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I’ve been losing my temper and yelling at my kids more than I ever have before. My partner, two kids (6 and 8) and I are all cooped up together and I’m struggling. Between working from home and trying to homeschool and keep the kids occupied, I have no patience. I feel terrible but I can’t seem to break the cycle.

Answer: So many parents are in the same boat right now. We are in an unprecedented time and there’s not much we can do to change it. It’s great that you want to stop yelling. As I think you know, yelling doesn’t solve the problems we’re facing and it usually makes everything worse. It’s natural to feel frustrated and upset these days.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

If you want to have more patience and be less reactive and explosive with your children, start by being compassionate with yourself. Beating yourself up about what a bad parent you are for losing your cool or how you should be managing better will not help. Picture that your child is learning how to ride a bike. They keep falling and are crying and frustrated. Would you get upset with them and tell them they have to do better? Of course not.

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Your critical inner voice might tell you to stop complaining, others are suffering more than you are right now. Having compassion for yourself when things are hard does not take away your ability to have compassion for others who have it worse than you. Empathy is not finite.

STOP, DROP AND BREATHE

We yell because being interrupted for the umpteenth time feels like an emergency. We feel overwhelmed when our kids aren’t listening and won’t leave us alone to do the work for the job we need to keep food on the table. “Losing it” is the fight response of our body’s fight-flight-freeze emergency mobilization system. It might feel like an emergency to be constantly interrupted, but it actually isn’t. If you feel like your head is going to explode, you need to hit pause. Like any habit, it’s hard to change at first but gets easier with practice.

The first step is to stop whatever you’re doing. Stop yelling if you’ve already started and remind yourself that it isn’t an emergency, even if it feels like one. This can be hard, so it is alright to say to yourself: "Of course I’m feeling frustrated. I just got interrupted again. This is really difficult.” Reassuring yourself this way will actually help you calm down. You are starting to soothe yourself out of overwhelm and fight mode.

Next, you need to drop your agenda. Just for a minute, don’t think about the constant interruptions. Focus on the pause and temporarily let go of whatever is upsetting you. You can come back to it when you’re more calm.

Then, breathe. That sends a message to your brain and your body that there is no emergency. You might add a mantra, such as, “This is not an emergency” or “I can handle this” or “They’re acting like children because they are children.”

Stop, drop and breathe gives us the reset we need to effectively respond to the situation at hand. We can never solve problems if our thinking brains are hijacked by our fight-flight-freeze response. This isn’t a magic wand to get our kids to leave us alone while we work, but if we can keep our cool we will be able to respond to whatever difficulties we are facing with more grace and more love. And if you mess up, be kind to yourself and keep trying.

Sign up for the weekly Parenting & Relationships newsletter for news and advice to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.

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