Fear & Punishment Vs. Love & Learning

Today’s topic: The old and new styles of discipline.

Many of us were raised in the old style of discipline. It was largely based in fear and punishment. Here are some characteristics:

1. The adults have authority based in fear because the kids are afraid of getting in trouble.
2. When the kids get in trouble, it’s unpredictable, and the punishment often takes away something that is precious to the kids.
3. Even if rewards are involved, the discipline is based in fear because the kids are afraid they might not get the reward.
4. Kids and adults struggle for power.  If/then is often used in the struggle: “If you do this, then you’ll get in trouble. If you do this, then you’ll get a reward.”

Here’s an example: The kids fight. A vase is broken. The adult yells and tells the children to go to their rooms and that they can’t go to their friend’s birthday party. The adult is furious about the vase and never forgives the children. The kids are furious and never forgive the adult for missing the birthday party. The empty shelf where the vase once was reminds them all of the hurt.

Here’s the new kind of discipline. It’s based in love and learning (this is what I teach):

1. Self-regulation (calming techniques) are taught and used so the family feels safe.
2. Feelings are talked about so the family feels loved.
3. Values (revealed by the feelings) are regularly discussed and guide decision-making.
4. Kids and adults work together to support each other in problem-solving and reconciliation when needed. Instead of a struggle for power, the family works together so everyone “wins.”

Here’s an example: The kids fight. A vase is broken. A calm adult helps the children talk about their feelings. The adult may also talk about their feelings (without blaming the kids). Values are discussed, like this:

“In our family, we value self-regulation and problem-solving.”
“We value our hearts — our feelings teach us our values — that’s our conscience.”
“We value our bodies — our bodies are made to love and be loved.”
“We value our house and the things in it, so we try to take good care of our things.”
“We have individual values — what are yours?”

So then, based on their values, the adult works with the kids to reconcile their relationship with each other. They talk about how they would like to handle the situation differently next time (to use the steps above during conflict). They work together to clean up the broken vase, and they pick a plate from a cabinet to go on the shelf in its place. They celebrate and admire the placement of the plate. The plate reminds them of how they work together as a family. Everyone feels safe, loved, and respected.

What do you think? How were you raised? Does any of this sound familiar?

The new kind of discipline does not come naturally. It takes a mentor. I mentor you, and you mentor your kids.

To schedule a free 30-minute call with me, use the Contact page on the website so I can text you.

Share this with someone who’s ready, who’s looking for a different way to raise their kids.

Emotional Intelligence and the Virus

Updated 3/28/20

As a coach, here is my response to COVID-19 support the community.

I was a news producer for nine years. The news is commercial, which means they are encouraged to create articles according to your clicks and views. So click on articles that are helpful, that talk about solutions. Look for solutions in the headlines. As a community, if we click on articles that are helpful, then we’ll get more helpful articles because news producers will focus on providing them for us.

In an emotionally intelligent family, family members try to notice and respond to feelings in healthy ways. For example:

Tired? Sleep. Our brains are forming new pathways during this pandemic. We learn and problem-solve in our sleep. When we wake up, we have new ideas and perspectives. So, sleep. Take naps.

Sad? Cry. Snuggle with a blanket. Tell a friend. Pet a cat or dog.

Stressed? Make a list for each family member of what is soothing for them. Note: Soothing is not numbing (like television or wine or cookies). Truly soothing activities are things like talking to friends, taking a walk outside or snuggling. Numbing is ok, but eventually, you will also want to address your feelings so they can come up and out.

Happy? Try to find something to be happy about or grateful for. Put on a favorite song and dance.

Angry? Anger usually happens when you think you or someone else is getting hurt. It’s also usually accompanied by sadness. Try saying this, “The story I’m telling myself is…” and then problem-solve to address the story in healthy, helpful ways. If you’re very angry, breathe, take a break, and calm yourself first. Anger and upset do not have to be the same thing. Use your anger to give you the energy to take action that is helpful for you and those around you. (If you would like me to train you how to do this, contact me.)

Overwhelmed? This is usually a combination of feelings. Try to sort them out and identify the individual feelings. Also, sleeping can help with overwhelm.

