As parents, we have all had those nights. You know the ones. The baby screams until 2am, and just when you FINALLY get him to sleep, the other child is up with a nightmare or asking for a drink of water. Being sleep deprived is an unfortunate part of parenting, and by repeating the mantra “this too shall pass”, we can make it through it! But sometimes, in the midst of bouts of crying and heart wrenching sobs coming from your infant or toddler, our frustration gets the best of us. It is in those times that parents resort to unintentional violence or angry outbursts.
Obviously, responding to your child in an angry or violent manner is not healthy for your child’s self esteem or mental development. It can also pose a physical threat if your anger gets too out of hand. I will give my 2 year old an occasional swat on the butt when other discipline techniques fail, and I have found myself resorting to a smack when perhaps a time-out would have worked. On countless occasions, I have found myself speaking sharply to her when her roller coaster emotions frustrate me.
There is no excuse for this, except that we are all parents, only human, and none of us are perfect. Fortunately, I have been able to curb my behavior, and the result is a happier, more harmonious home for everyone. Here are some things you can do to calm the tears before things get out of hand:
Responding to Tantrums and Strong Emotions
- Tantrums represent real emotions and as such should be taken seriously
- Some emotions are too powerful for a young child’s underdeveloped brain to manage in a more socially acceptable manner
- A parent’s role in tantrums is to comfort the child, not to get angry or punish her.
Responding to Colic
- Take deep breaths. Focus on breathing deeply, in through your nose, out through your mouth, while you calm your baby. Baby will automatically adjust his breathing to match your own, which can also sooth the chest rattling sobs.
- Repeat a mantra. Every parent should have a mantra. It could be something as simple as “this too shall pass” or “stay calm, stay strong”. In times of tension and frustration, this mantra should be repeated either silently or out loud until you feel you have control of yourself and your emotions.
- Visualize a relaxing place. While it can be hard amidst the screaming, visualizing a happy place is one of the best ways to calm yourself, and thus to calm your baby.
- Feel the support. Remember, you are not alone! Millions of parents are going through the same thing, at the same time. Can you hear their desperate attempts to quiet their children? Feel it, and find strength in the unity of your numbers.
- Take a break. If you find yourself becoming angry or unable to control yourself, step out of the room and collect your thoughts. Your baby will experience less damage from a short bout of CIO than from you losing control.
Sometimes, the long nights with infants of the long days with screaming, temperamental toddlers get the best of us. Don’t worry, you’re only human. But here are signs that you need to step away from the situation and take a break IMMEDIATELY:
• You can’t think logically or clearly
• You’re uncontrollably emotional: laughing, crying, etc.
• You get angry at baby or consider violence
• The situation is causing you to shut down and feel hopeless
Remember, above all, your baby cries because she has no other way to express her thoughts and feelings. And despite her apparent anger and frustration, she loves you and needs you. Let’s all try to keep our cool and weather the long nights with a level head. Remember: this too shall pass.