7 Tips for Staying Calm

Whether you are a parent or nanny, here are easy strategies to help you scream less and cope better.

woman stressed out

Caitlin Fitzgordon, a mom of two in Brooklyn, N.Y., knew something needed to change when she found her temper toward the kids going from 0 to 60 in mere seconds. "If the kids didn't put their shoes exactly when I asked them to, I would just start screaming," she remembers. As you can imagine, it was a cycle that repeated itself, a lot. Worse, it triggered a host of other unpleasant emotions for Fitzgordon, including guilt, shame and feeling out of control. "I'd scream, then weep out of horror at myself."

Despite a sincere desire to change, Fitzgordon felt trapped. It's not surprising, says Hal Runkel, author of "Screamfree Parenting" and founder of the Screamfree Institute. "We scream when we think we're responsible for getting our kids to behave. But our job is to help them manage themselves. It's very difficult to get out of the screaming habit if you don't change your overall approaching toward parenting."

Whether you are a parent, a nanny or a babysitter, here are seven ways to stop feeling stuck in scream mode:

  1. Make Staying Calm Your Number One Priority
    No matter how much you'd like to get out the door or put the kids to bed "on time," if you have to scream to make it happen, you're doing yourself a disservice. "If you want your kids to behave, you have to manage your own behavior," Runkel says. Place all your attention on staying calm -- instead of on getting your kids to do what you want. "Freaking out only creates the very outcomes you were trying to avoid."

  2. Put Yourself First
    "Organizing your whole life around your kids is a recipe for disaster," Runkel says -- one that only leads to you resenting them and having little patience. Schedule your workout or date with a girlfriend (or both) first, then decide what outings you'll do with the kids that week.

  3. Banish "Okay?"
    Rather than trying to get your kids to approve every decision -- "We're going in 5 minutes, okay?" -- simply state the facts. If the kids protest, stand firm: "I know you're upset but we've had fun, it's time to go." You may think you're making your life easier by clearing things with them, but you're only making things worse. "Kids look to you for leadership. If you're constantly asking for their approval, you make yourself look weak, which makes them scared," Runkel says.

  4. Nurture Your Relationships
    It's vital that you don't look to your kids to complete you, says Runkel. "Tend to your adult relationships, particularly your marriage, so you can approach your kids from a position of fullness, instead of needing them to fill you up." Go on date night or out with girlfriends and don't talk about kids. Talk about your dreams, your life, what you want to accomplish, so kids don't become your primary mission in life.

  5. Retreat from the Kids
    You have to take quality time, Runkel counsels. "Taking intentional retreats from the kids gives you a chance to regroup and come back stronger." If your kids are old enough, arrange for them to have a sleepover. If they're very young, hire a babysitter or create a co-op with another local mom so you can have two hours to yourself. "You can take the kids with you and hate them for 2 hours, or have that time to yourself and be happy to see them at the end," Runkel says.

  6. Have an In-the-Moment Strategy
    Of course, meltdowns (yours and theirs) will still happen. When you need to calm down in the moment, try breathing, counsels Meagan Francis, blogger and author of "The Happiest Mom." "It's impossible to yell at your kids if you're inhaling," she says. Breathe in to a count of 10 before you even open your mouth. And when you do start speaking to your kids, use a quiet voice. "I've noticed that the softer I speak the more my kids pay attention," Francis says. "You also avoid being 'that Mom' who's losing it on aisle four."

  7. Admit When You Mess Up
    Should you still go overboard in your reaction, an apology can go a long way toward getting you all back on track again. "Saying 'I'm sorry' when I overreact teaches my kids that apologizing when you're wrong is the right thing to do, and it makes everyone feel a whole lot better,"' Francis says.

    For Fitzgordon, an a-ha moment finally helped her get off the scream-cry-scream carousel. "I realized the times when I'm at my wits' end with my kids are when I have no juice in my batteries -- I haven't exercised, haven't been getting enough sleep, haven't been eating well." Instead of convincing herself they didn't have money for her to go to a yoga class, for example, she simply went. Instead of rushing to get things done while the kids were in school and skipping lunch -- only to be famished at pick-up -- she began taking 20 minutes to sit down and eat a mid-day meal. And instead of immediately saying no to all invitations from friends, she started asking herself "How could I make this work?"

    "When I take the time to do the things that ground me and remind me who I am beyond motherhood, everything is better. I'm more loving toward my husband. I appreciate my kids without wanting them to be different." Perhaps most importantly, she's happier with herself. "Instead of feeling like I'm a bad mother, I think, 'I'm pretty great.'"

Read about how other women "make it work." Check out our "Who's In Your Village?" Interview Series. ?

Kate Hanley specializes in teaching chill out techniques to women who only wear yoga pants to the grocery store. Visit her at MsMindbody.com.

