Keeping Your Cool As a Parent Part 2:

This presentation material is taken from
"Scream Free Parenting," by Hal Runkel

Becoming a parent who can calm her own anxiety involves a willingness to take personal responsibility for your actions, regardless of the actions of those around you. Just what we want for our children. The only way to regain a positive influence with our children when negative emotions get in the way is to regain a position of control over ourselves. Part of being an adult is putting up with discomfort now for the sake of a payoff later.

This focus on controlling ourselves, not our children, will result in some growing pains. But it’s the best way to find peace and contentment as a parent. If you’re not under control, then you can’t be in charge. If you rely on your ability to control others, you’re destined to be frustrated and anxious. All the other person has to do is say “no,” and you’re beside yourself. You’re out of control, because you’re trying to control something you have no way of controlling.

This isn’t to say you’re not in charge. To be “in charge” as a parent means inspiring your children to motivate themselves. There’s a radical difference between controlling your kids’ behavior and influencing their decisions. Your goal isn’t to control, but to influence. Remember, you’re not responsible for your child’s responses. Unless they’re free to make their own choices, your children can’t learn the connection between choices and consequences.

When you get emotionally reactive, you communicate one message: Calm Me Down! You’re saying you can’t handle the fact they won’t obey or listen or calm themselves down. When you lose it, the message is “I need you to comply or else I’m going to lose it. And when I lose it, I’m going to need you to comply so I can calm back down. All my emotional responses are up to you.”

How’s a 4 or 14 year old supposed to cope with that much pressure? When you put all your emotional buttons in a child’s hands, you become totally focused on your child. You’ve attached all your emotional responses to how they perform in school, whether they use good manners, or whatever other choices they’re making today. The whole family’s emotional life is now tied to the whims, frailties, and growing pains of a child. We’re afraid to give our kids room to make mistakes because we fear what might happen. You have to calm your own anxiety, refusing to transfer it over to your child and make a situation worse.

Since birth, our children have been separating from us. Even their need to bond closely at the beginning is for the express purpose of developing a sense of personal security without us later. They separate from us to become what we all want them to become; adults. So now, when they’re close to us, we’re the ones who introduce healthy separation. Calming ourselves down communicates powerfully that their separation from us is more than okay, it’s good. When they have emotional space from us, they may make bad choices as they learn to respect their own individuality, but they won’t be running to those choices as an escape from our anxiety.

It’s important that we keep our focus on the goal; raising mature, self-directed adults. Parenting can be a real struggle. We don’t like to watch our children make mistakes. And we don’t like having to take the time and energy to enforce the consequences. So instead, we yell, beg, threaten, give up. And hope it works, meaning we hope our reactivity forces them to behave the way we need them to. When it doesn’t, we react some more, and then our negative reaction becomes the consequence itself.

What else can you do? You can let the consequences do the yelling. The most powerful and effective disciplinary strategy is a bedrock truth in life: Our choices have consequences. Every single one of them. You can learn to get out of the way and let the consequences do their job. How do you do that? You learn to calm yourself down. Calming ourselves down while we watch our children choose poorly is about as difficult as it gets. It’s also our most important task if we’re to retain any influence in our relationships with our children. Consequences are a constant source of truth, experience and education. They’re here to help us and they’re available to help you raise your children.

Remember. You aren’t responsible for your kids, their behavior, their feelings, or any of their choices. You’re responsible to them for your behavior, your feelings, and all of your choices. By calming yourself, you begin calming your family. You can make changes in the way you parent by learning to focus on yourself. You can make dramatic changes to the entire makeup of your family by learning to calm yourself. Then allow the consequences of your child’s choices to do their job.

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Copyright 2011, Jacque Ristau

For a free phone consultation
or to make an appointment call:


or email:

"It is easier to build stong children
than to repair broken men."

Frederick Douglass