The Most Effective Skill to Help Parents Learn to Keep Their Cool

guest post by Andy Smithson

Years ago I heard a story from a Mom that both she and I got a good chuckle about, however I knew it was no laughing matter in the moment when it actually occurred. The mother’s story took place when she was pregnant with her third child and already had her hands full with a 3 year old boy and an 18 month old girl. She was a busy Mama. She taught piano lessons out of her home to make extra money and was heavily involved in community and church organizations and activities. She relayed to me, that she had always been a very confident, independent person, but lately parenting left her feeling less self-assured. She was stressed and found herself yelling and scolding her 3 year old son more than she would have liked. She knew she needed to respond more positively to his constant whining, getting into everything and his rough play with his little sister, but she recalled, “I would just snap. I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t want to lose it and yell, but that’s what happened.”

One day she was teaching a piano lesson in the living room when she heard some clamoring in the kitchen. She thought little of it, because her son was always playing with the pans and Tupperware. At the close of the piano lesson, she went to the kitchen to see how her son was doing and to start dinner. What she saw sent her through the roof. Her 3 year old son had climbed a chair to the sink and filled every pot, pan, bowl and Tupperware container overflowing with water and had then overflowed the sink itself. There was water everywhere. The kitchen was carpeted and she was sure there would be major water damage given the inch deep swamp that now stood where her kitchen used to be. She said, “I lost it. I came unglued. I yelled and screamed before I even knew what was happening and grabbed my son by both arms and yelled, ‘Don’t you ever do something like this again!’” With the ignorance and innocence that only a 3 year old could pull off, he looked at her and said, “Mom, you have a big vein that pops out on your forehead when you yell.” She put her son down abruptly, turned off the water in a huff and stormed out of the room.
The real question about staying calm; “how?”

You have heard it a million times, from a million different parenting experts; Stay calm, breathe, chill out, stop the yelling, or relax. There are entire parenting programs built around this one concept: learning to keep our calm. The skill of being able to be mindful of our own emotions and reactions, and then to pause and interact consciously to calm ourselves and act in positive ways with others, is invaluable in parenting and even throughout our life and relationships.
This is so important, but it’s not new or earth shattering news. It never hurts to be reminded of this point, but to be quite honest, most parents have heard it and probably think, “I know I need to be calm and manage my own impulsive reactions,” but the question is not whether being calm is important to my parenting. The question is, “How?!” “How do I stop doing something that is so impulsive and automatic?” After all, most parents don’t “want”to yell and scream, lose their minds and feel completely out of control.

[Tweet “The question is not whether being calm is important to my parenting. The question is, “How?!”]

The answer to staying calm (Regular Relaxation and Meditation)

Do you remember the first time you tried a pirouette, dribbled a basketball, played the piano or performed any particular sport, instrument, or skill? Were you a pro the first time? I would venture to say that the answer, without exception is “no.” It took practice. It took performing the same exercise over and over in a controlled environment until your mind and body started working together. You built muscle memory in order to become proficient in that thing. With practice, things got easier over time.
Mindfulness and self regulation are no different. Being able to observe, recognize and then manage our own physical and emotional reactions is a skill that requires practice in a controlled environment. Practicing helps us to easily calm and relax ourselves so that when we start to feel the impulsive reaction to yell, the ‘muscle memory’ we have developed to calm ourselves kicks in and we have an easier time staying in control of our minds, actions, and feelings. This practice is called relaxation or meditation.

