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Parent conversations: How can I stay calm when my child is out of control?

Warning: The two articles this month are a completely accurate portrayal of life with children. Tantrums happen. Parents lose it. If we’re being honest, most of us will admit that we have been there. This is us.

How do we stop that cycle, though? How can we maintain our cool when emotions are running high? Read these articles by Meg Clemons-Smith and Jenni Schubring and you’ll have some new parenting tools to help manage the next meltdown.

—Nicole Balza

My screams and my toddler’s screams were interrupted by my husband as he walked through the front door. “You need a time-out,” he said in his calm, deep voice.

“Yeah, she does,” I quickly responded in an exasperated tone.

“No, Mommy, I was talking to you,” my husband responded.

I was furious! I shot him an evil glare and stormed out of the room. I slammed my bedroom door, sat on my bed, and started to cry.

Feeling helpless

As I sobbed, I wondered, How did it get to this point? When did I become the mom who communicates with yelling and screaming? I had spent the last ten years working as a behavioral therapist. That was my job. That was my educational background. I could encounter any of my teen or adult clients in crisis and be their calming force. Why couldn’t I manage my two-year-old?

I overheard my husband and my daughter in the other room singing a song from a popular children’s show. One of the lyrics was “Take a deep breath and count to four. 1-2-3-4.”

In that moment, I stopped and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and counted to four. When I got to four, I said a quick prayer, “God, forgive me and help me, please!” I walked out of the room to my daughter who was still upset. When she saw that I had calmed down, her whole demeanor changed. She too became calm.

Remembering that we are not alone

All of a sudden, all my training and education came back to me. Here was my daughter having a real emotional outburst, and by losing my temper, I had just added to her chaos. Instead, I needed to be sharing and contributing my calmness to help ease her anxiety and anger. She needed guidance and correction, but it wasn’t going to be effective if I met her big emotions with even bigger emotions. She simply needed me to help her regulate and mirror appropriate actions and reactions. Together we needed the love and understanding of Jesus.

Three years later, I have another daughter, and I spend my weekdays with her and two other toddlers. Every so often I find myself at my breaking point. Screaming into a pillow seems like the only logical option. In these moments, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, count to four, and say a prayer. I remind myself of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” I remind myself that God knows my weaknesses and still loves me. He will give me the strength to get three screaming children out of the grocery store. He will give me the patience to let a two-year-old buckle her own car seat by herself, even if it takes 20 minutes. He will give me the courage to say no, even when it’s difficult.

We as parents don’t need to be anxious. We are not doing this alone. We can talk to God about our needs and ask for his help . . . and he will hear us.

Meg Clemons-Smith

I was shopping at Walmart, seven-months pregnant, in winter in Wisconsin, with my two- and three-year-old in tow. My two-year-old was giving me all the signs that I had kept him out too long, but I didn’t listen.

He lost it.

I tried to escape before it got too much for me to handle. I made it to the entryway where the carts were—and where all the snowy slush was. He started to flail, right in the middle of the slushy mess of the entrance. Pregnant and holding the hand of my three-year-old, all I could do was watch him melt down, screaming and crying, as people quickly walked around him. When he was done, I reached for his hand, and we walked back to our car.

It looks different when they get older. Words lash out, and doors slam.

It is so easy as parents to react with the same kind of behavior. So how do we keep from losing control ourselves? Here are some simple (but not always easy) disciplines we can incorporate:

  1. Pray: Be proactive. Start your day in prayer. Pray for your children. Pray for your relationship with them. Pray that you see your children through God’s eyes. Prayer helps me with my mindset when it comes to most things—especially my children.
  2. Pause: When your child loses control, practice the power of pause. Don’t react. Sometimes you may have to leave the room. Sometimes you may have to sit and wait. But pause before you move forward.
  3. Seek understanding: Our children usually have a reason to act out. I have found it easier to respond with compassion when I remember that most of the time it has nothing to do with me and more to do with something else. Maybe something went wrong at school, maybe they had a challenge with a friend, maybe they are simply tired. Setting my pride aside to get at the heart of the matter takes time. Waiting until they have settled down and having those hard conversations are so valuable. By doing so, you create safe space for connecting with your child.

I know that my default is to remove PAUSE and add ENGAGE. But most of the time engaging in the middle of your child losing control only fuels the fire. Focus on the fruits of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). We are led by the Spirit; this is a perfect time to tap into that power and show love.

These may sound like simple practices, but they’re not easy. But here’s a fun realization: Pray, pause, and seek understanding are good tools in almost every circumstance. If we live these practices, we also model them to our children. How great is that?

Jenni Schubring

Looking for some biblical encouragement and guidance from God’s Word? Blessings and Prayers for Parents points readers to our heavenly Father as the only perfect parent and speaks to a parent’s need to hear God’s specific words of forgiveness and grace. Available from Northwestern Publishing House,, 800-662-6022.



Author: Multiple authors
Volume 107, Number 04
Issue: April 2020

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This entry is part 40 of 70 in the series parent conversations

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