It’s pretty much the worst feeling in the world: when you snap at your kids and lose your temper. Sure, they were pushing your buttons at the end of a long day, and your spouse wasn’t being particularly helpful. But that guilt, realizing that your little ones really didn’t deserve the wrath you just unleashed—it really is the worst.
Losing your temper is a very human thing, and, unfortunately, it can be a very mom thing, more so than ever before. In the last year, we’ve had a lot piled on our plates.
First, doing everything we can to safeguard the health of our loved ones. Trying to figure out how to balance work from home with virtual school. Keeping the kids from going at each other when they’ve been pretty confined. And let’s be real: It wasn’t easy to manage kids, relationship, work, home and so on before the pandemic.
So if you struggle with keeping your cool with your kids (or hubby, or anyone), you’re not alone. But you can better manage your response to challenging situations.
Pandemic Stress Driving Some Temper Issues
“I remember many times during homeschooling when I lost my temper,” shares Allison Yoder, a Fort Worth mom of two. “I would be trying my hardest to explain something like second-grade math, and they would be goofing off. I would feel resentful and lose my cool, because it wasn’t like I wanted to be doing second-grade math at home, either.”
Yoder says the circumstances of the past year have definitely contributed to shortened tempers in her household. “I admit there were a couple of times I went on a yelling tirade about how they were going to have to repeat that grade while all their friends went on to the next one.”
Then there was trying to keep the peace (and quiet) between her 13-year-old son and his 9-year-old brother. The family doesn’t have a home office, so Yoder’s husband was working and taking calls in the dining room.
“Throwing everyone in the house together with the demands of work and school is just plain unrealistic,” she says. “Just as I got one kid settled, the other would need me for something. There was a lot of panic over not being able to log into school websites or not understanding what the assignments were.”
Adding to the stress was a critical difference in her boys. Yoder’s oldest son has autism and ADHD. “Even though he is 13, he doesn’t ‘get it’ like my other son,” she explains. “He doesn’t fully understand the concept of consequences. He will continue to push my buttons because he loves to get a reaction, good or bad. It’s definitely harder to keep my cool. I’m not proud of this, but it frustrates me when I see my older son not getting things.”
Maybe you are working to keep your emotions in check with one or, like Yoder, two kids. Imagine trying to keep from reaching the end of your rope when you have 10 kids.
Laura Hernandez—a Collin County mom with seven biological children and three who were adopted through the foster care system and have special needs—says of course, not every day is created equal. “It depends what everybody’s moods are,” she says of maintaining her patience. “There are days when they are playing happily and the birds are chirping, and then there are days when it feels like they’re all conspiring against you. And those days are tougher.”
Hernandez, whose kids range from 1 to 14 years old, runs a consulting business called Mama Systems. She empowers moms with the processes, habits and mindset to run their homes as “managers.”
When it comes to dealing with flares of anger, first of all, give yourself a break, Hernandez says. “The last year, especially, has been really tough on moms. Something has to give.”
When the something that gives is your temper, it may be another emotion finally boiling over. “Sometimes fear and insecurity come out as anger,” says Morgan Myers, a licensed professional counselor with East Dallas Therapy. “We talk a lot about anger as a secondary emotion guarding or masking a more vulnerable emotion. For example, I may be afraid of losing my job or getting COVID, and these fears lie under the surface until I’m so tense that I snap at my kids.”
Instead of feeling consumed by guilt when you lose control, you can take a few steps to make things right—and even help your kiddos learn something in the process.
How To Respond When You Lose Your Temper
One of Hernandez’s triggers happens with her adopted children, all of whom experienced fetal alcohol syndrome and have intellectual or developmental disabilities. “They love to destroy things,” she says. “After a long weekend of that, it’s very easy to lose my temper with them.”
When that happens, Hernandez removes herself from the situation until she calms down. Then, “I have to go back and make things right,” she says.
People make mistakes all the time, so we all should be pros at “sorry,” right? Nope. Hernandez notes that a lot of the moms she works with struggle with how to apologize.
“I tell my kids, ‘It wasn’t OK that I said that. I can tell you felt shamed by that, and I didn’t mean it,’” Hernandez offers. “And I reword the message I was trying to get across.”
Of course, you can’t always immediately remove yourself from a situation in order to emotionally regroup. If the kids are giving you trouble while you’re driving, for example, do the best you can. “If all you can get out is, ‘Mom is completely out of energy to respond right now, so I’m going to be quiet for a while’—that’s OK. Then, later, circle back to talk more about it,” suggests Myers.
