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7 Tips for Staying Calm

Kate Hanley
Feb. 26, 2018

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

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.

And for more helpful tips, check out Care.com's Guide to Managing Stress.

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.

Sept. 16, 2012

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 \

Aug. 29, 2012

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!

User in Visalia, CA
Aug. 6, 2012

What can be done if it's the parents themselves that are causing the caregiver to become stressed out and frayed at the ends?

May 9, 2012

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.

May 1, 2012

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!

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