How to Avoid Overreacting to Negative Behaviors

Little kids are adorable. They're sweet, full of love, and very silly. They love to hug, they give the best kisses, and when they learn to write, they write the best love notes.

The research is in, and it is clear that yelling is not a good thing. Neither is hitting of any kind. Or handing out random consequences in a moment of frustration.

So why isn't parenthood a breeze? Because those adorable little bundles of love can also be exhausting at times. The road to independence isn't a smooth one. Sometimes they dig in their heels in an attempt to “assert” themselves. Sometimes they argue with their siblings over something as trivial as an old sock. Sometimes they refuse to do homework, avoid cleaning their rooms, and jump from the couch even after the third plea to please stop jumping from the couch.

Yes, children are adorable, but they can also be exhausting. And parents are only human. We all have our breaking points, and we all have moments that wish we could take back.

How do parents avoid overreacting to negative behaviors? What is the best way to keep calm and carry on? It helps to start by evaluating your breaking point …

Image via Flickr/ I .. C .. U

Track behaviors

That small window of time between eating dinner and running the bath is not my favorite time of the day. I always give the kids a little extra playtime to get any remaining energy out, but I'm always on guard for signs on a meltdown. I have to remain present and alert to ensure that extra playtime doesn't turn into extra tears instead.

It helps to tune in to your own limits. What behaviors upset you the most? What time of day do these behaviors typically emerge? When do you feel impatient? What triggers feelings of frustration and impatience?

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By keeping a journal to track your own feelings in response to certain behaviors, you can problem-solve and troubleshoot for the future. If the 3 p.m. slump hits you hard, you might need to get your own snack before getting snacks for the kids. If bedtime is a battle each night, it might be time to shift the bedtime schedule. Track behaviors and your responses to those behaviors for a few weeks (include time of day and other pertinent information) and start there.

Review your expectations

If you find yourself yelling or engaging in other negatively fueled reactions more often than not, you might actually be expecting too much of your kids. Age-appropriate expectations make the difference between successful days and days full of stress and anger.

Take the time to actually map out the developmental ages and levels of your kids and consider what expectations are appropriate. If your kids are in school all day, adjust your expectations to include the fact that your child might be exhausted or struggling in school. Kids experience stress for a variety of reasons, but often stress just looks like poor behavior at home.


Make time for you

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and downtime for parents will reduce overall stress. Add in a few coping strategies, and you'll be better able to handle the difficult moments. Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided visualization are all useful tools, but various forms of art, journaling, and reading can all be very relaxing. Carve out time to work on you so that you are calm and centered as much as possible.

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Talk quietly

People yell because they want to be heard. But the truth is that kids stop listening the moment parents begin yelling. Yelling is scary for little kids; yelling leaves kids feeling isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed. And it doesn't actually correct the negative behavior that triggered the yelling in the first place.

Try lowering your voice instead. When kids have to tune in to hear what you're saying, they have to stop what they're doing and focus. They have to meet your gaze and be still for a moment. Speaking quietly, as it turns out, is a better strategy for diffusing a difficult situation.

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What helps you to reduce your stress? Will you be trying any of these tips?

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How to Avoid Overreacting to Negative Behaviors

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. Heathr says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am a single mother of four boys ages 16, 5, 3, and 3 months. I always want to enjoy my kids, but when it comes to getting the housework done I turn into mean mommy. I hate it. I find myself getting easily frustrated when they go behind every room I clean messing everything up. I will certainly try to calm myself down and be a kinder happier momma.

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