The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 10, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Calm parents set good examples for kids

By Sarah Coyne
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — There was music playing in the living room and laughter echoing off the walls. Our two daughters were dancing in each other's arms, spinning and giggling to their own rhythm.

Their nightgowns swirled around their ankles. Their hair flew behind their shoulders. Then, our toddler stumbled into the middle of the dance and began stomping his feet in circles around the girls.

My husband and I stood aside and watched the beauty of what we'd created. Such perfect children, we thought.

And we could say it, too, because they had been anything but perfect a few hours before the angelic dancing began.

In fact, my husband and I had been harboring much different outlooks for most of the day. We'd both displayed a mess of lost tempers and out-of-control emotions in response to the poor behavior of our kids.

It was a little embarrassing, actually, how angrily we'd reacted. We had escalated regular bad moments into horrid bad moments, and much of the day had been miserable as a result. So, when sweetness came along, we wanted to capture it, keeping the dancing babies and their smiles preserved under a crystal glass.

We knew the perfection would evaporate sooner or later. Theirs and ours.

No matter how calm and patient we aim to be, there's no getting around the fact that we sometimes lose our tempers. We snap. We blame it on our children's behavior, and while that does seem to be a common instigator, the control of our own reactions lies within ourselves.

We know a lost temper solves nothing and often causes more problems than there were to begin with, but that doesn't seem to be enough to halt the overflow when it happens. There are some things we can keep in mind when we feel ourselves starting to lose our cool.

For us, it helps to realize that we're not alone in our sudden anger. If we can remember that parents everywhere are encountering frustrations which seem insurmountable, we feel supported. Solidarity is comforting.

When our kids are the only kids we interact with on a daily basis, we can forget that children all over the world are testing limits and pushing buttons, and that it's normal. We can forget that talking back and whining are bumps in the road of growing up.

Try giving yourself a time-out when you feel your own temper tantrum coming on. If everyone is safe and sound (if not happy), it's OK to tell your family that you're too angry to interact at the moment. You'll be back after you've had time to calm down.

Besides taking a moment to collect your thoughts into an acceptable response, you're being a model of admirable self-control to your kids. They see someone who, rather than blowing up in anger, takes time to think before reacting.

A lost temper can be like a runaway horse: Once it gets going, it's hard to stop. The more you lose your temper, the more it feels right -- necessary, even -- to lose your temper next time. Yelling begets yelling. Anger breeds anger.

But the same can be said of calm perseverance. The more you practice calm responses, the more it feels right -- necessary, even -- to respond calmly next time. Peace begets peace. Patience breeds patience.

And when enough patient days are under your belt, they become a life preserver, keeping you from drowning when the difficulties of parenting threaten to overwhelm your self-control.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.