:

  • Walk away  (literally): When you find you are about to lose it, walk  away from  your child.  Not only does this  prevent you from starting down the wrong  path, it models for your child an  appropriate response when they are feeling  overwhelmed themselves. For older kids, feel free to say, “You know,  I’m  not ready to talk to you about this right now so I’m going to be alone for  a  few moments until I can calm down.”
  • Practice deep  breathing: There are many times  when I stop mid-sentence, sit down and  use deep breathing to calm myself. This makes my teenagers nuts, but it  really works. While sitting upright, place both feet on the  floor. Place  one hand on your abdomen beneath your rib cage. Inhale slowly and  deeply  through your nose into the bottom of your lungs, sending the air as low  down as  you can.  Make sure you are  breathing from your abdomen instead of shallow  breathing from your chest. If you are breathing from your abdomen, your  hand  should actually rise and your chest should move only slightly while your   abdomen expands. When you’ve taken in a full breath, make sure to pause   momentarily and then slowly exhale through your nose or mouth, whichever is   most comfortable, making sure you exhale fully. Practice doing ten full  abdominal breaths until you are calm again.
  • Count backwards:  Before opening your mouth to respond, consider  counting backwards towards  calmness, until you are in a different place.  Whether you’re driving, making  dinner or trying to relax at the end of a hard  day, a perfect way to stay calm  and stop your anger dead in its tracks is to  begin with a number  that’s higher than your stress level. For some people this can be 100, for  others it might be as simple as going from 10-0. Whatever number you  choose, this exercise  buys you time before doing or saying something you’ll  regret.
  • Long-term strategies:  For longer-term calming practices, integrate  physical exercise into your weekly  routine.   We are all busy, overworked, and short on time, but one way to  be the  best parent possible is to practice self care. This can come in the form  of yoga, meditation, running, biking or simply  walking. (The Calm Parent AM and PM by Debbie Pincus MS LMHC  is also an excellent resource with great advice for keeping your cool that you  can check out.)

Step 4: Communicate calmly. Healthy communication relies  on both you and  your child being calm, so do not approach them if they are  still raging at you  or you are still too angry to talk. For  both young  children as well as adolescents, keep your comments brief and to the  point.

“I really don’t appreciate it when I come home  form work and you haven’t  done any of your chores. Please do them now.”

“I don’t like it when you take your brother’s  toys and make him cry. The  consequence for that is that your train now is in  time-out for 20 minutes,  while you practice better behavior.”

“You know the rule in our house is completing  homework before  television. No more TV for the night.”

When you are finished, move on to something  else. Don’t dwell on what just  happened.

Step 5: Choose Your Battles. Too often our own tantrums  are born out of parents  feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, so it’s important  to not put yourself in a  position of feeling chronically overwhelmed by getting  upset over every little  annoying thing your child does. One way to combat this  is to really think hard  about what is important to try to enforce and what you  can just let go of in regards to your child. For younger kids,  there are a  lot of daily behaviors that can be frustrating: at this age kids  are messy,  they cry easily, they have meltdowns, and they can be grouchy. Middle  school  and high school age kids are messy, can be moody, irresponsible and  unfocused.  Pinpoint what your family values are and decide what to tackle. Is  it important  that your child completes chores, has a semi-clean room,  and is  respectful? If so, then make it clear  what your expectations  are and let the rest (the occasional mess, the roll of  the eyes, the  moody/grouchy behavior) roll off your back.

Related: How to parent an angry ODD  child.

Step 6: Apologize when you are in the wrong. One of the  greatest gifts you can give your  child is knowing when to admit you’ve done  something wrong and  apologizing. Some parents struggle with  this,  thinking that if they do this they are giving up their power or showing   weakness. But ask yourself what it is you want to teach your child about   grown-up relationships. Surely we want  our kids to know when they’ve wronged  someone and teach them the importance of  an apology.There’s nothing more   powerful than a parent admitting their faults and offering a sincere  apology.  Modeling this type of humility  shows a child that we are all human and that  even parents make mistakes.

Step 7: Find  Support. Pick trusted friends or family  members who will support you  through your parenting years. Find   like-minded parents who you feel safe confiding in when you’ve exploded and   feel ashamed or guilty. Make sure you nurture these relationships so you have a  sounding  board (and can return the favor) when you are at your wits  end. Important: Do not divulge your worst parenting moments  to other  parents or family members who are judgmental, or who express shock or  dismay at  your momentary lapse in parenting judgment. These people will only make your  feel worse  about yourself and will suck the energy out of you.

Related: “Parent the child you have, not the child you  wish you had.”

Step 8: Be Kind to Yourself. Lastly, practice  self-care by being kind and  forgiving towards yourself. Parents are   harder on themselves than any other group of individuals I know of. This is  born out of intense feelings of love  and concern for our kids, as well as the  desire to get it all right all the  time. But there’s no such things as a  perfect parent who does it all right, all  the time. Most of us are lucky  if we can  get through the day being a “good enough” parent. Whether  you lose your temper once or twenty times, acknowledge to yourself that you’ve   made mistakes, and commit to doing better in the future. Acknowledge that  you aren’t perfect, that you  may have future tantrums, but that you are human  and fallible. Forgive yourself  for past indiscretions and move forward with the  goal that you will start each  day aiming to try your best, forgiving yourself  if you weren’t great, and praising  yourself when you find you are parenting at  your best.


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