Keep Your Cool

By Suzanne P. Starling, MD

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When life gets stressful, any parent can come to a boiling point – and that includes good parents dealing with normal childhood behavior. Sometimes children become lightning rods for our anger, and our self-control and good intentions can go right out the window. When you find yourself on the verge of snapping – and everyone does occasionally – try one of the following ways to cool down instead of saying or doing something that you’ll regret.

Remember they’re kids, not adults. Many cases of child abuse are caused by a parent or caregiver having unrealistic expectations for a child’s behavior. For instance, they get mad because a baby “won’t stop crying.” It is normal for infants to cry for extended periods and for 2-year-olds to have temper tantrums and potty training accidents. Think of crying, tantrums and wet underpants as normal parts of childhood and they probably won’t frustrate you nearly as much.

Remember that you are the grown-up. Unlike a child, you do have the ability to control your behavior. If at least one person can remain calm in an argument or crisis, everything will be resolved easier and faster.

Keep your cool!

Act early. If you see a storm brewing, such as siblings picking on each other or a baby beginning to fuss, move in to correct it before things get out of hand. Act calmly while you still have control.

Give yourself a time-out when things heat up. When you feel you’re losing your cool and may say or do something harmful to your child, leave the room to calm down. Let someone else (your spouse or a neighbor) take over, if available.

Step back. Next time you feel like yelling, imagine someone is videotaping you. Replace shouting with your normal speaking voice, relax and smile.

Shift gears. Try a little tenderness or humor to change the mood. It takes effort to move away from anger, but it has great benefits. A hug or a laugh can work wonders to diffuse stress. •••

Dr. Starling is medical director of CHKD’s Child Abuse Program.