When You Feel Your Temper Rising
Dr. Laura, I see how all your mindfulness techniques make me a more patient mother. But I am a little overwhelmed. When I find my temper rising, what can I do in that moment? I know yelling doesn’t work. I know that my inner critic that tells me I’m a bad mother just makes things worse. But how do I remember what to do?” — Cara
You don’t need to remember lots of mindfulness strategies. Mindfulness is just bringing your awareness to your own feelings and thoughts. Once you notice your “temper rising” you’ve given yourself a heads-up that trouble’s brewing, and you have a choice about how to respond.
Your goal, always, is to stay calm. If you don’t feel calm, breathe your way through the anger without taking action. Why? You’ll make better decisions, more in keeping with the parent you want to be. The rational brain stops working when you’re angry.
The strategy that works best will be different for every parent, and will evolve as you do. You’ll have to experiment a bit. You’re looking for:
1. Whatever helps you notice that you’re starting to get swept into “fight or flight.” It might be an exasperated sigh, your voice getting louder, or your jaw clenching. Or maybe your mind starts churning.
2. Any strategy that helps you see things from your child’s point of view. If you’re sure you’re right and the other person’s wrong, you’re already moving into fight mode. So notice those thoughts building up throughout your day that your child is giving you a hard time. If you don’t catch them, you’ll blow up sooner or later. Reframe to something that’s actually more true: “He’s expressing legitimate needs as best he can; he needs my help.”
Bottom line, the message behind each mindfulness strategy is the same. Your child needs loving guidance. You’re human, so you’ll find yourself moving into fight or flight on a regular basis. Just keep noticing, and returning yourself to a state of love.
So today’s strategy is simple and easy to remember. Every single action we take can be seen as a choice between love and fear. (Fear is always lurking behind your anger.) When you feel your temper rising, choose love.
Your child is defiant.
Your child is whining.
Your child is tantrumming.
Your child forgets something.
Your child isn’t listening to you.
Your child clobbers your other child.
Choose love. You’ll know, in the moment, what that means. Maybe you set a limit, but you set it with empathy. Or you summon up all your compassion so your angry child feels safe enough to burst into tears and have a good cry. Or you hold out your arms for a hug. You’ll know.
Choose love. And create miracles today, large and small.