Tag Archives: mom

How To Stop Yelling

angry-argue-argument-343.jpgVisualizing Behavior

Do you want to keep your cool when life isn’t going your way? Do you wish you didn’t bark at the kids when they’ve done something you dislike?

Visualization can help.

Visualization helps us improve our performance. Long-touted as an essential tool by athletes and professional musicians, we now know that positive thinking is not the reason that people feel they perform better with these techniques. Visualization is effective because thinking about practicing a skill changes the brain as if you had actually practiced the skill.

This is fantastic news if you struggle with any skill in your life–not just physical ones. Using visualizations can help you overcome social anxiety, make healthy choices, and best of all, keep calm during stressful times.

Instead of picturing yourself kicking the perfect touchdown into the goal (sports isn’t my thing), you can picture yourself responding with composure to life’s hiccups.

“Negative” Visualization

I tend on the negative side of things. I tend to worry more about very bad things happening than hoping very good things will. I tend to want to diminish my worst behavior and ignore whether my best behavior gets better. This is a default, not a recommendation–but there is something to be said for paying close attention to your liabilities.

While I visualize smiling each day while I do my exercise, I spend more time visualizing reacting better in my worst situations. Better still, I try to focus on being the kind of person who responds rather than reacts.

Try to think of a single, concrete situation that you respond poorly to. Do you yell whenever a glass of milk is spilled? Do you shut down whenever your child says unkind words to you? Do you hide if the house gets too loud? Just start with one thing.

And then picture yourself responding to that situation in the ideal way.


Imagining Imagining

For some of us, that is impossible. Calmly reacting in a threatening situation isn’t “who we are”. We can’t even come up with a fantasy world where that would happen.

So–and I know this sounds silly, but trust me–imagine that you can imagine yourself responding perfectly. This worked for me.

I could not imagine being the kind of person who could give an uninflected “Yes” or “No” to questions that start with, “Did you remember to…?”

But I could imagine a theoretical world where I could imagine that possibility.

And now, at least some of the time, I am that kind of person. I’ve spent a minute or two for months picturing Amelia effortlessly saying, “No, I didn’t remember. I’ll do that tomorrow,” or “Yes, I did!” without any resentment in her voice.

Try to use visualization to improve your behavioral floor–the worst of your reactions. Practicing in the moment is often too hard because the reason you react so poorly is that you are hurt, scared, angry, or sad. Being removed from the situation allows us a safe place to exercise our self-control.


Mom Guilt vs. Mom Shame

Mom Guilt vs. Mom Shame

Mom guilt is a basic mom emotion, because guilt is a basic human emotion.

While unpleasant, it provides an important social and psychological function. It motivates us to behave differently than we have.

Shame, on the other hand, is a destructive emotion.

Brene Brown, a pre-eminent shame scholar and famous TED-talker, says that while guilt creates psyhcological discomfort, shame makes us feel fundamentally unlovable.

Motivation to Change

These are two wildly different things.

Mom guilt would be a feeling that tells us we aren’t behaving in line with our values, and it would nudge us in the right direction.

Mom shame motivates us to hide our behavior, not to change it. Since we become morally bad by our actions, it is important not to let people know. We cannot do without having other’s approval.

Mom shame is what most women are feeling, not mom guilt.

Or maybe something else entirely.


Why do I think so?

Because mothers are largely doing the same things day in and day out. They aren’t feeling motivated to improve. Their conscious is not leading them.

Shame is a toxic emotion. We need to banish mom shame, and encourage mom guilt. Mom guilt would be when we feel discomfort because we have done something that we should not doing.

Mom shame about spending time away from your children would be ridiculous. It’s normal and natural in the context of a community, and spending time away from your childrenespecially young babies and toddlerscould help them with stress inoculation.

This would be useless shame. Not only do you likely have to spend time aware from your children, but it is neutral to helpful for your children. When you do it, you feel morally bad and alone, and you can’t change it. That is toxic.

