I’ve been short with my toddler. Rude. Frustrated. And there are days when I seriously can’t wait until he’s down for the night. But in over two years, I have never yelled at him, thanks to one miserable day when I vowed never to do so again.
The little guy was a mere eight weeks old, too young to be anywhere near “easy,” but old enough for me to wonder if this parenting thing will ever cut me some slack. I had been rocking him to sleep, trying unsuccessfully to get him to nap. Not only was he not falling asleep on the ball, but he cried the entire time (and my toddler until now is no quiet crier). We were both miserable, and I could feel my frustration growing.
I continued to rock him on the yoga ball, wishing that he would stop crying and fall asleep already when I yelled at him, “Why won’t you just go to sleep?!” Of course that did little to calm the guy down. Instead, he let out a series of frantic cries I had never before heard.
Those cries have since forever been imprinted in my mind. He cried not of discomfort, hunger, tiredness or even crankiness. He was frightened—of me. Of what I had become, and whether I would hurt or abandon him. He grew terrified of the world he knew so little of, and wondered why this person who had coddled him in the past was now so angry.
Remorse quickly took over and I held my baby close, feeling guilty for having resorted to these antics when the little guy needed so much more than that. I cried right along with him, and continued to cry even as he fell asleep in my arms. It was then that I vowed never to yell at him or get so frustrated that he would feel frightened of his own mom.
And thankfully, I kept my promise. Granted, I still get upset and even raise my voice, but have yet to resort to that kind of anger. The biggest reason I’ve been yell-free was because of that cry I can’t forget. I can still remember his frightened cries and they to this day continue to serve as a reminder—a check on myself—not to resort to anger and yelling.
The second reason I’ve been able to keep my temper cool has been the realization that anger doesn’t do any good. Yelling at him did nothing to get him to sleep. In fact, it did the opposite and escalated his frustration. Even these days I find that being rude or frustrated at him ends up exacerbating the problem rather than mindfully trying to resolve it in other means.
When I do find myself on the brink of losing my mind and taking my frustration out on my toddler, I try the following suggestions:
- I give myself a break. I remember one time when my toddler was frustrating me beyond imagination, and I plopped him down in the bedroom, walked over to the living room and crawled into the couch with a blanket over me. My husband took the cue and dealt with LO on his own, providing me a chance to cool down and compose myself.
- I ignore him. Ignoring is so much better than getting into an all-out battle with a two-year-old when tempers flare. I’ve sometimes mentally shut him out for a moment and focus on something else just so that I don’t lose my cool.
- I pick my battles. There are just some days when letting your kid “win” is needed to save your sanity. I’ve since realized that letting the little things go doesn’t turn kids into monsters who will take advantage of their parents forever on out.
- I take a step back. When I’m lucky, I still have part of my parenting cap on my head enough for me to pull myself out of the crazy tornado. It’s almost like I’m watching myself in action and see and feel the emotions in me without reacting to them so quickly. During these times, I’m able to realize that this is temporary, that there are better days to come, and that a calm mom is more effective than a hysterical one.
All of these suggestions happen quickly, but sometimes it’s all I need to keep from going bonkers. Almost all of them are less than ideal, but much more preferable than yelling or doing something I’ll regret or worse, frighten my toddler.
Sometimes parenthood brings out terrible traits you never you knew had and never had to deal with in the past. I decided I was ready to share That Terrible Day in the hopes that other parents on the verge of yelling at their kids can find alternatives to doing so.
When have you lost your cool with your kids? How do you stay calm when you’re frustrated?