Stress is contagious, but calm is contagious too. So adults, focus on your calm. Take breaks from the media and breathe.

When someone does have a moment of dis-regulation and loses their temper due to stress, there’s a very useful technique I teach called “Connect.” First, you stay calm. Then, you “connect” with their feelings, you notice how they are feeling. Third, you “connect” with their values, you notice what’s important to them. I created a PDF you can print to use at home. (Click here to download.) Here’s an example from yesterday:

I took my daughter to the creek. She didn’t want to leave and was rude to me. Instead of taking it personally and becoming angry at her, I breathed. I said, “You feel sad about leaving. You love spending time at the creek.” She calmed down.

Doing this takes practice, especially if you grew up in a family like the one of my childhood, where we didn’t talk about feelings at all. But, as a family learns to talk about the feelings and values going on underneath the upset, problems become much easier to solve.


Depending on the age of your children, decide how much information you want to share with them. Here’s a script, it’s how my husband and I have talked with our 8-year-old twins:

“There’s a bad sickness going around the world this year. This is the first time this has happened in our lifetimes; it’s not usually this bad. Many people are working together to slow down the spread, so we are staying home. Doing this will help the doctors help people who are really sick, and it will give them time to find medicines. A lot of people are stressed out by this, and we are a little stressed out too, so let’s all try to be gentle with each other during this time.”

Let your feelings teach you about your values. If you’ve felt worried recently, your feelings might be teaching you that you value these things:
Health & Safety
Love & Connection
Financial Stability
Write your values down on a piece of paper and stick it to the fridge. Focus on your values, and let them guide you in your decisions. For example, I value my health, so I’m continuing my exercise and healthy eating routines. What’s a small step you can take today based on your values?

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The Stages of Learning (They can be painful)

When I introduce myself at a business meeting, I say, “I’m a parenting coach. I help moms who lose their temper. I used to lose my temper and I got help. Now I help others.”

When people meet me, sometimes it’s a painful moment. It’s painful because I teach them something new: I teach them that they don’t have to lose their temper (and that’s something they didn’t know before we met).

The first stage of learning is: You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s an easy place to be. You do things a certain way and it’s fine because that’s all you know.

The second stage of learning is: You know what you don’t know (and it bothers you). This is the most painful stage to be in. You realize there’s a different (and better) way to do things, and you haven’t learned how to do it… yet.

The second stage is also painful because you realize that you’ve been doing it the old way all along. Like, perhaps your a mom who’s lost her temper with her kids for the last 10 years. That’s a long time. It can be painful to look back.

And here’s what I say: You did the best you could. You don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s ok. (Try to be loving towards yourself.)

And now that you know better, you can learn to do better. And that takes time.

The third stage of learning is: You know how to do it and it takes work. During this stage, you may fall back into your old habits from time to time. But you’ll become better and better at your new skill.

The fourth stage of learning is: You know how to do it and you don’t have to think about it anymore — you do it naturally.

At stage four, you’ve learned how to be a different kind of parent. What does that look like? Let me paint a picture for you: You have the patience and control you’ve always wanted. Your children are respectful and obedient without threatening them. You’re a model for the kind of life you’d like your children to lead when they become adults.

If you’re a yeller and you want to stop yelling (and the idea is new to you), that’s the stage where your yelling starts to bother you. It can feel painful, but it’s also a necessary part of learning. It’s actually a good thing that it bothers you. The fact that it bothers you is motivation to change. So, breathe. Be gentle on yourself.

Yes, you don’t know how to stop yelling, yet. This will take time and practice (and help) and you can do it one step at a time.

And yes, you may have been hurtful, yelling in the past. Be gentle on your past self too. You didn’t know what you didn’t know. You did the best you could.

Would you like to take the next step? Say this out loud, “I’m a yeller and I want to stop yelling.” Congratulations. You have begun.

Now, find your mentors who will teach you and guide you along the way. I can be one of them. Subscribe to my newsletter, click here.

Resistance to change? Dance!

Here are some basic examples of resistance to change:

A mom decides to eat healthier. Her husband and kids don’t like the change. They say they don’t want to eat healthier, so they eat different food than she does. She gets discouraged and goes back to eating unhealthy again.

