How to Not Blow Up on Your Kids When You’re Stressed: The Timeout
Let me set the scene for you. I’m working from home, sitting at my computer trying to crank out a report and meet a deadline in an hour.
The following sequence of events happens:
- My 9-year-old son goes running down the hall and slides on the floor into the door as if he were sliding into 2nd base. (I guess he misses baseball.)
- I calmly stand up and say, “Are you crazy? Don’t do that anymore.” (50○– Nice and cool.)
- Next, my 11-year-old son breaks a glass bowl in the kitchen.
- I, truly irritated, go to the kitchen to investigate and help clean up the mess. (100○– Hot, but bearable.)
- Then my 2-year-old is yelling at my 4-year-old, “Let me have it. It’s mine. Let me have it!” as tears are flowing down his face. Of course, he gets louder and louder each time.
- I put my referee suit on and very frustratingly resolve the issue. (150○– Feels like I’m in the desert with no water.)
- And then my 13-year-old daughter innocently enough walks in and asks me to set up Zoom on the iPad so she can get on a video with her friends.
- And now, I’m ready to lose it. My very first thought, (picture blood vessels bursting out of my forehead, “Leave me the -beep- alone!” (212○– I’m at my boiling point.)
I’ve gone from calm, to irritated, to frustrated, to downright angry because no one will let me get my work done. Don’t they know the pressures that we are under right now?! Don’t they know that if I don’t get these reports completed, I could be the next one to be laid off or have his salary reduced?!
There are 2 distinct doors to choose at this moment:
- Behind Door #1: Blow up and let my 13-year-old and all the other kids have it. Check out the blog, How Your Emotions Affect Your Child to learn more about what else is potentially behind door #1.
- Behind Door #2: Take a timeout.
The timeout is an extremely useful tool that has helped me with my own children. It is so important because when I reached the boiling point, my body had literally undergone a chemical transformation as adrenaline and cortisol was now rushing to my defense. I was not capable of thinking rationally because my brain was out of balance at that moment.
The timeout becomes vital to provide an opportunity to literally calm your nerves. It can be made to be real dramatic which helps to get the focus onto the issue and off the person.
Some creative ways to take a timeout and not blow up on your kids.
Throw a flag.
(Stole this one from the NFL) When a team commits a foul. One referee throws a flag. Then all the referees huddle to discuss the foul and make sure there’s agreement on the consequences (e.g. 15 yard penalty). Play doesn’t resume until the foul was acknowledged by the referee and the consequence was administered. And then it’s on to the next play. (The referees are always calm, direct and clear when they discuss the foul that was committed and the penalty.) If one of them has committed a foul that’s about to cause you to blow up on your kids, have a makeshift flag (i.e., bandana, handkerchief, napkin, old rag) and throw it to the spot of the foul. And if your spouse is available, discuss the foul with them. Sometimes the referee picks up the flag and says that no foul was committed. Sometimes your kids didn’t do anything wrong, the stress of life just got to you. Don’t be too proud to pick up your flag and say no foul was committed.
Hit the Pause Button.
(Thank Hal Runkel, marriage and family therapist and author of ScreamFree Parenting for this one.) When we pause, everything freezes. Time stops. We don’t yet act on the next thought that comes to mind. We’re giving ourselves time for the adrenaline to settle down. Hal Runkel says, “Kids don’t want cool parents. They want parents that keep their cool.” Hitting the pause button helps you keep your cool. Make your pause button noisy. It can be a buzzer like the one that comes with board games like Taboo or a little wheezy toy. This draws attention to the fact that there is an issue that makes me want to explode and we need to deal. These are drastic times which call for drastic measures. Let your drastic measure be hitting the pause button.
Set a 90-second timer.
Use your phone, microwave timer, watch, or just count. Did you know that we only stay mad (chemically) for 90 seconds? According to Jill Bolte Taylor, brain researcher and author of A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, anger triggers a chemical reaction within the brain that lasts for 90 seconds. After that, we either turn our attention elsewhere or replay the story and reignite the anger. You’re about to lose your mind at the expense of your kids. You can often sense when that 90-second count starts. Stop, take a deep breath and set a timer.
Simply call a timeout.
Form a “T” with your hands and say, “Timeout.” Doesn’t get more straightforward than that.
If you start to blow up on your kids or even get a few moments into your blow-up and then catch yourself and recognize the need for a timeout (this happens to me a lot), that’s ok. All isn’t lost.
Take a timeout the moment you recognize you need it. Take it from my experience; don’t start to blow up on your kids, realize that you’re blowing up, know that you should take a timeout, but since you’ve already started, choose to keep blowing up. Don’t do that!
If you do, you’re essentially saying, “I know that I’m not thinking rationally, that my adrenaline has thrown off my thought process, and that I’m in the middle of reacting, but I’m going to stay on that path anyway.” Pride or stubbornness should not get in the way of a timeout.
The best time to come up with a plan is before you need it.
Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids. Discuss the timeout, its purpose and implementation. Then use it.
Not only are you protecting your children and yourself, you’re also modeling self-control and teaching them how to regulate their emotions. And in the process, you’ve put yourself in a better position to get the results you really want: a family that is considerate, loving and respectful of one another. That beats fewer broken dishes any day.
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