Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. Our oldest son, Daniel, sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully correct. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. We both longed to figure out how to be a “calmer” parent. We had tempers that needed taming, and we didn’t want to keep hurting our kids with them. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
To be clear, being a “calm” parent doesn’t actually mean you’ve got your anger under control. For some parents, 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?”
What is inside is a temper on a slow burn. Even if “calm” words are spoken, like “You know this is not okay,” a child reads the facial expression, feels the rejection, and reacts accordingly. When this happens, it’s one way God holds parents accountable for their heart toward their child so that relationships are connected and authentic.
God offers His wonderful grace and peace for your heart so you can overflow to your child in the messes of family life.
How we worked to become calmer parents–genuinely calm, not condescendingly calm
We were intentional about learning to navigate the various ways that our tempers flared up in our parenting. We both had professional knowledge, and we began to apply that knowledge to develop practical strategies to become calmer parents while also being compassionate and effective when disciplining. But these ideas weren’t just what we needed; they’ve also helped thousands of other families we’ve worked with.
The key to taming your temper during discipline: STOP, breathe, and get some perspective
When you feel the signs that you’re about to “burst all over,” we suggest 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-or-flight responses will naturally decrease, and your frontal lobe will get 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.
6 temper-taming strategies to use right in the moment
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.
- “Lord, thank You for your wisdom and compassion.”
- “Lord, help me forgive and let go of my anger.”
- “Father, I receive 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…?
Parents’ intense feelings often 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 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 and say feelings aloud helps you take responsibility for your own feelings, and it provides an excellent example for your kids: “I’m feeling really stressed and overwhelmed! And I want to settle down before we talk about this.”
Not only that, but ample research suggests that if you want to be a calmer parent, learning to name your feelings is a great first step! You can best tame your temper when you can name it and be responsible for it.
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 also seemed to help calm her child.
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,” changing the key words to fit her need in the moment.
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.”
What truthful phrase would help you calm down and see God’s truth in the moment?
4. Buy time
When physical safety is not a concern, do whatever you can to slow everyone down and give tempers time to cool. It’s usually much easier to be a calmer parent outside the moment of misbehavior. Make a conscious effort to approach your child slowly and then talk slowly, as you suggest taking a break.
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 beforehand: “We’re all pretty upset. Let’s talk about this later when we can solve it better.” OR “I need some time to ask God for wisdom. 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’re struggling with and what we need.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16
Likewise, you can’t help your child until you understand them and their needs. 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?
Taking a moment to see things from your child’s perspective 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 significantly decreased the times she “bursted all over” her kids.
We have a podcast about this!
Check out Episode 165 of the Connected Families podcast, “Tame Your Temper: Calming Strategies for Parents” for more helpful insight from parents just like you!
To be a calmer parent, 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 to 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?
Research shows the obvious power of modeling: Parents with better self-regulation raise kids with better self-regulation. It might 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. These ideas go beyond just self-regulation. They include ways to model your faith for your kids in the challenging moments of everyday life!
May you experience the love of God in more profound ways as you learn to stop, calm yourself, and get perspective in those difficult interactions. Know that your Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is right with you to bring the overcoming peace of Jesus to you.
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:26, 27
Do you have a child with BIG feelings and BIG needs?
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