At a business an awesome new cafeteria is installed. Many people complain about the new design and talk about how much better the old cafeteria was. For the first month, only a few people eat there.

The City of Austin delivered a composting container to our house, but none of us liked setting aside the compost, so we didn’t use it for six months. I noticed my resistance, which is normal for something new, so I tried experimenting with different ways to save the kitchen compost. Today, the whole family is composting, and stuff we used to throw in the trash now goes to make soil for the city.

If you’ve been in the habit of losing your temper and you decide to stop, you’ll experience resistance to change.

> Your kids might push your buttons more than ever (for a while).

> Someone else in the family might take up the habit of yelling (for a while).

> Your mother might start criticizing you more than usual, or she might all of a sudden ask for help more than usual.

All the things that make you crazy — the things that make you more likely to lose your temper — they may happen (for a while).

That’s resistance to change.

Sometimes it’s hard to notice resistance, because it feels personal, like the universe (or your toddler) is blocking you.

And they kind of are blocking you. But they’re not doing it on purpose. The people in your life are just used to you the way you are, so they’re going to treat you like your old self for a while, or even try to push you back into your old habits for a while.

When you begin to work on ending the yelling habit, sometimes it feels like being a cigarette smoker walking past your old smoking spot, or watching your old smoking buddies take their smoke break. (Like, getting through the morning routine without yelling might be a challenge for a while.)

One story you can tell about resistance goes like this: “I tried and it was too hard — no one wanted me to succeed, so I gave up.”

But instead of getting stressed out, angry or discouraged, here’s what I encourage you to do:


Seriously, put on a fun song and feel that goodness in your body.

And try telling this story instead: “Resistance is a sign that I’m changing. I’m on the road to success. I’m excited to keep going!”

When you notice resistance, that’s the moment when you say, “Wow, I would have yelled during this time in the past, but today, I didn’t.”

Resistance is nobody’s fault. It’s just part of the process of change.

So hold your ground, and dance. Celebrate.

Notice how many times I said “a while.” Resistance won’t last forever.

The longer you hold your ground, the more the resistance will fall away. People will get used to the new you, and you will get used to the new you too.

Will it happen overnight? Like can you yell for your last time like putting out your last cigarette forever? Not in my experience. A change like this takes time and practice. And noticing resistance (and celebrating it) takes practice too.

So you probably will yell again, and that push-back you feel may make you lose it a few more times, but the yelling will become less frequent and less dramatic over time and then, one day you’ll do a new dance. That’ll be the day you notice: the resistance is gone. You’ve succeeded. No more yelling (truly). Welcome to the new you. <3

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What we call anger isn’t anger. It’s a response to stress.

What we call anger isn’t anger. At least not completely.

What we call anger is a response to stress.

A response to old wounds we haven’t healed.

A reaction to fear.

A resistance to sadness.

What we call anger looks like yelling or hitting (or throwing banana bread). It looks like hurtful behavior.

But that’s not anger.

Anger happens when someone’s getting hurt. Maybe our own feelings are being hurt or we have the impression that someone else is in danger of being hurt. And it’s possible to be angry without having a stress response. But before I teach you how to do that, it’s helpful to learn about the thing we call a “stress response” so you can learn to separate the two.

The stress response: it’s instinctual. Your body’s natural reaction to danger. When someone’s in actual danger, the stress response is a gift. It’s actually life-saving.

The problem is that sometimes we have a stress response when no one’s in actual danger. That’s when we end up being hurtful.

To be helpful, when you get angry, notice.  Notice if you’re having a stress response. Try to take a break and ask yourself: Who do I think is getting hurt? Is it me? Is it someone else?

You might have the impression that you’re getting hurt, even if you’re simply feeling ignored. That was me. I used to get rage-full when I felt ignored by my kids. It was an old wound from growing up feeling ignored as a child.

You might be wondering: What does a stress response look like? Here’s a checklist to get you started.

The stress response varies from person to person, but there are some things we have in common. When I lead group discussions, I hear these descriptions a lot:

> Feeling short of breath, like there’s a weight on your chest.

