Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the parenting game has completely changed. You’re likely spending many more hours than before with your children, trying to balance your own work-from-home (or job search) and your child’s school-from-home at the same time. You might have anxiety about COVID-19 or be adjusting to illness or death of your family and friends. On top of your own stress, your child may be reacting to the pandemic with increased worry, boredom, or misbehavior. I can guess that you’ve lost your cool on your kids at least once or twice during quarantine. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal!
Of course, it’s easier on both you and your child if anger doesn’t take charge. Here are a few strategies to help you manage your own stress without blowing up:
Label and model emotions for kids
You’re going to feel and express some anger and frustration. That’s alright. Use it as a teaching moment with your children. For example, you could say, “Mommy felt angry before. She shouldn’t have yelled. Sometimes we get mad at each other, but then we apologize because we love each other.”
Sometimes the best thing to do is just physically leave the situation. Take a couple of minutes away and then approach the situation again. Most likely, you will be able to behave more calmly. For example, you might realize during your “cool down time” that it is not worth the argument, like about screen time tonight; tomorrow, you can set some new rules, if needed.
If you notice your body changing, such as breathing more heavily or starting to tense your muscles, you can use relaxation techniques to calm down. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it, and breathe out for 6 seconds. Repeat until you start to notice your body relaxing. Alternately, you can run in place or tense and relax the muscles throughout your body.
Challenge angry thoughts
Notice unhelpful thoughts that lead to anger and challenge them. For example, “should” statements (e.g., My husband should have cleaned out the dishwasher before I got home.”) often lead to anger because they attempt to control others’ behavior, which is not possible. If you notice a thought such as, “The kids are driving me crazy – why can’t they just be quiet!?” you can challenge it by thinking something like, “I know they’re having a hard time with all these changes, too.”
Use assertive language, rewards, and consequences to meet your needs
Maybe you’re frustrated because you’re having trouble getting your children to do things you need from them, such as completing chores. You can change your language to show that you’re serious about what you need. For example, we often ask our kids to do a chore (e.g., “Will you pick up your toys?”). Technically, this is a yes-or-no question, and they may think they have a choice in their response. Using more directive language is more helpful (e.g., “Please pick up your toys.”). As a bonus, you can add a reward (e.g., “If you pick up your toys before dinner, you can have extra dessert.”) or a consequence (e.g., “If you don’t pick up your toys before dinner, you won’t get any more screen time.”).
Get support from your community
As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We are more isolated than ever right now, so it is easy for frustration and other feelings to build up. The other caregivers we used to rely on, such as grandparents, may not be able to help with your family right now. Think about additional supports you might be able to access – call in a babysitting favor from someone you trust, ask about childcare resources from community or religious organizations, or meet up with parent friends to vent your frustrations together.
When and how to seek extra support
You may need additional support if your anger is increasing to the point of behaviors such as insulting or physically hurting your children. If that is the case, community, state, and national organizations can help to maintain safety in your home. Call the National Parent Helpline 1-855-4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) to find out about resources to help your family. Here is a list of many other organizations that help keep families safe https://www.childwelfare.gov/organizations/?CWIGFunctionsaction=rols:main&CWIGFunctionspk=1Proper citation link for this blog post:
Mosley, C.(September 22, 2020). How to Stay Calm While Parenting Through a Pandemic: Anger Management Techniques. https://infoaboutkids.org/blog/how-to-stay-calm-while-parenting-through-a-pandemic-anger-management-techniques