Mind & Body

How to Stay Calm When Your Kid Is Driving You Crazy

When it comes to the ways your child can drive you crazy, the sky’s the limit. Countless questions. Nonstop messes. Constant nagging. Rollercoaster moods. Epic meltdowns. Endless needs.

And, of course, the pandemic has only heightened all of this. We’re stressed out about everything from the state of the world to our job status to our shrinking support systems. We’re short on sleep and have a sliver of alone time — if we’re lucky.

We’re also trying to work from home without losing our minds. One of the psychologists I spoke to, Christopher Willard, PsyD, says his young kids have appeared in his online workshops and his 2-year-old has wandered into a therapy session.

The natural breaks that we had when we went into the office are now nonexistent, further fraying our nerves, he says.

In short, it’s a recipe for rage to bubble up and spill over. So, if you haven’t been acting like your best self, it makes perfect sense — please don’t beat yourself up! And know there are plenty of helpful things you can do, from behavioral tactics to fast-acting, calming techniques.

Ignore irritating behavior

“My favorite technique for staying calm while also improving behavior is to just ignore it,” says Catherine Pearlman, PhD, LCSW, founder of The Family Coach and author of the book “Ignore It!

Ignore any behavior that’s annoying, attention-seeking, or occurs after you’ve already said no to a request — and shower your kids with attention when they’re performing desirable behaviors, she says.

Change the dynamic

Since our kids are likely also stressed and anxious, their irritating behavior may really be about seeking reassurance. They want to know that despite the upheaval, everything will be OK, you’ll still be there, and you’ll love and protect them, says Shelley Davidow, a long-time teacher and author of “Raising Stress-Proof Kids.”

Responding to this deeper need, she says, will likely diminish their annoying actions.

Davidow suggests carving out 20 minutes to play a board game, play tag, draw together, or do any other activity that pulls you both “out of the dynamic of creating stress.”

Do an emotional check-in

“When you are more connected to your emotions, you can make better choices regarding how you respond to your children,” says Tracy L. Daniel, PhD, a psychologist and author of “Mindfulness for Children.”

To check in, simply take a few minutes throughout the day to do the following:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart.
  3. Notice your heartbeat, inhales, and exhales.
  4. Scan your body for any sensations.
  5. Lastly, open your eyes and notice how you feel.
Communicate safety — to yourself

Because our nervous system perceives a threat or obstacle when we’re about to lose it, it’s important to “let your body and mind know that you are safe in the moment,” says Hunter Clarke-Fields, a mindfulness coach and author of “Raising Good Humans.”

Do this by walking away for a few moments or telling yourself, “This is not an emergency. I can handle this” or “I’m helping my child,” she says.

Get grounded

Name what you’re feeling, and then sit on the floor, count backwards from 50 by 3s, or take several deep breaths, says Devon Kuntzman, ACC, a toddler parenting and life design coach.

The key, she says, is to find a strategy that works well for you.

Shake it out

To counteract your body’s stress response (increased blood pressure, tense muscles) and frustration-fueled excess energy, shake your hands, arms, and legs, says Clarke-Fields.

Interestingly, “Many animals are known to shake dozens of times a day to clear away the effects of stress,” she says.

Use the ‘quick coherence technique’

“If we get ourselves into a calm state, research at the HeartMath Institute shows that our children’s hearts will respond physically to our state of heart,” says Davidow.

Try this technique developed by HeartMath Institute:

  1. Focus your attention on your heart.
  2. Breathe in for 6 seconds and out for 6 seconds, a little slower and deeper than usual.
  3. Try to actively feel care or gratitude for something or someone.

Do this for 2 minutes (you can ask your kids to join you).

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