Before I became a mother, I rarely got angry and I almost never lost my temper. Motherhood, with it's accompanying temper tantrums, lack of sleep, and near-constant demands, has shown me that I still have some work to do when it comes to dealing with negative emotions. I struggle with irritation and anger much more often than I'd like. While I still have a long way to go, the following methods have really helped me in learning to keep my irritability and anger in check.
- Paying close attention to my own emotions to see when I am starting to get irritated. It is amazing how hard it can be to recognize the signs in myself that it is time for a break, and to be willing to actually take a break. When I don't pay attention to the escalation of my internal emotions, I may end up at the point where I boil over, resulting in two crying kids and a regretful mom. When I can recognize that I am starting to get irritated, taking a quick break can keep me from getting to my boil-point. My kids are getting old enough now that I can tell them why I need a quick break and they are okay with that (as they know it is better than the alternative of me losing my temper and yelling at them). *Fortunately*, I get plenty of opportunities to practice this every day.
- Ringing the peace bell. In our dining room/kitchen, we have a bell that makes a beautiful sound when you strike it. Whenever I (or the kids) are starting to feel grumpy, frustrated, or irritated, we can ring the peace bell. The idea is that, when the bell is rung, everyone else will be quiet for a moment and take a nice, deep breath. My 6-year-old daughter, especially, likes to use the bell, particularly when she notices that I am getting grumpy. (I'm pretty sure the idea of using a peace bell came from a Thich Nhat Hanh book I read a few years ago.)
- Daily afternoon quiet time: I absolutely could not survive without our daily quiet time. Every afternoon, we have quiet time for about 2 hours. Each kid goes to a separate room with some quiet toys to play with, and I have time to de-stress through meditation, prayer, yoga, reading, or even folding laundry in blessed solitude. My 3-year-old can usually last 30-45 minutes playing on his own during this time, and then I help him settle in for his afternoon nap (and take a quick snooze myself since he is still wakes during the night). My 6-year-old daughter spends her quiet time reading, playing, coloring, or listening to music. This time is essential for all of us to recharge and relax.
- Accepting rather than rejecting negative feelings. One thing it took me a long time to realize (and that I still struggle with sometimes) is that I have to accept my negative emotions. Trying to deny these feelings or ignore them is a sure way to set myself up for a big blow-up. Realizing that it is okay to have negative feelings has made a big difference for me. This doesn't mean that I welcome negative feelings, but it does mean that I don't need to feel bad for having them. I try to keep in mind that, although I may have negative feelings, I am not these feelings and I don't have to act them out. Often, just being willing to acknowledge these feelings is a big outlet for me.
- Remembering my kids at their best. One good technique I learned while reading Simplicity Parenting is to think about my kids at their best. Payne writes,"remember the ordinary moments of the day, the moments with your children that meant something to you. This simple exercise is like a spiritual corrective lens. In your vision of your kids, it helps to restore the prominence of 'who they are' over 'what they need to do' or 'what they need to work on.'... Relive those moments and give them their due." I find this technique to be particularly beneficial on days when my kids have been especially difficult to live with. Remembering good moments from the recent past (and even their younger years) can help me keep perspective on my kids and establish a more positive tone.
- Limiting my screen time. I find that I am more likely to snap at the kids when I am interrupted while trying to read something or finish one more thing on the computer. We are all happier when I can impose restrictions on my own screen usage. Limiting my computer usage to those times when the kids are otherwise actively engaged or in quiet time can help me keep from becoming so easily irritated.
- Communicating with the kids about the "Red Zone" and "Quiet Zone". When I am having anger issues, I tell the kids I've reached the "red zone". They know this means that an eruption is imminent, and that they can help prevent it by playing nicely and being polite instead of whining. I also declare "Quiet Zone" in whatever room I am in at those times when I start to get overwhelmed by the constant kid noise. Anyone in the Quiet Zone has to talk in whispers and be very quiet. The kids are are allowed to stay in the Quiet Zone with me if they can abide by those rules, otherwise I ask them to go to another room. The kids have gotten so used to this now that they will often happily run along together to play somewhere else whenever I declare Quiet Zone.
- Constitutional homeopathic care. My irritability and anger were actually some of the main reasons I decided to undergo constitutional homeopathic care for myself. Both of these problems developed about midway through my second pregnancy, and it is clear to me that there was some sort of shift at that time because I never had issues with anger and irritability prior to then. Through constitutional treatment (which is still ongoing), I have seen some light at the end of the tunnel and I am hopeful that I will one day return to my old, cheerful self. I have already seen some big gains in my irritability and anger, but I still have a ways to go. (Constitutional treatment is not a quick fix solution; it takes months or even years for the treatment to be completed.) Because constitutional treatment allows the body to heal itself on the physical, emotional, and mental levels, it is an amazing way to come back into true health on all levels of the body.
- Being willing to change my plans. It helps me to keep in mind that there will be bad days (or weeks), and that it is okay on those days to slow down and relax. I periodically need to just throw away the to-do list for a day, and hang out with the kids instead. This often will actually turn a bad day into a good day instead.