Mom guilt is when you give your children food that you know isn’t good for them.

People are judging you for it.

And they should be.

The reason that you feel bad is because you are doing something that is against your core values.

Leveraging Mom Guilt

Does that mean that you cannot give your kid chicken nuggets every once in awhile?


It just means that you need to be mindful, and realize that the emotions you’re are communicating to you.

I’m proposing that we want more mom guilt in our life. How can we get more?

Two things:

  1. Clearly laying out our priorities. When we know what we value, and in what order we value it, it is much easier to make decisions and much harder to feel guilty. “I value my children’s health enough to always have healthy food in the house, but do not believe that snacks will harm them. We can have snacks when we travel or are at a friend’s house.”

With this clearly laid out, I can feel bad when I bring some cookies into the house, and good when we eat a pie at Grandma’s. There won’t be low-level shame running through each day.

  1. Surrounding ourselves with people who share those priorities. Willpower doesn’t work. Changing your environment works. The people and things around you are what motivate you to do the things that you do. Call it triggers or associations, for better or worse, this is what ultimately dictates most of your decisions. Whatever your environment is geared towards will become your autopilot.

    People are a key part of that environment. If everyone around you is upholding the same values as you, you will feel deep, social mom guilt when you do not follow through—and the good news is that following through will be easier.


Emotions Communicate

As our children grow, we want them to know that not all uncomfortable or negative emotions are bad. We don’t want them to run away from sadness or anger. We want them to rest comfortably in the fact that emotions are trying to alert them to some truth about themselves, the world, and how those two are interacting.

We want the same thing for ourselves.

Guilt does not need to be run away from. It needs to be acknowledged, and it needs to be dealt with. By forcing more mom guilt into our lives and forcing out the mom shame, we can let go of this low-level nag and move into action.



Your biggest problem is your expectations.

When you go out and you discover a flat tire on your car so you can’t go to see grandma and AAA won’t make it there for two hours and your husband isn’t answering his phone and the kids are crying, it feels miserable. And it is definitely not your optimal outcome for any particular day, but there is nothing wrong or inherently bad about the situation.

Your husband shouldn’t have had the phone on.

You shouldn’t always have access to help.

Your kids shouldn’t be happy about the situation.

Your tire shouldn’t be full of air.

All of these things can be in any state without anything being wrong, even all at once.

You’ve just drawn a line in the sand about how your day should go, and when it wasn’t that way, you decided that there was something wrong with the world.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

This isn’t about being a boyscout. You’ll be fine if you run out of a good. You can run to the store, call to someone to get it, or order it on Prime if you have a day or two. Some situations are of course far more inconvenient if you don’t have a particular thing on hand—but this isn’t our real problem.

Very few of our real our problems, our big problems, our Pareto principle problems, actually come from whether or not we have immediate access to a piece of fruit or even a diaper. It may suck to clean up poopy pants or a poopy car seat, but it isn’t going to kill you.

What is going to make today worse, and all of your days worse, is if you expect to not have to deal with problems like this, and you end up having to.

The Real Enemy

Expectations are the real enemy.

Not just in every day nuisances like lacking an ingredient you thought you had, but in your relationship with your child.

And your partner.

And yourself.

In believing that you or your son or your daughter or your partner should be something other than they are, you create an unwinnable.

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you lose the chance to the admire the beauty in its swim.

“Age-Appropriate” Expectations


There was a popular infographic going around talking about the cognitive capacities of children, when it becomes appropriate to expect things from them. I think that the effort of this infographic was noble—reducing the frustration that parents feel with their children when they have unreasonable expectations. But I feel that it also had two implicit messages that I have a harder time supporting:

  1. Expecting it: If you have an idea that someone “should” be able to do something, you will get annoyed with the fact that they aren’t doing it. If it is backed by “science”, the backlash is even worse. Parents feel not only put out by their child’s behavior, but might begin to believe there is something wrong with them.

