When there’s a battle of wills between parent and child, the adult is meant to be the one who manages their emotions and ‘acts like a grownup’.
But parents are humans, too, and at times act out just as emotionally as their kids.
How do you patch things up, then, after losing your cool with the kids? We had a chat to parenting expert Collett Smart, for some tips.
1 – Give Your Child Time and Space to Calm Down
Chatting to Hope 103.2, Collett said it’s important to stay nearby when your child is having a meltdown. She doesn’t agree with some experts, though, who say parents should sit right next to their child for the duration of a tantrum: “I believe that as a blanket approach is limited,” she said.
“I think there are some children can’t stand that. They need space to settle down, they don’t want anyone around them while they’re calming down until they’re ready for a hug.”
If that’s your child, just be somewhere not far away, ready to give your child a hug when they’re ready.
“Sit by the door or in the next room, take deep breaths, while your child settles down.”
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2 – Allow Yourself to Calm Down Too
Arguments are stressful for parents too, and sometimes it’s the adult who becomes over-emotional or needs space.
“If you feel yourself getting to the point of exploding or saying something unkind, take yourself away to another room, out to the garden, go for a walk around the block if you have to, give yourself space,” said Collett.
3 – Apologise
Saying sorry when you have lost your cool, is not only an important step in repairing the relationship with your child: it’s also a teaching opportunity. When you demonstrate a willingness to be humble and say sorry, your child is learning how to say sorry themselves, says Collett: “Modelling apologising to your children is really important.”
4 – Don’t Just Say Sorry; Change Your Behaviour Too
Of course, saying sorry isn’t authentic if it isn’t followed up by action. An apology requires a change in habits to be genuine.
“You need to often prove to your child or partner that when you say sorry you are actually going to do something to change your behaviour,” Collett said.
If you’ve lost your cool and said hurtful words, work on finding new ways to deal with your anger. Explain to your child that they aren’t the only one who needs to change their behaviour and that you are working on becoming a better mum or dad, too.
5 – Listen to Their Hurt
Listening is an important step in helping your child process their emotions. You’re they’re expressing their emotions, don’t be quick to defend yourself, says Collett: “Don’t justify why you did something. That is the time you just need to sit and listen.”
6 – Forgive and Don’t Hold Grudges
Part of ‘being a grownup’, is learning to forgive – not just in adult relationships, but in your relationship with your children, too. “Not holding grudges is important,” says Collett.
For some parents, it may take repeated, daily efforts to overcome anger towards your family member for something they’ve done. Keep at it. Forgiveness is a key to a good relationship.
7 – Don’t Go to Bed Angry
This rule of thumb is one that many marriage counsellors recommend, and it’s usually attributed to the Bible instruction “do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).
It’s good advice for children to learn early in life, says Collett, so start by modelling it.
After an argument, make sure you work on smoothing things over before you head off to bed. Don’t slam the bedroom door and shut down the conversation in a huff, and don’t let your child either. At the very least, reach a truce before bedtime, with an aim to talk it through further in the morning.
8 – Allow Time to Earn Back Trust
If you’ve over-reacted in an argument, and broken your child’s trust, it will take time to repair your bridges. Be prepared to do the work required, says Collett.
“We need to realise if trust has been damaged you cannot just get over that overnight or in a week,” she said. “Sometimes it can take a long period of time because you’ve got to build up that trust again.”
Don’t try to overcompensate for your mistake, but instead apologise, and then maintain a consistent, caring attitude. Allow your child the time they need to open up to you again.
9 – Prepare During Peacetime
The times when you’re relating well to your child or teen, are when you can open up a pre-emptive conversation about how to work through conflict.
Collett suggests asking your child what helps them when they’re feeling emotional: “Ask them, ‘What works for you when you’re angry, what do you need from me in those times? Do you need to be left alone for five minutes or do you like to be hugged immediately? Is it best for you to go for a walk? I won’t be offended if you need space.”
10 – Get Counselling if Needed
If you’re stuck in an unhealthy pattern of damaging conflict with your child or teen, it may be time to get help. There is no shame in reaching out for professional support; it could be the very thing that makes your family a happier, healthier one.
“You might need a neutral party like a counsellor or pastor to sit with and help you move to healthier levels in your relationship,” Collett suggests.
Don’t be Too Hard on Yourself
Remember, we are all human, and everyone loses their cool from time to time. Collett urges parents not to pile the parent-guilt on themselves, but know that as long as they are working towards healthier relationships with their children, they are moving in the right direction.
“Obviously if we use yelling and fighting as our default interaction, or if we lose our cool all the time, that’s damaging,” she said. “But I believe families have personalities. Some are very quiet and gentle natured. Our family, on the other hand, is very loud in almost everything they do….so it stands to reason that even our disagreements can be loud or very vocal.
“For me, it’s just in those loud disagreements we need to be very careful about what we say and how… we have to ‘guard our tongues’.”