We all loose it with our children. There are numerous ways and multiple triggers for situations to unravel quickly between parents and kids. Ideally, we try our hardest to prevent daunting outbursts. But sometimes events surprise us, and seemingly unpredictably, we are tumbling down a dreaded rabbit hole.
Here’s an example: it’s the witching hour. Everyone is tired. Thankfully dinner is done and it’s bath time. You run a bubble bath, pop the kids in the water, and quickly head to the kitchen to wash dishes. An inner voice whispers, “remain in the bathroom.” But there’s much to do; the kids are old enough to be in the tub without constant adult supervision, so you ignore the nagging whisper. Suddenly there’s loud sobbing. You dash back to discover your kids whacking each other, water everywhere, and toys flying at you. Unexpectedly, you are screaming, you’ve even slapped your oldest child, and the situation feels out of control. You’re catapulted into a raging, scary place. The children are as frightened as you. Everyone feels awful. Now what?
- Calm everyone down; including yourself
- Make meaning of what happened
- Repair your relationship
- Learn what is triggering for you, and what is triggering for your children
- Be thoughtful about trying to avoid these triggers
You might tell your kids, “Mommy/Daddy is really upset now, and so are you. We all need to calm down. We can all use some down time.” Suggest that they read a book, listen to music, watch T.V., or play a game. “I am sitting right here for a few minutes, quietly by myself, to help me stop yelling & calm down. Then I will come be with you.”
Take deep breathes, recollect yourself, and process this outburst. Be kind to yourself. Remember that this happens in many families. Think about what might be helpful to say to your kids. Here are some suggestions:
Go to them, and using a calm soothing voice tell them how sorry you are about what just happened. You understand that it was scary for them. You might say, “I don’t like what happened either; I get very sad when I realize how angry I became. I will work very hard to help us all make big feelings be just the right size.” Try giving them a big hug.
When to seek help:
- If you are worried that your physical punishment might be out of bounds, get another opinion. Maybe discuss your worries with your partner or a friend.
- If you become uneasy about the frequency and size of the outbursts.
- If you find yourself troubled about how things are unfolding at home.
If you find yourself worried about issues like this often, you’re probably not talking to another adult enough. You are carrying too much of the burden yourself. Reach out to family and friends. Loosing it with your kids is a common occurrence that is made easier when parents can talk about it.
About the author:
Dr. Rebecca Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been working with children and their parents for over 20 years. Her private practice in Berkeley and San Francisco focuses on early intervention with children and their parents. In addition to working in infant mental health, she specializes in autistic spectrum disorders; attachment difficulties; social skill development; and school related issues. She has collaborated with CW over the last eight years. As a parent, she has combined her own parenting experiences and professional knowledge to develop a deeper understanding of the challenges of parenting and how particular parenting tools can ease this journey. Her passion is to use relationship-based therapy to enhance social and emotional growth in children and re-teach adults (parents, educators, and providers) how to play with abandon, which creates deeper intimacy and understanding of children.
Rebecca Schwartz, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist. | Adult, Adolescent, and Child Psychotherapy
2434 Milvia St Berkeley CA 94704 | 672 Second Ave San Francisco CA 94118