> Feeling like you’ve been punched in the stomach. It causes you to be protective, to kind of ball up your body with hunched shoulders.

> Tight shoulders, neck and jaw. The tongue pushes up against the roof of the mouth.

> Tense butt and thighs, like you want to run. The stress response is also called the “fight, flight or freeze response” for a reason — because you do basically want to do one of those things: fight, run or freeze in position (those of us who clam up, who stop talking, know all about “freeze”).

> The sensation of heat or tingling, sometimes in the eyes, ears, head, or any of the previously mentioned areas (shoulders, butt, etc). There’s a reason people use the phrase “blow my lid,” because sometimes it does feel like a hot volcano at the top of your head.

So those are some of the physical sensations you might experience as a stress response. In addition to a physical sensation, you might also have a psychological one: the desire to connect with others. Getting in touch with others makes sense instinctually because if you were in real danger, it’d be a good idea to find safety working with other people. But in this case, it looks like calling your friend to vent or getting online and writing about what jerks your kids or husband are.

When you decide to get help for your anger, the folks who usually support your venting (and agree with you) aren’t the ones you want to get help from. They support your anger habit. Instead, you want to reach out to professionals who can help you break those habits that are keeping you down.

And if you’re reading this, those old habits probably are keeping you down. They’re stressing you out and preventing you from living your best life. The good news is: You can do this. I did. And I’ve helped others. So loosen that jaw, relax your neck, take a deep breath and dive in. Take the next step in your healing. You know what you need to do. Do it. I support you. <3

Subscribe to my newsletter to learn how to separate your stress from your anger so you can respond to both stress and anger in healthy, helpful ways.

How do I talk to someone who loses their temper?

I get this question a lot: “I know someone who loses their temper (my wife / my husband / my mom). How can I talk to them about it?”

Here’s the easy answer: You start somewhere, anywhere.

Here’s the hard answer: If they’re a part of your life and you’ve never talked with them about their anger habit, you’ve kind of enabled them — you support the habit.

Perhaps you’ve been scared or sad, or maybe you didn’t know you could do anything about it. Or maybe you’ve been happy with how things have been (and maybe they’ve been that way for a long time).

But now, if you’re asking me this question, it isn’t working for you anymore. You’re ready for a change.

Here’s the challenge (and the opportunity!): You can’t change someone else. You can only change yourself.

So you can’t change the person who loses their temper.

But you can change your reaction to it. Talk to them. Tell them how it makes you feel when they lose their temper. Do something different than you’ve done in the past. Here are a few ideas:

> When everyone’s calm, talk about it, “Honey, when you yell, it scares me and the kids. I wonder if there’s a different way we can get the kids to listen?”

> When everyone’s calm, talk about how you’ve decided to get help, “Honey, I’m having some trouble and I need some extra support, so I’m going to see a counselor.” If you feel comfortable, you could tell them you’re having trouble coping with the times when they lose their temper. Or you could simply tell them you’re feeling sad and want to talk to a professional. If you grew up in a family where getting help was not normal, you might experience some resistance to the idea, but push through and do it anyway. It’ll be worth it.

> Yelling is ok when someone’s in danger. Otherwise, it’s not necessary. If they’re yelling, try to stay calm and imagine they’re on an emotional train ride. You’re not on their train. Ask them to take a break, or take a break yourself.

> If they’re yelling, they’re stressed-out. A stressed-out person has difficulty with rational conversation. So if you decide to talk, try not to use too many words. Sometimes it helps to talk about feelings. Two simple phrases you could try are “I’m feeling _____ because ______.” (“I’m feeling scared because you’re yelling.”) Or, “You’re feeling _____ because ______.” (You’re feeling angry because the kids aren’t listening.”)

> It’s not your job to fix them or to fix the situation. If they’re yelling, it’s not your responsibility (or the kids’ responsibility) to make them feel better. Your responsibility is to keep yourself calm and make sure everyone’s safe.

> Have compassion. You’re all doing the best you can. And, hurtful behavior is not ok. Try to be loving through it all and set boundaries around hurtfulness.

