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When You Lose It With Your Young Children

Finding your way back, and limiting the "lose it" fallout.

They are some of the darker moments of parenthood and we have, or will, all have them. We probably even remember some of the ones our parents had with us. When the normally reassuring voice rises to a yell, the soft and sweet face contorts into a scary mask, when the comforting body stiffens to a launch position following a screamed threat, a raised hand, an incriminating finger, or an icy promise of abandonment. Moments like these are the fruits of exhaustion, tripping of a "trigger wire" from our past, the depletion of patience, the rubbing on a particularly raw "nerve," and/or the sense that we are now both beyond the natural limits of human endurance—physically and emotionally.

Millennial moms and dads take this stuff—and its consequences—seriously, and feel guilty about it when it happens, especially with our young children. A survey conducted by The Bezos Foundation and Zero to Three in 2015 affirmed that these parents respect the lifelong value of emotional and relationship experiences in the first years of life. While it motivates them to think carefully about how they parent and set limits, it also worries them about the potentially negative long-term consequences of not doing a good job from the beginning. With 71 percent of moms and 88 percent of dads in the workforce, they feel pressure to make every parenting moment a constructive one. Millennial parents are also more comfortable than their parents knowing that perfect parenting is a myth and knowing that we all learn from our mistakes.

One of the strongest points of consensus in the survey came around the issue of what to do when your child pushes your "buttons" or "trigger points" and you temporarily "lose it." Millennials feel especially thin-skinned about this issue because they want their children to respect and not fear them, partly because they hope their children will see them as their "best friends," unlike any previous generation surveyed. This makes limit-setting a tough, but nonetheless essential, parental sell. Millennials’ fallback, when they need to fix the "lose it" moment, is the "re-do."

  • Doing the "re-do" well. The focus groups made up of survey respondents endorsed the re-do as their best way to prevent long-term trouble in their parent-child relationships after stepping on that land mine.
  1. When counting to 10, deep breathing, and diversion all fail, take a physical break from being in your child’s presence, even for a few moments [obviously as long as it is safe for the child].
  2. When you resume being together, keep talk and/or eye-contact to a minimum. You both need to restore your equilibrium.
  3. When back in the rhythm of being together, ask your child to listen to you for a moment because you want to say something about what happened when mommy or daddy yelled, scared you, etc.
  4. You may need to practice this part, even rehearse it out loud. Edit out blame, judgment, or excuses and simply apologize and start over. Example: "When daddy yelled at you about not listening to me, I did not mean to scare you and I’m sorry I did. It makes me sad that I hurt your feelings and I’ll try not to do it again. Let’s start over. Are you OK with that? [Wait for answer, and if one doesn’t come…] Do you want to say something to daddy about what happened?" Five minutes at the most and it’s on its way to being forgotten…
More from Kyle D. Pruett M.D.
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