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Comments (16)
Heather E.
I can relate to the paragraph above. While I myself had not had this happen to me, my mom did because she used to provide day care from her home. She would charge sooo little (in about 1990), that I think she would basically be giving her services away. She said she felt "bad" for the parents when they couldn't pay so she would charge a riduculously low fee 0f $1.50 and hour. I think that is just wrong given the fact she was feeding these children and even bathing. I had it rough growing up becuase she took out all her stress on me and didn't even have the time of day for me.
Posted: September 16, 2012 at 1:54 PM
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Patricia U.
wow I needed some of this after the day and night I have had with a strange set of people i used to do care fo up to yesterday. I just had the worst and possibly the funniest situtation that I am sure will be appreachiated by all you caregiving nannies. I was told by someone I provide care for their child, that I was to be submissive to her.lol This all started because I asked her to pay me and then explained she had to pay cash because she had a bad check with me. Parents are showing their children the wrong messages in treating people with disrespect. It makes them think it is ok!I have had two sleepless night from this texting parent who is just the strangest person I ever met. She is a teacher. I wanted to get input on what other nannies thought about being treated with disrespect and not being paid,or being told they had to be submissive and below. I dont think I am wrong for being insulted and feeling disrespect and then there is the not getting paid ! I am so hoping there is that special family I can give to that will appreachiate the hard work it takes to care for children. the education it takes and the life experience someone with over 30 years has to offer a child but I am beginning to think there arent any out there and this generation is full off self centered selfish care seekers who dont want to pay thier bills. If you cant aford childcare dont hire a nanny. Work opposite shifts ,have family help, but certainly dont hire someone good and keep them from finding that right family by working for you unpaid and unappreachiated!. Its unfair to good care seeking parents who are really searching for that special nanny. It also makes some nannies stop giving care and that is a shame!
Posted: August 28, 2012 at 11:09 PM
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Rebecca R.
What can be done if it's the parents themselves that are causing the caregiver to become stressed out and frayed at the ends?
Posted: August 06, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Denise A.
I whole-heartedly agree with #5. I am a stay at home mom, but I send my child to a babysitter a couple days week for a few hours, even though I don't work. People are always treating me like that's a terrible thing to do, because I'm supposed to be at home with him, so why should I have a babysitter? This article is exactly why. Everybody needs a break.
Posted: May 09, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Katie M.
O thank you! This couldn't of come at a better time! I really needed to read this and know I'm NOT the only mom who loses it!
Posted: April 30, 2012 at 10:13 PM
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Tiphani B.
i agree with this article im a preschool teacher and im only on my second month at the place im currently working and i have a few children i teach who stress me out to the point i cant think straight i just put my head in my hands and shake my head because i know they are just testing me but its stressful i had one of my students say she hopes i get fired because she doesnt like being told what to do i wasnt even at this job for a month yet and she said this to me i was kinda dumbfounded
Posted: April 27, 2012 at 8:46 PM
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Wanda F.
I agree with Mona. I also take care of my mom, who had a stroke. I feel depressed sometimes even though I know she has no one but me. I know this is where God wants me to be right now. But sometimes it is still hard.
Posted: April 21, 2012 at 9:18 AM
Qualisha W.
I have no kids . I will do any thing i can too make someone kids happy ! i dont be stress out but from time to time i do !
Posted: April 20, 2012 at 9:57 AM
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Faith I.
I am a singleworking mother of a 2 year old little boy who I take everywhere with me.Including to work where I work as a nanny.I am so overwhelmed in every aspect of my life, and I feel like Im falling apart.I have no time to myself ever.My boyfriend who is not my sons biological father is wonderful but he is unable to help alot because he also works a full time job.People always say Im so lucky that I get to take my son to work with me.I agree in some aspects, I am very lucky. Hey I save a ton on childcare by taking him with me.However it is extremly hard to try and work when my two year old is hanging on my leg.Thank you for this article.I have a tendency to feel extremly guilty for wanting to be away from my son at times,and as of late i feel like all I am is a caregiver.Im going to find a way to make sometime for myself, I need to remember who I am besides Mama.
Posted: April 19, 2012 at 10:09 AM
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Airika H.
Good Advice, I want to post this on my fridge! Thanks
Posted: April 15, 2012 at 9:37 PM
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Natalie W.
Wow,Lisa,my 12 yr old acts this way too.I am a single mom,w/o the boyfriend,but I think it is part the age and part the resentment of the "new dad".I really suggest counseling for you both.Good luck,get a hold of this now or you will loose her!
Posted: April 14, 2012 at 3:14 PM
Mona W.
Where can I call to get some feedback and destress from caregiving for my mother. I often feel like I'll fall apart.
Posted: April 13, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Photo of Jennifer S.
Jennifer S.
I can't tell you how timely this article is for me. I have had "one of those days" where it all just became overwhelming and I sat home and cried after I dropped the kids off at school. I needed that time, whether it was crying or praying. You article is so true about calming myself down first and also taking time for ME! I need to charge my internal battery so I can be a loving and consistent mother for my two awesome children! Sometimes I think how can I be a single parent to them, but then I wonder how they put up with me sometimes! :)
Posted: April 12, 2012 at 3:03 PM
Lisa D.
I don't put myself first; I have 3 beautiful children, who are very active. I am divorced and currently living w/ boyfriend in a different county where my children reside. Unfortunately, my daughter wants to stay w/ her father and takes every opportunity to be miserable at our home. She found excuses of not getting homework done; travel makes her have headache; she argues with me or boyfriend when told she is being disrespectful - telling us to shut up and becomes defensive if told to do something. She's come right out and stated she will not follow our house rules because we don't.
Posted: March 28, 2012 at 10:11 AM
Shannon J.
This is something I truly needed to hear right now. We (my husband, son, and I have alot going on in life right now and sometimes its hard to keep up. Its nice to know that im not the only mother who feels like a horrible mother if Im off schedule from time to time and that its ok to take time out for me. Im also a first time mother and this was very helpful to me, THANK YOU!!!
Posted: March 26, 2012 at 9:57 PM
Photo of Katie M.
Katie M.
Thank you! The best technique to keeping my cool is to read an article like this or grab those great resources off the shelf. Even though I have a strategic approach to dealing with situations with children, there comes a time that I need validation of why I practice it.
Posted: March 12, 2012 at 3:43 PM
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