Think about getting help from a life coach or counselor (I can coach you with practical strategies, and I have a list of referrals for counselors too). The person who loses their temper might not be interested in change, but if you’re ready for a change, getting help for yourself can make a difference.

You can make a difference because you’re close to that person. And when one person changes in a relationship, the other person can’t help but change over time.

Hot tempers tend to run in families. If you’ve got the habit too and you’re working on ending it, the work you’re doing will have ripple effects in your relationships.

I used to lose my temper with my family. My dear husband never said anything. It was part of our routine. Now when one of us loses it, we talk about it. We take breaks. We apologize. We know it’s hurtful and we choose to put boundaries around hurtfulness.

(If you have a child who loses their temper, click here.)

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The Redo

So you’re working on breaking the anger habit.

You’ve had a few successes. A few times when you would have lost it in the past, you haven’t lost it.

But one day you get to the end of your rope and you lose it. Again.

It happens. Breaking the habit takes time.

It takes time because it’s a habit (that may have been around for generations), and you’re learning new habits to take its place.

It takes time because it’s not just you who are making a change. Your whole family’s changing and learning new ways to be together — they can’t help it — when mom makes a change, it affects everyone.

During those times when you lose it again, here’s what you can do:

  1. Know that this is a normal part of breaking the habit.
  2. Tell yourself: “I’m doing the best I can.” Be gentle on yourself. Stressing out and beating yourself up over losing it can stress you out even more.
  3. Apologize: “I’m sorry I lost my temper. You know I’m working on not doing that anymore. I care about you.”
  4. Next is your opportunity for “the redo.”

Sometimes you can ask in the moment: “Can I have a redo?” It might feel silly, but (if your family’s willing) re-enact the conversation or the situation and this time respond to it in a healthy, helpful way. Practice being the patient mom you want to be. Fake it ‘till you make it!

Sometimes an immediate redo isn’t appropriate, but you still can reflect on the moment:  Think about what happened. What button was pushed? What did that feel like in your body? What feelings were you having? And maybe: Why were you having those feelings? Try talking about it or journaling. (If you’re seeing a counselor, tell them the story.)

Develop awareness about that button that was pushed. Then next time, that’s your chance for “the redo.”

Life is messy. Nobody’s perfect. Redos are an acknowledgment of that and an opportunity for grace.

And what better lesson can we teach ourselves and our children? Let grace in with the redo. <3

Have you read my story about how I used to lose my temper? I made a flyer about it. If you know a community bulletin board or a parenting group that might like to see it, please print and share.

“I used to be a yeller,” A poem.

I’ve read this at a few places around town. It was featured in an article.

There was a time when I didn’t have a word for it.
I didn’t know I could get help for it.
I thought that everyone did it.
When I got upset, we never talked about it.

I used to be at the end of my rope. All. The. Time.
Everything used to get on my nerves.
Everything used to make me crazy.
It was normal and regular.

When my kids were small, I put a name to it:
I called it the “anger bug.”
I said I wanted to “squash” the anger bug.
I had gotten the bug from my dad, and he had gotten it from his dad,
And I didn’t want to live with the anger bug anymore.

When I grew up, anger was always scary.
I didn’t know how to feel it in a healthy way
Without hurting people.

I used to be rather numb, so feeling angry, well that was kind of a thrill too.
The unpredictability of it, it made me feel like I had to brace for the apocalypse,
The ceiling was always about to fall in.
I held up that ceiling for a long long time.
It made my arms and my back strong.
It also sealed my jaw, locking and grinding at night.

I thought everything had to be “just so,” to keep that ceiling up,
So I took to controlling everyone – thinking
“they should do that” and “they should do this” and
“I should do that” and “I should do this.”
My honey-do list had a few items on the fridge, and it was a mile long in my head.

The pressure of the “should” was maddening in itself –
the “should” came from all places,
from myself for myself,
from myself for my parents, my kids, my husband, my neighbors,
and also people on the news.

Even imaginary “shoulds” haunted me –
shoulds I imagined coming from God,
from my kids, from my work-out teacher,
from my parents and neighbors, from Pinterest…

My should-itis was part of my anger condition.
It caused me to live in an alternate reality,
Enraged by how I thought things should be,
Never really seeing who was right in front of me,
the people we all were with the lives we all had.