    Milestone-mania is already rampant, and there is no need to double down on that sneaking sense of paranoia in an attempt to allay anger.

  2. Reducing Agency: One thing that happens when we decide what people “should” and “shouldn’t” be able to do is stop attempting to get them to grasp concepts or build the tools to head in that direction. This is called the tyranny of low expectations. It is essentially writing someone off and letting them pay the consequences.

More useful than developing suitable expectations is having none, but to give your children the support and skills that they need to develop and strengthen their capacities.

It’s not as if, on their fourth birthday, all or even more kids have impulse control. It’s not as if most adults have even worked that muscle particularly hard.

What is happening is a slow progression to have more emotional control—a completely unpredictable path that will move backwards and forwards more time than anyone could possibly count. A path that your child will continue to walk through toddlerhood, teenagerdom, and well into adulthood. Skills and abilities that you thought they had will seemingly fade overnight, and that they should be able to do these things—according to science!–isn’t going to help you or your child get anywhere.

Try This Instead


Let’s go back to that day in the car.

You have a lot of other options, outside of disappointment. Give yourself five minutes to feel those feelings, then move on.

Check what your options are to carry out your original plan: Consider an Uber, see if grandma can come over, or someone can pick you up.

Or just go inside, tell grandma sorry, and have a different day from the one you were planning.

If you didn’t have that plan, how would the day have gone? How would you feel if those things didn’t happen on a day you didn’t mean for them to happen?

We can’t always have such peace and clarity, but working on lassoing in our expectations bit by bit, we can stop trying to handle disappointment, and instead just go about with our days.

Why You Should Say No

If you ask your husband to go to dinner at your favorite restaurant, and he says he doesn’t want to go there, how does that feel?

If you ask your best friend if she can come over because you are feeling sad, but she is unable to, how does that feel?

Do either of these situations stir up in you a feeling that these people in your life are rejecting who you fundamentally are as a person?

Of course not.

Or, I certainly hope not.

You are able to understand that your desires don’t take priority at all times. You know it doesn’t mean your family and friends don’t love you.

What if your partner told you no, you can’t go to that restaurant? What if he locked you in your room because you asked too many times?

You would quickly, I hope, leave this relationship.

How would you feel if you asked your partner to go to the restaurant and he said yes? And then he sat looking miserable the whole time, maybe even snapping at you? How would you feel if when you got home, he quickly rushed around from task to task, exasperated with all the things he had to do because he spent time with you? He wakes up the next day exhausted, unable to give of himself. And in the back of your head, you know he is thinking: This is your fault!

Would that feel good to you? Would you feel like your partner valued his time with you? Do you want your partner constantly draining themselves in order to feed your every little desire?

Of course not.

Or, I certainly hope not!

We have a deep desire to make our children feel that we are on their team. We want for them to feel validated in being their authentic selves.

The best way to do this is stop viewing children as fundamentally different from adults. They are only developmentally different. They have the same needs as us, largely. To be loved. To feel understood. To be mentored in things that they don’t yet understand.

It sucks when we don’t get what want. Of course we want what we want. That’s why we want it. But we can deal. Our reactions are mild.

Kids cannot control their emotions in the same way that adults can. They’re developmentally different. Very young children do not have impulse control yet. Even once it begins to develop, the decision-making part of your brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood.

But does that mean that they feel that a “no” answer is a fundamental violation of who they are as a person? No. It doesn’t. All that it means is that they don’t have the tools yet to manage their own disappointment.

Not getting what you want already sucks. It would be much worse if people were yelling at us, lying to us. If they were trying to help, but feeling guilty and stressed. If they were slowly building resentment towards us.

I would rather have no favors done for me than ones with that price tag.

Kids ultimately feel the same way, even if they can’t say it. They can handle a “no”.

What they can’t handle is a parent who can’t handle saying “no.”