The Deep Breathing Dilemma and a Better Way (The Quick Calm Technique)

The problem that often arises when people start to utilize relaxation techniques is that they only try to use them when they are frustrated, angry or anxious. They try to shut down the cycle of reactivity that has become engrained over years of practice by simply taking a few deep breathes. Taking a few deep breathes is definitely worth while and can be helpful even from day one, but it is hardly fair to judge the value of relaxation and meditation by putting your well trained, habitual, heavy weight temper up against a few puny breathes. We need to train our relaxation and meditation skills. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to relax and calm ourselves during difficult moments, but there are better, more effective ways to manage our emotions and calm ourselves in the moment than just simply taking a few deep breathes. However, deep breathing is an important part of a 2 minute technique I call “The Quick Calm Technique.” I teach almost every client and parent this technique in my counseling office because it is so effective in decreasing and helping us manage anxiety, frustration and anger in literally moments. (Click here to learn more and download your free audio recording that teaches you The 2 minute “Quick Calm” technique that you can start using today)
As amazing and effective as “The Quick Calm” technique can be for helping us to calm ourselves in the middle of those moments when you just don’t know what to do and you think you are going to lose it. The impact and effectiveness of this technique and your overall ability to be aware of your emotions and manage them effectively, is compounded exponentially by practicing daily relaxation and meditation.

Different Kinds of Relaxation

There are many different kinds of meditation. I have found all of the different kinds helpful and effective in some way, although there are definitely some that I prefer to others and receive the greatest benefit from. Some of the different forms of meditation include…

  • Zaren Meditation
  • Basic Deep Breathing Relaxation
  • Progressive Relaxation
  • Guided Imagery
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Transcendental Meditation (TM)

While the above list is not all inclusive, it provides a good starting point. I’m excited to let everyone know that TRU Parenting will be releasing an 8 track audio series that teaches most of these meditation techniques and gives you the opportunity to practice them daily in only 10-15 minutes per day. I am including a brief example of one of these meditation audios along with the audio download for “The Quick Calm Technique” discussed above. Check it out and get updates as “TRU Calm,” the Relaxation and Self Renewal Series is released on Sept. 25th, 2014.

Major benefits of relaxation and meditation

  1. Gives you a break (Mini vacation): I know you could use a break. We all need a break sometimes. Practicing relaxation and meditation every day gives us an opportunity to relax and regroup. It gives us at least a few minutes every day to just chill out and enjoy some calm separation from our hectic lives.
  2. Increased thought and body awareness/mindfulness: The more you practice the greater body awareness and mindfulness you will experience. When we start to devote a few minutes every day to calming ourselves and looking inward, we become more aware of how our emotions feel in our body, what thoughts are racing through our minds and how we can control our thoughts and feelings in positive ways.
  3. To teach ourselves to focus or return to focus: Everyone’s mind wanders and sometimes it can be hard to focus our racing thoughts enough to complete our daily work, be truly present with our kids, or remain focused on our current activity. Relaxation and meditation will help you focus and return to focus when your mind does wander so you can be more present and productive with your limited time and resources.
  4. Recognize/identify emotions and calm ourselves : One of the most misunderstood emotions is anger. Anger is generally a secondary emotion, which means that we usually feel something else first and we quickly move to anger because we either don’t recognize or we don’t know what to do with our other emotions like sadness, frustration or embarrassment. Mediation can help us to better understand our own emotions and deal with them in more effective ways.
  5. Be able to feel our emotions and separate our emotions for our reactions: The most important and helpful benefit of meditation to parents is to train us to pause and utilize that time between our emotion and our reaction/response to our advantage. Meditation can teach us to be able to feel our emotions without acting out impulsively upon them. This allows us to respond to our children and everyone in our lives in more helpful ways that help to teach, build relationship and upgrade ourselves.

If you found this article helpful and would like to learn tools and techniques to decrease your stress, frustration and overwhelm and increase your calm, cooperation and enjoyment in your parenting, find out more about the “Stop Yelling in 21 Days Coaching Course” by clicking HERE. You’ll stop the yelling in your home and find positive solutions to common parenting issues that really work!

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Author Bio: Andy Smithson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a therapist, writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is a father of five wonderful children and a devout husband. He is the creator and author of the TRU Parenting blog (, and his writing has been featured in The Good Men Project, The Washington Post, The Deseret News and many other publications.  

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