I did better than my parents, and they did better than theirs,
But still, there was the one thing I couldn’t shake.

I used to lose my temper with my family.
I used to think everyone lost their temper.

I used to think it was everyone else who had a problem.
I used to feel ignored and helpless, full of shame and blame,
Enough shame and blame to go around for everyone.

I used to read parenting books
And experiment with parenting advice
To get my children to change
So they would stop pushing my buttons.
(I thought it was them that made me angry.)

My dad, my husband, especially my kids –
they used to push my buttons.
It used to keep me up at night.
I used to tell myself “that’ll be the last time,” over and over. 

It used to be my dad who lost his temper when I was a kid.
It used to be my grandfather who lost his temper when my dad was a kid.

I used to be a yeller.
I used to be a mean texter and emailer and internet poster.
I used to lose my temper all the time.
One time, ok, maybe a few times, I threw something.
One time, I threw banana bread.

I don’t lose my temper anymore. 
I got help…. (But that’s a story for another day.)

I was upset about how I had been. I was angry about my anger.
I wrestled with myself, I worked so hard to stop the anger from bubbling up.
But the fighting didn’t help.
The anger kept winning. It kept coming back.
So I got an idea to write a love letter:

Dear Old Hurtful Controlling Anger,
You made me strong.
You were there for me when I needed you.
You got me through some really tough times. Seriously.
Thank you for being a friend.
I will never forget you.
And now, dear Anger, I’m ready to let you go.
It’s time to say goodbye.
I’m learning how to be strong in different ways.
I would not have gotten this far without you.
In some ways, you have been a blessing to me.
As you go (and when I see you again), here is what I want to say:
I love you. Thank you. You’re showing me how to heal.

Love and kisses,
Your biggest fan,

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Three parts to break the habit

People ask me: How do you help people who lose their temper?

Here’s how I answer the question. There are three main parts:

> Treat it like a habit that can be broken, similar to smoking cigarettes. Like a habit, most people lose their temper during certain times of the day or certain days of the week. And when you get angry and upset, chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol run through your body. Your body gets used to the habit.

Your family gets used to the anger habit too. So it’s helpful to talk to your family while you’re breaking the habit. Sometimes after you give up the habit, someone else picks it up, like a child or a husband will start to lose their temper. So the family continues to work on breaking the habit as a whole as they find new ways to interact.

> Practice emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is awareness about your own feelings and how to handle your feelings in a healthy way. This blog post gives you the first steps in teaching emotional intelligence to your children (and it will help you too). Emotional intelligence is a life-long skill that will benefit you and your kids. And once you have it, you’ll be able to handle anger in a healthy way.

> Work with professionals who don’t (or very rarely) lose their temper. When you’re from a family where folks lose their temper, you’re often connected with people who have a difficult time dealing with stress in healthy ways. It’s kind of like being in a bubble. To break out of the bubble, it’s good to work with people who aren’t in the bubble. So when you consider hiring a professional, it’s something to talk about (some professionals are still in the stressed-out bubble).

You can work with me. Also, I have a list of counselors you can call who are familiar with my program, and they want to work with you too. Through this process, it’s likely that you’ll work with several people who have different specialties that address your specific needs.

Professionals who you may find helpful are coaches, counselors, physical therapists, massage therapists, doctors, nutritionists, chiropractors, and spiritual directors (like a pastor or priest). Some counselors have special training in something called biofeedback which can be helpful too (like EMDR or EFT). Physical therapy and biofeedback are part of the puzzle because they can help the body relieve stress.

I have to admit, I was stubborn about getting help. I thought if I read enough books or websites, that would do it. And I was raised in a family that didn’t get that kind of help. But the key piece that finally changed my life was working with people outside my bubble.

On the other hand, if you’re the spouse of someone who loses their temper, have hope. They don’t have to get help. If you get help, it can make a difference.

There are other pieces too, like fear. Once a mom asked me, “But what will my relationship with my husband look like if I stop screaming at him?” She was right. Unknown territory is scary.

But I can tell you from the other side of the bridge, life is good over here. And there are people who want to help you cross the bridge when you’re ready.

