How to manage anger and outbursts when your kids are not behaving. How to not yell at your kids?

I am a stay at home mom. I have too much on my plate and feel like I am angry all the time because the kids don't listen, I'm stressed and don't have time to myself.
Asked by Lauren

Being a stay-at-home mom is a noble profession. Your children have much to be thankful for in having you there to guide and care for them. But of course, being a mom is also a challenge. Thank you for doing what is perhaps one of the most demanding jobs that exists. Kids require so much love, so much care, so much – and you get little to no reprieve throughout it all. The work of a mom is fulfilling, yet it certainly does take a physical, mental as well as an emotional toll.

It’s truly little wonder at all that you’re feeling overwhelmed and struggling. Being a mom is hard work!

To begin with, every parent gets angered and upset with their child at some point. We are all human and this is entirely normal. And when pressures start to mount, when the stress overcomes us – well, even the best among us can feel like we just can’t help but snap.

In hindsight, when we’re calm and things are quieter, we know we could have handled angry moments differently. But when that storm hits us and we are in the heat of the moment, in the blink of an eye we lash out. When we’re overwhelmed by emotions it’s sometimes difficult to think clearly and formulate an exemplary response worthy of landing us the parent-of-the-year award. We get flooded. Hormones and neurotransmitters start flowing in our bodies as if we’re under attack. Our muscles tense and our brain decides its time to get in flight-or-fight mode. We react.

But it’s clear - you know there has to be a better way. That instead of angrily reacting, it would be better to productively respond. So, what to do?

When it comes to anger, the very best thing to do when you notice you’re becoming angry is to NOT act. Your brain and body will want to react. It will feel urgent. That’s the anger speaking to you. The anger will make you feel like this is an important life or death emergency you must take action on. But the majority of the time – it’s not. Your kids are not going anywhere. If there’s a lesson which needs to be taught, you know exactly where they live, and you will get to teach it. Later.

While you’re sitting here now, calm and collected and open to change, commit to no screaming and no yelling. If you really need to scream, then let’s plan right now what that will look like. If you feel flooded and you need to shout it out, you’re going to go do it away from the kids. Go in the garage and sit in the car with the windows rolled up. Don’t speak words – just scream. Let it out. Then take some breaths. Shake yourself out, shake out the tension. Remind yourself there is no emergency. If you can, try to laugh. Force a half a smile if that’s all you can do. This tells your nervous system that things are okay and will help calm you down. Also, try to hum or do a little dance. You might feel silly, but it’s all in the name of discharging some tension and getting your brain and body to cool down.

Just like you might do for your kids, put yourself in a brief time out. Move away from the kids. Say out loud that “I’m taking a timeout.” Go to the bathroom and splash some water on your face. Or go outside and breath some fresh air for a couple of minutes.

Plan ahead for what your timeout will look like so that when the angry emotions hit you, you don’t need to think about what you’re going to do. You will have a plan. It might not work perfect the first time – keep at it. Keep trying.

Anger is simply part of being a human. But we do get to choose what we’re going to do when it rears its head. And it will. It’s inevitable that at some point all of us will feel angry. But reacting in anger is usually never productive. And we end up making choices we’d never otherwise make. Expressing anger typically is not helpful. It’s better to calm ourselves first.

A part of the solution here could entail figuring out ways to prevent the situations which are making you angry from occurring to begin with. You mention having too much on your plate. Is there any way at all to change that? Can you recruit some help? Even if just for a bit, it would give you a much needed break. When we can get some rest, and care for ourselves, we can be much better caretakers.

Additionally, it could be valuable to explore some other things. Are there possibly any rules you could put in place which might help before things escalate – perhaps an earlier bedtime needs to be enforced? Think about anything which might help – this might require seeking out some outside help to brainstorm and come up with some ideas. Maybe, too, consider if you hold some resentment toward your partner if you feel they aren’t helping you enough to parent – this could definitely cause you to carry some anger. Sometimes it helps to sit and think about whether there is some other deeper stuff contributing to our anger.

If this is continuing to be a struggle, then it’s a great idea to seek out some help and support. Seek counseling as both a means to work on your anger and to perhaps develop some new skills and habits that will help you interact with your kids in a more productive way.