You’ve had a tough week at work. Your child is throwing a terrible tantrum that shows no signs of easing despite your best efforts. Before you know it, your patience snaps – all parenting advice and techniques have vanished from your mind – and you’re yelling at your kid. The heat of the moment passes and as the aftermath brings sinking feelings of guilt and regret, you wonder if you’re the worst parent in the world. Where do you go from here?
Step 1: Take a time out
As a reaction to overwhelming feelings of anger, frustration and upset, your body automatically kicks into survival mode – which can trigger fight-or-flight tendencies. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself down, acknowledge your feelings and let it pass a little before sorting things out. If needed, step away for a couple of minutes and cool off. Say, “Mummy/daddy didn’t mean to get so emotional about this. I need to calm down before we can talk this through.”
Even if your kid isn’t done making a fuss, allowing yourself to calm down will help you regain control of the situation somewhat. It also sets a good example for your child to follow whenever they are feeling overwhelmed.
Step 2: Be careful of repeated triggers
When faced with stubborn kids who refuse to give up the fight, there’s a high chance you’ll get worked up over the very same issues. Acknowledge these triggers and remind yourself to stay focused on solving the issue instead of flaring up – no matter how tempting it is.
Step 3: Take responsibility and apologise
Apologising for your outburst is a given, but don’t shift the blame to someone else in your rush to ease your inner guilt trip. For example, say: “I’m so sorry that I let myself lose control in anger like that”, or “I am sorry for upsetting you with my yelling. I should have handled this in a better way.” Do not finish your apology with phrases like, “But you should have known better”, or “But I wouldn’t have yelled if you didn’t start fussing”.
There’s no shame in stepping up, taking responsibility for wrong actions and apologising. This lesson is essential for both parent and child alike.
Step 4: Explain your actions
Depending on how receptive the child is in the direct aftermath, opt for open communication. Even though you’ve apologised for yelling, helping your child understand your point-of-view in a calm manner, or at the very least the reason why you didn’t manage the situation better (perhaps you were stressed out from work?) will help repair bonds and strengthen the relationship. This will also encourage your child to exercise empathy for your feelings the next time they’re on the verge of a temper tantrum or shouting match.
Step 5: Have a Do-over
Chances are that similar situations and trigger will arise again. Offer yourself a chance to handle what happened differently through a ‘do over’. The initial triggers will still be present, so prepare yourself and work through it again. Tell your child, “Let’s try this again, but this time I won’t yell”, or “Could you tell me what you were trying to say before? I couldn’t hear you over the yelling.” If you start feeling upset again, let it go and try again later.
Step 6: Be kind to yourself
Let’s be honest: it’s impossible to find a parent who has never yelled at their kids. While it won’t be your proudest moment, being a parent certainly doesn’t render immunity against stress, frustration and other human emotions. And feeling angry at your child doesn’t make you a bad parent; it makes you a parent who cares.
If you find yourself constantly getting upset and struggling with overwhelming feelings, consider seeking support from a trusted friend, family member or health professional – don’t go through this difficult time alone!