Several Montessori parents have been asking Age of Montessori to help them with a Montessori method to manage the anger that results with unsettled frustrations. Here are 5 key ways to manage your anger during school or home discipline, so your child will manage his too!
1. Walk away. Yes. This is often the first, most important step. If your child is frustrating you towards the point of anger, you are likely to say or do something that you really aren’t proud of later. A mom once told me her anger lead her to tell her tantruming 3 year old that she just wouldn’t come to her birthday party this year. And a father of a 6 year old once told me he had a tantrum of his own, that included throwing something at the wall. No one goes into a parenting moment intending for it to end this way, but when we keep fighting through a power struggle, even though our anger has peaked, very normal people are capable of not-so-proud moments. So, be willing to drop the agenda if you notice your anger is at a 6 or higher, and walk away for just a moment, saying "I need to take a moment to calm down. I will be back in a minute to address this". If a child is too small to be left unsupervised, try to mentally walk away by closing your eyes or looking away from the child.
2. Take a Breath. This may seem incredibly simplistic, but it is truly the most powerful tool you carry with you in order to respond more calmly in all situations. It is a tool that is free, and can be used any time and anywhere. Here are some key tips to relaxation breathing that will likely bring you from a 10 to at least a 7 on the anger scale. First, begin with the exhale and make it be as long as possible. People often mix this up. They take a giant inhale first, and this can just cause more pressure on an already tense chest. So, take a very long exhale through your mouth in a style similar to cooling a bowl of soup. Then inhale comfortable (doesn’t have to be big) and repeat a very slow “cooling soup” kind of exhale. Second, breath in your nose and out your mouth. Finally, Strive to fill and deflate your diaphragm (at your belly) with each breath, keeping your shoulders level.
3. Ground yourself. Now, I don't mean the “grounding” that we usually think of when punishing a child. I mean to take some steps to feel firmly planted in this place and time, so you can be more level-headed and less likely to be acting out of your animal brain (which by the way is the real problem when you are angry. You can learn more about this in our Sustainable Parenting Webinar). Grounding is used by professionals from yoga instructors to mental health therapists, in order to increase relaxation. The idea is to focus on the sensations of sight and touch via observation. So, once you have walked away and taken a few calming breaths, begin looking around your environment and name 5-10 items you can see (cup, clock, rug, etc), and then 5-10 items you can feel to the touch (“I can notice my feet against the floor, my watch on my wrist, my hair brushing my face, etc”). This short exercise is a kind of brain trick that gets you out of your "fight/fight" brain, and into your more logical brain.
4. Let your shoulders down. It is common during parental/teacher stress to shrug your shoulders a bit with tension. To release this tension, start by shrugging your shoulders up higher and tighter to your ears and holding them there for 5-10 seconds. Then exhale while you let your shoulders relax, letting them sink as far away from your ears as possible. Take another breath in this relaxed position to notice the release of tension and, if you desire, wiggle your shoulders and let your head rotate and role a bit with your chin against your chest. Repeat about 3-5 times depending on how much tension you are feeling.
5. Encourage Yourself. Stop any negative thoughts that might be running through your mind, whether they are statements about yourself or your child. If your internal thoughts are repeating “I’m a terrible parent/teacher” or “Why do I have a terrible child?”, take time to shift this stinkin’ thinkin’ towards encouragement. Say to yourself, “I’m not perfect and my child isn’t perfect, and that’s okay. We are doing the best we can in this moment”. Be gentle with yourself – knowing that it’s okay to get angry. And be gentle with your child – remembering it is his job to test rules and boundaries, to see what happens when he does.
Likely by the end of these 5 steps, you will be more level-headed and have your anger under control in order to respond to your child’s behavior in a productive and kind manner. For ideas on Positive Discipline tools for difficult moments, watch our Webinar Replays on “Sustainable Parenting” or “Freedom within Limits”.