Say you take your “mom time-out,” and when you come back, your kids have moved on. It could be tempting to not bring up what happened so you won’t potentially upset them again.
Go ahead with the apology, advises Myers. “You’re reminding them what good communication looks like. And you’re acknowledging you aren’t perfect. Kids need to see that you aren’t perfect. It prevents them from feeling like they have to be perfectionists. So always acknowledge your mistake and ask them to forgive you.”
In addition to saying “I’m sorry,” both Myers and Hernandez recommend a process that explains what caused your outburst as well as what you were thinking and how you were feeling.
Here’s a basic script: “When you [screamed at the top of your lungs, threw food, refused to do your homework, etc.], I felt [sad, distressed, angry, etc.]. Please [don’t do that; do this] in the future.”
After that, go forward. “It’s not a secret that we’re all struggling to make it through, trying to be the best version of ourselves, and sometimes it’s messy,” points out Hernandez. “Showing our kids humility and apologizing is important.”
Yoder says that while she doesn’t like losing her temper at times, she has had success with making the experience a teaching moment. “When I was upset about homeschool issues, I tried to actually go a little overboard with my apology so they could really see how to do it themselves. That was usually because of my son with autism. You do kind of have to overdo it a little to make the point known. In the end, both my kids were very receptive to my apologies. We would hug and move on and try to do better.”
Tools for Keeping Your Emotions in Check
So how do you do better? Can you set yourself up for better emotional regulation, even if your circumstances don’t change? Absolutely, says Myers. One way is to talk to a professional.
“I’ve done a lot of coaching with parents on healthy ways to express emotion with our partners and our kids,” she states. “One of the things I say a lot for parents and kids is ‘All emotions are OK, but not all behaviors are OK.’”
She also recommends that you make yourself engage in a little mindfulness and rational self-talk when you’re ready to lose it.
“If you notice you’re tense, thoughts are racing, maybe you’re clenching your jaw and getting short with your responses, pause. Take a breath,” encourages Myers. “One thing that sometimes diffuses [the stress] is to say to yourself, She is being such a 7 year old. It helps put it into perspective. See if you can name what you are feeling. I call it ‘name it to tame it.’ If you’re feeling anxious, that’s fear. What are you afraid of? If you’re angry, what line has been crossed? And is there an emotion beneath that anger? Then express it in a healthy way. Maybe your kids refuse to eat the dinner you’ve spent hours making. Say something like, ‘I’m feeling like you don’t appreciate what I made. I need to hear a thank you before I hear a complaint.’”
It can be beneficial to enact better household systems and processes, as Hernandez helps people do through Mama Systems. “We have to go from living reactionary lives to coming up with a plan for things,” she explains. “For example, make time to prep food for the week on, say, Monday. Then you don’t have to do it every night while the kids are screaming. Have the kids help with chores; moms should not be doing it all. When your house is running more smoothly, you’re less likely to reach that breaking point.”
Hernandez also uses the concept of a “redo” to keep anger from escalating. “I tell the kids, ‘We’re not going to talk to Mama that way. I want you to try that again.’ They can still be upset, but you can have boundaries.”
It’s critical for moms to make sure they’re getting support, particularly from their partner. “Anger is usually a sign of burnout and deeper emotional needs going unmet,” says Myers, noting that mothers under a lot of stress and dealing with temper issues may very well need to ask more of their spouses.
That’s what Hernandez did with the behavior that upset her the most, when her children with special needs would throw their used pull-up diapers around the room.
“My husband knows he needs to handle that, because I can’t,” she says. “We’ve had those discussions. He deals with that very level-headedly. But those expectations have to be set. You have to ask clearly. Before, I was bitter he was sitting on the couch doing nothing. I would take it out on him, and that’s not helping anybody.”
Other moms are also a good resource for talking out problems. They may not be the ones picking up the used diapers in your house, but they’ll certainly understand your frustration.
For Yoder, that’s especially important as the mom of a child with special needs. “I have found that having a support system of other moms going through similar situations is very helpful,” says Yoder, who is part of the #MomStrongFW group for mothers of children with autism.
When your attempts to quench your anger with your children fail—as they inevitably will at some point—don’t forget the key point of not beating yourself up.
Hernandez suggests talking to yourself the way you would talk to a friend, and Myers points out that everyone has bad days and bad seasons. “As long as you come back and connect with them in the right way,” she says, “your kids will have the sense of security they need to be healthy little guys and girls.”
Image courtesy of iStock.