Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. If only you could figure out a way to tame your temper!
Our oldest son Daniel sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully right. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
For some parents however, a temper doesn’t always manifest in quick, harsh “bursting” ways. A temper in a more controlled, less emotional parent can show up in a cold, uncaring expression or a disgusted sigh. It can be subtle condescension towards a child or shaming words, “Why in the world did you make such a bad choice?” But what is inside is a temper on a slow burn. Even if “calm” words are spoken, like “You know this is not ok,” a child reads the facial expression and feels the rejection.
Learning to be intentional
We were intentional about learning to navigate the various ways that “temper” showed up in our parenting. We began applying our professional knowledge to develop practical strategies that helped us become more calm, compassionate, and effective when disciplining. As we “field-tested” these ideas in our own family, we learned a lot. Our own personal experience equipped us to help thousands of parents defuse their harsh or condescending reactions as well.
When you feel the signs that you’re about to “burst all over” we suggest that you stop, take a breath, and get some perspective. As you learn to calm yourself before disciplining, you’ll find you are much more effective in your discipline. Your fight/flight responses will naturally decrease, and your frontal lobe gets in the game so you can access your God-given wisdom and good intentions for your kids.
But what does that look like? Here are six practical ways to “get perspective” as you calm your heart for discipline that connects with your child’s heart.
Although “pray first” may sound like the “Sunday School answer,” it’s incredibly powerful! Simply taking a moment to stop and pray can work wonders for calming yourself and remembering your larger goals for disciplining your child. For example,
- “God, give me wisdom and compassion.”
- “Lord, help me forgive and let go of my anger.”
- “Father, give me Your heart for my child.”
2. Name your feelings
Do you know what’s going on in you when your child misbehaves? What are you actually feeling? And if you’re simply feeling “mad” is there something underneath that anger? Overwhelm, anxiety, discouragement, hurt…?
All too often parents’ intense feelings don’t get named or understood. The focus just stays on the child’s behavior. The parent doesn’t take time to process what they’re feeling. Other times, if feelings are identified, they are blamed on the child. Does this sound familiar? “YOU make me so mad!”
But the truth is, your feelings are your responsibility. It helps a lot to realize that your feelings are not central to who you are (“I am mad!”). Feelings are things you experience – (“I’m feeling really angry right now.”) This will help you realize you have some control over your feelings because they are external to the core of who you are! Try saying this to yourself: “I am a child of God with some big angry feelings.”
Learning to name feelings and say them out loud helps you take responsibility for your own feelings, and it provides a great example for your kids: “I’m feeling really stressed and overwhelmed! And I want to settle down before we talk about this.”
3. Recite (aloud or internally) a scripture or a memorized phrase
One mom’s favorite verse to combat parenting stress is Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these… you did for Me.” When she was especially upset, she’d say it out loud, which seemed to help calm her child as well.
Another parent would say, “God is here. God’s grace is for me!” One mom would slowly repeat to herself, “Breathe in God’s love, breathe out God’s peace.” One wise dad simply reminded himself, “Ah, I love this kid!” Another dad’s “calming phrase” as he looked at his super intense daughter was, “God made you.”
4. Buy time
When physical safety is not a concern, do whatever you can to slow everyone down and give tempers time to cool. Make a conscious effort to approach your child slowly, and then talk slowly.
When Jim felt like his anger was about to boil over, taking a step backward first, instead of charging in, helped him tremendously. You can practice some simple scripts ahead of time: “We’re all pretty upset. Let’s talk about this later when we can solve it better.” OR “I need some time to think. I want to make sure the consequence for this is truly helpful for you.”
5. Walk in your child’s shoes
God’s response to us is always guided by his compassion and insight into what we need.
Likewise, you can’t help your child until you can understand them and what they need. A helpful question to ask yourself at the moment might be, “What’s it like to be my child right now?”
More detailed questions may include:
- What is my child feeling right now?
- Have I ever felt similar emotions?
- What’s important to my child?
- What might my child need right now?
When you take a moment to see things from your child’s perspective, this gives you the compassion you need to respond wisely. This will help as you guide your child well through the challenge.
6. Look for the opportunity
Prepare to make the most of a difficult situation. You can ask yourself, “What opportunities are there, for unconditional love or building life skills?” Difficult times can provide the best arena for personal growth. As we say, “Don’t waste a good crisis!”
The simple prayer, “Lord, what’s the opportunity here?” became Lynne’s practiced default that empowered wiser parenting and greatly decreased the times she “bursted all over” her kids.
Learn to draw on your strengths
There are certainly many more than six ways to soothe your temper and “get perspective” when you’re about to discipline. And the strategies that will work best for you flow from your own strengths and successes. If you were to mentor a younger parent in how you calm down, what would you tell them?
- When have you felt successful in calming yourself down? Have any of these strategies been part of that?
- Is there a new strategy that excites you that you want to try?
- How will you remind yourself next time the heat is on?
It’ll be tough to remember these ideas in the heat of the moment, so we created a PDF for you to post where you can easily see it and make it easier to tame your temper.
May you experience the love of God in deeper ways as you learn to stop, calm yourself, and leave room for God’s mercy and grace to wash over you and your children in the tough moments of everyday life!
Prefer to listen? Our podcast, “How to Be Safe for Your Kids | Ep. 76” might be just what you need!
Download our FREE in-depth ebook Helping Kids With Anger. It will provide thoughtful insights and creative ideas to help your struggling child.