When it came to the daily grind with kids, there were definitely times when I felt like I was totally on top of things, but often, I felt like I had no clue what I was doing.
And it couldn’t have been more evident than when my kids got on my nerves.
Because that’s when I would pull a total Jekyll and Hyde and lose it.
I would transform in to someone I barely recognized, and I desperately wanted to be different.
But I couldn’t put my finger on why I kept losing my grip and, more importantly, how to regain and keep hold of it.
Keeping calm when my kids pushed me over the edge wasn’t my strong point, even though I knew how important it was for me to stay calm and respond thoughtfully to my kids’ behavior.
I know that how I respond to my kids today is shaping who they become tomorrow, but I just couldn’t get a handle on my reactions. So instead of responding calmly, I would react and regret it.
Why do we keep losing it on our kids?
No matter how much we want to keep it together, and no matter how hard we try, why do we keep reacting when we know we should be responding?
I asked myself these same questions in exasperation, and finally came up with the answer….
… and here it is, 5 reasons why you keep losing it on your kids:
1. You’re human
Which means that you’re wired to keep yourself, well, alive. And that means that there are mechanisms in your brain that work automatically to make sense of what’s going on around you and to react to them, quickly. Which is great if, say, someone is trying to break into your house, but not so good when your toddler is having a tantrum in aisle 3.
The tricky bit is that your brain can’t tell the difference.
So, the first reason why you’re still losing it on your kids is because your reactions are hardwired in your brain, and unless you make a conscious effort to change your automatic reactions to thoughtful responses, you’ll keep losing it when your kids push your buttons.
2. I think, therefore I am
Another reason why you keep losing it on your kids is because at every moment of every day, a constant stream of thoughts flow through your mind, which seems inconsequential, except that these thoughts are shaping the way you perceive whatever situation you find yourself in, and then, how you react.
These thoughts are, for the most part, out of your awareness. And what’s more, they’re not even a reliable assessment of reality.
So when your kid refuses to put on their shoes for school, the automatic, often unconscious, thought of say, how lazy, selfish or obstinate they are springs into your mind, and then before you know it, you’re freaking out on them!
But if you’re anything like me, your meltdown is shortly followed by an internal dialogue of guilt for not being more forgiving, patient and understanding (since, come to think of it, it was me who woke up late, and my daughter is only starting to learn how to tie her shoelaces, so can I really blame her for moving so slow?).
If only you could catch yourself before you freaked out.
If only you could bring awareness to your thoughts before you react, you would be more likely to consciously respond to a situation instead of flipping out.
3. You’re stuck on a feeling
If it weren’t enough that you have to contend with a constant stream of unconscious thoughts that are steering your perception, you also have to account for the ongoing flow of emotions that accompany each thought that passes through your mind.
Sometimes those feelings can be subtle, but sometimes, when those feelings are super strong, it can actually start to feel like they’re taking over.
Strong feelings like shame, resentment, fear, grief and disappointment are just some of the feelings that can come up for us along the ups and downs of life, and overshadow our ability to be present and thoughtful in our interactions with our kids.
The key here isn’t to get rid of the emotions, like some might think; rather it’s about learning how to recognize, understand and tolerate our strong emotions so that we can stay present and thoughtful in our interactions.
4. Your kids keep pushing your buttons
There’s no doubt about it; sometimes your kids are just objectively irritating.
Now, sometimes they’re cranky because they’re hungry or tired.
And sometimes they might just be pushing your boundaries to figure out where they end and you begin (in which case, all that’s required of you is a well thought out boundary to contain and guide their behavior).
But sometimes, your kids are pushing your buttons because they’re touching on something deep inside you. Something sensitive, and potentially painful and threatening.
When that’s the case, your job is two-fold: First, you have to be able recognize and control your own internal reactions (i.e., identify your automatic thoughts and acknowledge and manage the accompanying emotions) so you can then tune in to and connect with your kid’s experience without losing your cool. That way, when your kids push your buttons, instead of instantly losing it, you can acknowledge what’s going on for them, and in so doing, help them make sense of it and regain their composure.
5. Your needs aren’t being met
Needs!? Who the hell has time for needs when there are little people to keep alive!?
I know, I used to think the same thing.
Until I realized that, wait a minute, I have needs too.
And when I finally learned how to identify them, and honor them, it changed everything. Because as soon as I was able to accept and satisfy my own needs, I began to feel happier and more satisfied in life.
Having my needs met meant that I had more patience for my kids, which meant that I could enjoy spending quality time with them building our relationship.
And guess what? When our relationship improved, so did their behavior!
Plus it meant that, since I had become connected to my own needs, I was able to be better attuned and sensitive to my kids’ needs. Which made for a much more peaceful and pleasant family life.
At last, I had figured out what it takes to keep my cool when life with kids pushed me over the edge.
When I understood why I react the way I do — what thoughts and feelings cause me to lose my grip and how to regain my composure and connection to myself and my kids — I found that I reacted less and was able to be more thoughtful and kinder in my responses to my kids.