As a father, there are going to be days when you feel like you’re going to blow a gasket. There are days where everything that your children do is pushing you to your limits. It’s almost like your kids intentionally wait until you’re on the phone to run circles around you screaming. Or maybe they spilled strawberry ice cream all over their car seat just to see how you would react. But enough about my life. Let’s talk about you.
You’re stressed, you have a lot on your mind, and you’re trying to be a good father all at the same time. At these times of high stress, you might feel anger boiling up. Don’t worry, that’s normal for all dads.
However, you don’t want to take your stress and frustration out on your kids, and you can’t rage-quit parenting. If you expect your kids to be self-controlled, you are going to have to be their model. If they know Daddy can handle himself when he’s stressed, they’ll learn self-control as well, and you’ll feel better about your own parenting.
Don’t let anger or rage take control. You can calm yourself down with some simple steps. It only takes 15 minutes. Here are seven steps on how to calm yourself down when feeling like you are going to blow up.
Step 1: Call a time out
Starting to feel angry? Throw those “T” shaped hands in the air! If you feel like you’re about to lose it, you need to take some time to calm down and figure out what’s going on inside of you. Depending on the ages of your kids, this will be easier said than done. The good news is this doesn’t have to be an hour-long activity. Like I mentioned, your time-out can be as short as 15 minutes.
First, figure out a way to get your kids safely entertained, and no, the dog doesn’t count as a babysitter. If your spouse is in the house, ask if she can take the kids. If she’s not available, put your kids’ favorite movie or TV show on and let them watch that. You could also take your kids to a drop-off daycare or call in the babysitter. If all else fails, have the kids go to their own rooms for a “calm down time,” just like you’re doing.
Step 2: Let it all out
Pull out your phone, computer, or piece of paper, set a timer for five minutes, and write down everything you’re feeling. Don’t hold back, have at it! You need to vent.
Emotions aren’t bad. It’s what you do with your emotions that counts. There is nothing wrong with letting them all loose on a piece of paper. You’re not going to hurt the piece of paper’s feelings. Use bad words if you want to. No one else has to see that piece of paper but you. You can throw it away in a minute or burn it (not your phone…just the paper), but the important thing here is to be honest with yourself.
Step 3: Look for meaning
When the timer goes off, read back over what you wrote and try to see why you were feeling that way. Oftentimes you’ll notice that your anger comes when you feel you don’t have control. Maybe you feel like the kids are running the show (they probably are, that’s normal too). Maybe the day hasn’t played out to your expectations. Maybe you’re just tired. Reading back over your paper will give you insight into yourself and your situation.
Step 4: Write down what you need
It’s time for you to take care of yourself. You’re an adult and no one is responsible for your needs except you. What do you need? What would make the situation better? This is what therapists mean by the term “self care,” and it can refer to needs as small as time alone to larger needs such as seeing a counselor.
Maybe you need more time to yourself. Maybe you need the kids to stay at the babysitter’s house for the afternoon while you take a nap. Maybe you’d feel better if you played with the kids now, but had some time to get work done later. Make a list of the things that you need. It’s not selfish. In fact, it will be better for everybody’s sanity.
Step 5: Override your defenses
Your 15 minutes is almost up. Now you have a list of things that you need and a plan to make the situation better. It’s time to head back into battle, but not before you calm down your defense system. Take two to three minutes to do some deep breathing to calm down your adrenal system. You don’t have time for a full-on yoga session so try this instead: close your eyes, breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat this cycle multiple times. By doing this, you’re physically overriding your adrenal system and coming out of flight, fight, freeze, or freak out mode.
Step 6: Smile
Maybe you still feel stressed. That’s okay, but it’s time to get back to parenting. Go back in with a secret weapon: a smile. Smiling triggers chemicals in your brain that make you happy.
The kids are probably anxious too. They’re pretty good at sensing parental stress. When they see you with a smile, their mirror neurons will tell them to smile too. Everyone will hop back into action a little happier.
Step 7: Have your kids be part of the plan
Now it’s time to gather the troops. Your kids are not the enemy, they’re your team. Figure out a way for them to help you with your needs or tell them what they’re going to do while you take care of yourself. Maybe they were doing something to trigger your anger. Set some boundaries and give them a verbal warning of what will happen if they act that way again. Lay out the plan and stick to it. Your sanity is worth it.
We all have good and bad days when it comes to parenting. Most of the time, kid-related stress happens because you’re not slowing down and taking care of your needs. In just 15 minutes, you can get off the “crazy parent train” and be on the road to healthy parenting again. You don’t have to let your anger control you. Take 15 minutes and take care of yourself.