Sometimes, no matter how hard I try I just keep snapping at my kids.
On one hand, I care and protect these children to a fault, often at the expense of my own well being. But on the other hand, sometimes they can do something so irritating, so infuriating, it strikes a primitive urge within me to destroy them.
It’s like my unwavering love and commitment to my offspring mysteriously dissolves into a thick cloud of overwhelm, aggravation and rage.
I know we don’t talk about it much (which only adds to our feelings of shame), but believe me, we have all been there.
That moment when your kids push your last button and you snap…
You yell, you lecture, maybe you throw out some curse words or unreasonable punishments.
And then of course, you feel soiled by the strong negativity, confused by your reactions and shrouded by a veil of guilt.
But why do we keep lashing out on the same kids we are working so hard to care for?!
I’m sure you can think of a few reasons off the top of your head, even this very moment. And I am almost certain that whatever the reason, neurologically, the mechanism is the same.
And if you stick with me to the end I’ll give you 4 things you can do to start to become more thoughtful and less reactive when your kids push your buttons.
I’m also going to fill you in on the details of an upcoming 12 week workshop I’ll be running in Jerusalem starting November 18th. (But no worries if the workshop isn’t up your alley–there are still some helpful info and tips ahead…)
You see, what causes us to freak out on our kids is the same system that protects us from all threat, whether it be real or perceived (ie. It just feels really threatening but really, you’re safe).
On the most basic level, our brains function to keep us safe and to survive any looming threat from the environment.
It does this by registering information that it gleams from the environment via your five senses, and cross referencing it with past experiences.
And it all happens in about a quarter of a second.
Your brain is making meaning of your internal and external environment moment to moment, mostly out of your awareness, and if you don’t pay attention this primitive, automatic function can make you do some strange things…
Like the time I creeped around my dark house with a blunt object in my steadied hand, urged on by my frightened daughter, because we heard a sudden and loud thud coming from the opposite side of our house.
My conscious, thoughtful mind was telling me that I was safe and there was a reasonable explanation for the commotion. My automatic brain however, the part that works quick and reacts fast, was sounding a code red and wouldn’t let me rest until I had neutralized the obvious, likely knife wielding, intruder.
(Spoiler alert: We weren’t under attack. That loud sound came from a picture frame that had fallen from the wall in the dead of night).
But not unlike the perceived threat of an intruder, this same mechanism can cause you to rage at your toddler for leaving the lids off the markers yet again, spilling the cottage cheese all over the floor after being explicitly told not to touch the container (that literally just happened in my home moments ago. Don’t even get me started! ) or any other minor misdemeanor, because believe it or not, despite the high functioning powers of the human brain, at first glance, in the heat of the moment, your brain can’t necessarily tell the difference between a tantrumming toddler or a knife wielding terrorist.
That’s because your brain calls on well formed beliefs, expectations and past experiences (whether it be from your own childhood, generationally transmitted patterns or primitive rules of survival) to guide your instant interpretations of your environment, namely your kids behavior and your internal reaction to them.
And that’s why, when the trigger is pulled, your kids can make you react in the most primitive ways. Maybe you lash out in a counter attack, maybe you flee the scene and hide or maybe you feel so overwhelmed that you do nothing at all, dumbstruck in wake of the perceived assault.
You can probably name the behavior that sets you off, like tantrums, unruly messes or power struggles, but you are still puzzled by your automatic reactions to your kids.
You probably also know that what sets you off are common, rational behaviors not unique to our children like hunger, exhaustion or frustration, but nevertheless, like all of us, you continually stumble down the dark, familiar path of overwhelm, irritation and rage instead of taking it in stride and responding clearly, calmly and confidently.
“But why” , you ask (exasperated, no less)?
Because (here comes the good stuff), if the cause of our reactions are our automatic misinterpretation of our kids’ behavior, coupled with external circumstances and our general state of mind, then we need is to slow it down and identify what exactly our brains are perceiving as threat.
What we really need to be asking ourselves it: What’s really going on for me that’s causing me to interpret my kids’ actions and react to them as though I am somehow under attack?
To help you to start to figure that out, the next time you lose it on your kid, ask yourself these 4 following questions:
1. What was going on before you lost it?
(Did you just receive a huge electrical bill in the mail? Did you just sneak a peak at your growing laundry pile or a messy room? Or have you been stressed about work or other interpersonal relationships?)
If you can recognize that the root of your heightened stress isn’t your kid, but rather something else that is completely out of your control (hello! Being out of control is a huge trigger for our automatic reactions), then you can be more compassionate to yourself and less reactive to your kids. It’s not their fault after all.
2. What did your kid do?
What were your first thoughts when they did that? And what were you feeling?
Let your mind run with this one without hesitation. You may find some of your thoughts shameful or uncomfortable, but the more familiar you become with the thoughts and feelings that arise for you, the less likely you will rreact to the thoughts and feeling themselves, and more likely to respond to your kids and what’s really coming up for them.
3. What did you do in response?
This step is important because it helps you recognize in the future that you are having an automatic reaction, and perhaps begin to stop yourself before you lose it. Also, the thoughts and feelings that come up for us when we take responsibility for our actions are a pathway to uncovering the deeper, emotional root of our reactions.
4. How would you like to respond next time?
Visualize your response. Like a runner, who maps out their path in their minds in preparation for a big race, visualizing your response in the face of a common trigger, is great preparation for the next time your kid sets you off. It also helps you identify what might be getting in the way of you keeping your cool when your kids set you off.
I asked myself these questions time and time again until I figured out what was really go on behind my reactions so I could finally rewire my automatic, so that instead of reacting as usual, I choose how to respond.
I wish I had help and support through this journey, but I am happy to be able to offer the guidance to other moms.
Starting October 28th, I’ll be running a 12-week workshop in Jerusalem where you’ll get the (research-based) tools you need to feel more calm and confident in your day to day challenges in life with kids.
Once you register for the workshop, you will join a small group of moms every Monday morning starting November 18th from 9-10:30 at El Halev in Talpiot.
You will also get extra support between group meetings in a private and exclusive whatsapp group.
The early-bird investment for the 12 weekly hour-and-a-half meetings is 1200 shekels (payment plan available).
Heads up: The early bird offer ends October 28th.
When you join the workshop you’ll get:
*3 Months of Support
*12 hour and a half weekly meetings
*Learn To Catch Yourself Before You Lose It
*Learn To Discipline Effectively
*Become the Parent You Always Hoped You’d Be
*Learn To Get Your Kids To Cooperate
*Become Calm & Centered
*Make Better Day To Day Decisions With Your Kids
*Practical/Research Based Tools
*Build Relationships That Last
*Between Session Support in a Private Whatsapp Group
*Set Boundaries That Work
To learn more and register go to: www.parentwithconfidencecourse.com
And if you have any questions, or if you’re wondering if this program is for you, feel free to a schedule a consultation with me here: