Maria Montessori, creator of the Montessori method, believed in the spiritual preparation of the teacher. We should be calm guides, ready to walk with our children through not only their academic learning but also through learning grace and courtesy. And of course, we are the main example to follow.
For parents, that seems like an impossible ideal, right? Between the spaghetti flinging, temper tantrums, mud-slinging, butt wiping, snack begging, whining and crankiness (of course there are some smiles in there!), you’d have to be a saint to stay calm in every moment. There are those days when things seem to run smoothly and you’re sure you could easily win a parenting trophy. But, as any parent knows, the next day is most likely to be the complete opposite and full of not so proud moments.
As flawed parents that we are, we are on a continuous journey of learning and improvement. Montessori’s observation that teachers and caretakers of children must prepare themselves spiritually and emotionally to do their work is spot on. We’re much better guides when we’ve prepared our spirits to be excellent models. To become better guides, we must seek out strategies that help us keep our anger, impatience, and frustration in check. But, also remember, it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup, so all of these strategies must be coupled with regular self-care and time for yourself.
How can you keep the angry mom or dad at bay? Here are a few tricks and strategies for helping you keep your calm:
1. Recognize the Feeling
This sounds silly. But, it’s effective. Your child is pulling on your arm (and your last nerve) while you’re trying to finish up a conversation. You’re about to turn to your child and moderately explode. Instead, you think in your head “I’m angry, frustrated and stressed out. That’s how I’m feeling.” You recognize that you have feelings and let it sink in for a split second. In that small moment, you can acknowledge your feelings without letting them overcome you. With names, anger, frustration, and stress are easier to deal with. “I’m sorry, I need a moment here,” you say to the person you’re talking with. Then, you get down on one knee and tell your child you really need their help and about a minute of their patience. In the best case scenario, your child is able to give you the time you need to finish the conversation and move on. In the worst case scenario, your child continues to pester you, but you’ve re-centered and are able to address the issue afterward instead of blowing up in the heat of the moment.
2. Deep Breathing
My personal favorite strategy is taking 3 deep breaths. Did you know that deep breathing can lower your blood pressure? It’s really true. You can literally dial back the knob on your stress level by taking a minute to breathe deeply. Yes, it may seem difficult to do while your little one is screaming their head off, but have a little faith and give it a try. In most cases, your child can wait for a few moments while you center yourself through breathing. I love this strategy because I’ve enlisted my oldest to help me remember to do it! I told him to help me remember to breath if I seem frustrated. It’s a friendly reminder that helps us both since it also sets an example for him when he’s feeling the same way.
3. Use a Mantra
When you start to feel the frustration and anger creeping in, you can teach yourself to repeat a phrase or word that will ground you. I find myself repeating “This too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass” to remember the temporary nature of upsets and tantrums. Different people may choose different mantras to help them through. You might imagine yourself as a peaceful river and repeat to yourself “I am a river” over and over as you allow your emotions to flow from your body, just like the water.
4. Take a Break
As the mother of a newborn, I remember taking care of my son on my own at home. There were times when he would cry for hours. I would bounce him, rock him, swing with him in the hammock and nothing would work. I remember finally realizing that I could safely lay him down on the bed for a few minutes to get a drink of water and relieve my arms. The same strategy is true for older children. You don’t have to attend to a tantrum or a meltdown or a request immediately. Unless something life-threatening is going on or it’s impossible to leave your young child in a safe environment, you can even shut yourself in the bathroom or your bedroom for a 2-minute breather. Yes, you’ll soon have to return to the fray (I’m not advocating “cry it out”), but within that short amount of time, you can hit a pillow, scream into that same pillow or otherwise calm yourself down.
5. Change the Pace
You can shock yourself out of your frustration, anger and stress by changing the pace. Crank up some upbeat music for a dance party. Make a funny monster face and yell “Aaaaah I’m a crazy monster.” If you’re able to turn your feelings into laughter, you’ll release the tension you’re feeling and allow your child to do the same. They say that laughter is the best medicine and when you’re able to process your feelings through humor, it’s therapeutic for you and your kids alike. Although this strategy isn’t relevant to every situation, the day-at-home “blahs” can often be cured in this way. Even a quick dance party, water fight, game of tag or zerbert fest can nix the bad vibes.
Most of all, even when you aren’t able to use a strategy and hold it together, as parents we need to forgive ourselves. We aren’t perfect and although we’d like to cherish every moment of our kid’s childhood, it’s simply not realistic. There will be times when we’re too tired, worn down and exasperated to look past the difficulties that parenting involves. Our kids push our buttons and drive us nuts. So, if you occasionally raise your voice or threaten a ridiculous consequence that’s out of character, don’t feel too guilty.
Chances are that for the most part, you’re providing a great example for your kids, and are using a great discipline strategy. If you aren’t always able to be the perfectly calm, serene parent, relax. The same patience and unconditional love you show your children is applicable to you as well!