But then, the kids’ voices get angry and loud, with shouts of “That’s mine!” And you think: Here we go again. Can’t they get along for more than two minutes? Why can’t the older one just be nice?
Before you can get to the kids’ bedroom, you hear the little one wailing and you know her big sister has done it again. You rush in, angry, and yell at your oldest child for hurting her sister – and then feel like crap when you see the look of fear in your oldest child’s eyes and she starts crying as loudly as her sister.
Two minutes later, you’re sitting on the bedroom floor, a big mess of self-flagellation, resentment, and frustration, while your kids giggle as they peek around your body at each other. You’re mad at yourself for breaking your promise to not yell at the kids. You’re exhausted from the kids’ constant bickering and fighting. You know you must be scarring them in some way with the anger and resentment you can’t keep from bubbling over. But really, if they just behaved better, you’d be a better mom.
Taking Care of We
Your ability to control your reactions is governed by the part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is like having a CFO who collects all of the data and makes executive decisions on how to manage your behavior and your choices.
When you lose your cool because your kids are misbehaving, screaming bloody murder, and trying to take each other down, it’s like you’ve set up shop in the basement, otherwise known as the fight or flight part of your brain. To get back upstairs into the CFO’s office (your prefrontal cortex), you need to find a way to feel empathetic toward your child.
To build empathy, see if you can you look at the situation from your child’s perspective. Usually when a child acts out, the bad behavior is expressing a need:
• Has your child started a new preschool with new rules and a new routine and he needs more help adjusting?
• Are changes surrounding the addition of a new baby changing how much attention you can give to your older child and your daughter needs more time and reassurance from you?
• Are you working more hours lately and your child is missing you?
Getting promoted to the CFO’s office by shifting your perspective, being empathetic, and managing your temper is an awesome goal. But when your child launches into another tantrum at Target or leaves teeth marks in his brother’s arm, and you feel those mean mommy emotions starting to boil, what do you do?
It’s scientific fact: the better you take care of yourself, the more self control you have available. Eating well, getting good sleep, and other healthy habits affect how you use glucose, fuel for your brain and body. Physical activity – not just what we commonly define as “exercise” – makes your brain bigger and faster, especially in the prefrontal cortex.
You can build willpower with STEAM Power: S for Sleep, T for Talk Nicely, E for Eat Well, A for Activity, and M for Mindfulness. When you integrate new habits that help your prefrontal cortex work more effectively, you can more easily manage your moods, stop yelling, develop patience, and feel like a better mom overall.
Are you thinking that all of these ideas are great but you’re wondering how in the holy hell am I supposed to do all that? Or have you tried to let go of resentment, yelling, or another bad habit in the past and your new ideas have worked for a while but then you’ve fallen back into your old, familiar patterns?
Kathleen Ann Harper is the author of The Well-Crafted Mom. She works with moms who know they have everything they ever wanted, yet still feel like there’s something big missing. Through one-on-one sessions, group programs, and retreats, Kathleen helps moms find the time and energy to craft a life that includes creativity and joy. Discover more about Kathleen at thewellcraftedmom.com/about