Schedule a call with me. Click here.

What to do when your kid is losing it

(This post includes a printable fridge sheet.)

Before I got help for losing my temper, I used to lose my temper whenever my kid would lose it. (Hot tempers tend to run in families.)

My kid would get upset about something and I would either argue with them or try to fix it. Usually, my efforts to stop their upset didn’t work, and it ended with me yelling at them.

Yelling sometimes scared them into their room or quieted them, but that’s not how I wanted to raise my kids, controlled by fear. A child who is raised controlled by fear learns to be controlled by fear in general as an adult. They also become an adult who controls others through fear.

I was raised by my dad who controlled the house through fear. It made me a fearful adult with irrational beliefs that I would “get in trouble” for some things. It also made me into a wife and parent who thought it was my job to control others through fear.

I was ready to end the cycle. I didn’t want to pass this down to my kids and grandkids.

So I got help and figured out healthy things to do when my kids lose it. I’m going to share those things with you:

> Make sure your child is safe and that they aren’t hurting themselves or others. For a small child trying to hurt you, you can hold up a pillow to block them from hurting you. Then look down (because eye contact can feel threatening), and gently say, “You’re safe. This is a safe place.”

> Imagine your child is on a train. Their little train is all over the place, up and down, side to side, fast and slow. Your goal is to stay off their train. You’re on your own large, steady train. You can observe their train ride from a distance, but you stay off their train. You are on a calm adult train ride. And you can’t really stop their train. You can be supportive during their ride, but they’ll get off when they’re ready.

> When a child is losing it, they’re stressed out. A stressed-out person has a hard time with rational conversation, so don’t say too many words. Here are some things you can say that might help:

  1. Notice what their body is doing. Say it out loud: “Your legs are stiff. Your jaw is tight. You’re stomping your feet. Your hands are in a tight ball.” etc.
  2. Make a guess at their feelings. Chose at least three feelings words. Say, “You’re feeling ________ because ________.” Like, “You’re feeling angry, sad and disappointed because we aren’t going to the store.”

NOTE: Avoid giving consequences for losing it. Instead, reassure your child: “I love you always, no matter what.” While losing it (and afterward), everyone can use some love.

Acknowledging your kid’s feelings does not mean you agree with them. Whatever is going on is important to them — that’s the train they are on. And by noticing their train, by talking about their body actions and their feelings, you are teaching them something called “emotional intelligence.”

Emotional intelligence is the ability to give names to the feelings we’re having while maintaining composure. Paying attention to how our body feels give us clues to our feelings (such as feeling a lump in your throat when you’re sad). Emotional intelligence helps us feel our feelings (instead of stuff them down) and it gets us back into rational thinking so then we can solve problems with more ease.

Fred Rogers (of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) said his goal was to make feelings “mentionable and manageable.” That’s what emotional intelligence does. So when we have intense feelings like anger, fear, and sadness we can feel them without hurting ourselves or others.

One of the joys of emotional intelligence is that you also can learn to recognize good feelings. When your child’s happy or proud, notice what their body’s doing and name their feelings too: “You’re smiling and jumping around. You feel happy, excited and proud.”

These simple techniques also work for adults. A friend of mine encountered an angry, upset adult the other day. She didn’t get on their train and argue with them. She said, “You’re feeling angry,” and the adult calmed down.

I’ve noticed that practicing emotional intelligence around the house has expanded my kids’ vocabulary around feelings. It’s fun to hear them use the words. If you’d like to give it a try, I created this Fridge Sheet for you. Print it and stick it on the fridge.

When you put the Fridge Sheet up, talk about your goals with the kids. When they’re calm, you all can brainstorm about how the body feels when different feelings are happening. Like, your heart feels heavy when you’re sad. Your shoulders feel tight when you’re stressed. Your stomach feels upset when you’re nervous.

It’s normal to have feelings (all humans have them), and your family is working on noticing them and feeling them in healthy ways.

The Fridge Sheet has awesome tips, like if you feel overwhelmed, it gives you a clue that “overwhelm” means you have a combination of feelings. (Hint: the fridge sheet is helpful for moms who lose their temper too.) <3

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