My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for two minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills.
"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.
Nothing I could do to stay calm, nothing I could do to get this tiny human to eat his food. Tantrums all around.
And all I could think was here we are again. I had crossed the tiny invisible line between calm, positive parent into frustrated and angry mom-mode. I was triggered.
If I had taken just a minute to pause and calm myself down, we might have had a different outcome. If I could have just put my agenda aside for a second and validated the feeling that he was experiencing—to respond to his needs instead of reacting to his behavior—we might have made it to preschool on time.
Ask any mother what virtue she wishes she could multiply, and chances are she will say "patience." Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. The single most challenging thing about positive parenting is being able to keep our reactions under control despite being exhausted, annoyed and triggered.
But the reality is this: The same self-regulation that my 3-year-old needs to learn in order to stop himself from having a tantrum is the same self-regulation that I need to learn to avoid yelling at him.
So what is the secret to growing in patience and the ability to regulate yourself as an adult?
A whole lot of self-reflection.
Identify what kind of behaviors provoke the most anger from you, and think about why that might be. Then find whatever it is that helps you calm down in the midst of a heated moment. This will be different for everyone; it could be taking some deep breaths, stepping away from your child, or taking a break.
Another way to stay centered is to have some go-to parenting mantras to remind you of the big picture goals you have for your children.
Here are 10 phrases to help you stay calm when you're on the verge, mama:
1. "Our relationship is my #1 priority."
It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the many day-to-day demands of motherhood and lose sight of our main goal: connecting with our children. Children who behave poorly are often children who are feeling disconnected from their parents. If we aim for understanding and focus on the relationship with our child, their behavior will follow suit.
2. "This is not an emergency."
Another phrase for "slow down, mama." Unless someone is in physical danger, it's genuinely not an emergency. We put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all. But at the end of the day, the way you interacted with your child is so much more important than whether or not you made it to preschool on time.
3. "I can't win her heart by force."
I can force my child to do a lot of things because I'm bigger and stronger, but I can't win her heart by force. I want my child to remember my gentleness. My child needs to know that I am on her side; that we make the team. And if my goal is to win my child's heart, I must make empathy and compassion my first priority.
4. "I'm bringing the calm here."
Self-regulation is still very new for your little one, so in the midst of their struggle, you are the only one able to bring peace to the storm. This is the most crucial reason why we need to be able to stay centered with our children because they can't do it without us.
5. "All feelings are okay."
You are open to all the feelings your child can feel. Learning how to self-regulate and become emotionally intelligent is a process that involves your child practicing different ways to cope when he is feeling overwhelmed. By staying calm, you can help your child channel those emotions into appropriate ways of acting.
6. "I can only control myself."
Your child is their person. They have their own fears, insecurities, doubts, and pain. Just because it seems like your child's tantrum is happening over something as seemingly simple as peanut butter toast, it is really about much bigger feelings that they can't articulate.
7. "He's just a child."
Children are loud, impulsive, and a little wild sometimes. If I had a nickel for every time that I was triggered by my child just being a child! I love this simple reminder that I can't expect my son to act like an adult.
8. "It's not supposed to be easy."
With social media continually depicting other people's "picture perfect" lives with their children, I'm here to reassure you that motherhood is not supposed to be easy. The early years of parenting are probably the hardest thing you'll ever do. Stay the course; it's okay that it's hard.
9. "We are moving on."
It's easy to harbor feelings of resentment and frustration over your child's behavior long after the tantrum is done. A really important part of restoring peace in your home after a meltdown is reminding yourself that the only way your child can behave better is if they feel better. Be able to forgive, move on, and start fresh.
10. "It won't always be this way."
When you are in a dark season, it can feel like the struggle will always be there. But if one thing is for sure it is this... the tantrum will end, the house won't always be this loud or this messy, and you will eventually sleep again.
How reassuring and heartbreaking it is to know… it won't always be this way.