The Best Way to Help Your Child With Difficult Emotions

Your child is hurting. She asked someone at the park if they wanted to be her friend, and they said no. She feels embarrassed, scared, and sad. She doesn’t understand why someone doesn’t want to be her friend.

You’re an attentive parent. You hold her while she sobs. You keep brushing her hair back, kissing the top of her forehead, and telling her that it is going to be okay.

She cries and cries until she stops. You don’t get annoyed at all. You don’t tell her to suck it up. You tell her that you’ll play with her. You play together and then it is time to go home.

This is a good response. It may even be the response that you’ve worked really hard to give. Perhaps you used to find crying weak. Or maybe you used to want so badly to distract her from her feelings. You’d give her candy or throw a toy in front of her face. It has taken a while to get this far—to not feel irritated or stressed by her feelings, to let her have them. You’ve done it.

And you still need to do more.

Always, there is more to do.

What your child needs is called emotional coaching in Dr. Gottman’s Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child. This means, of course, allowing your child to have their feelings. But we need to move beyond that. She needs to be taught the tools to regulate her emotions, not just sit and feel them.

For my part, I’ve been excellent at feeling my feelings my whole life. I wear them on my sleeve. And when I get depressed, I plop myself right down on my bed and feel that deeply and non-stop, every moment of it. In fact, I was so comfortable with feeling my feelings that for a long time I just couldn’t muster up any interest or energy to change them.

This wasn’t a bad first step for me. There was a huge difference between when I fought my depression and hated myself for it, and when I accepted it and worked with it.

But after having identified and accepted that it was a problem, I tolerated it.

I could not have done anything else at the time. I did the best I could. I lacked the tools for self-regulation.

You are helping your child to accept their emotional world, which is a great foot to get them started on and far better than not allowing all of the “bad” emotions out in the world. Still, you can teach them more.

These are the five steps Gottman identifies in emotional coaching:

1. Become aware of the child’s emotional

Look at that! You’re already 20% there!

2. Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

30% there? 40% there?

3. Listen empathetically, validating the child’s feelings

Oh snap, you’re awesome at that one. 50% there.

4. Help the child to find words to label the emotion he is having; and

70% there! I would add that you should help him identify the feelings are in his body, as well.

5. Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand!

This last part is where most parents in the conscious parenting community slip up.

While Gottman’s work refers specifically to when the children are in conflict with their parents, the work applies universally. We can talk to our children about another person’s limits when they are having difficulty with someone else’s boundaries.

What does helping them find strategies to cope look like?

  • These are good times to practice mindfulness. Whether it is blowing out your finger candles or paying close attention to a tree, this is calming.
  • Talk about positive experiences. Discuss with your child something in the past or future that made them feel good. This doesn’t hide the negative thing that is happening; it allows them to step outside of the emotion for a moment to get a bigger picture of the emotional world they’re in.
  • Walking/jumping. Physical activity calms us down and resets us.
  • Calm jars. Shake these up! I like the idea of designing different ones for different feelings. This can aid young children in identifying the emotions they’re feeling.
  • Story telling. Story telling can bring us outside of ourselves, help strengthen our theory of mind, and transport us. They help us to see things from others perspective and make sense of our behaviors. Read your child a book, or tell a glamorized version of the story that just happened from one or both points of view.

At a young age, you’ll help children to identify their emotions and teach them ways to cope with them. As they get older, you can elicit the feelings from them and ask them how they’d like to cope. Feelings are difficult to handle. The decision-making part of your teenagers brain isn’t fully wired up, so they’re still relying largely on emotions to lead them. They still need your help. You’ll have to validate their emotions and remind them that they have these tools at their disposal for a long time coming.


  1. Pick one coping technique that you will practice with your child. For now, just one. The comfort of familiarity helps to calm us.

Please leave a comment telling me what other coping techniques you’ve taught your child. Have friends visit this post and tell us their techniques so that we can update the list and make it a resource.