Calm Parenting—most of us aspire to it, desire it, and even promise ourselves we’re going to do it—but it’s so difficult to sustain. We know how important it is to parent from our principles rather than from our fears, but despite our best intentions we lose it and end up yelling at those we love the most — our kids.

And why? Actually for good reason. We often blame our kids for our outbursts and convince ourselves that it’s because they don’t listen, are disrespectful, sassy, or misbehave. It’s important to understand that these are just our triggers—actions, behavior or events that push our buttons and often make us react without thinking. Added to that, we parents have strong feelings when it comes to parenting; they can run the gamut from fear, to sadness, to helplessness, and more. Parenting is a very personal experience and our feelings can easily get in our way of logic and wise reasoning. After all, we’re only human!

“Often without realizing it, we are parenting from a sense of panic, urgency and fear; we are reacting to triggers that are continually setting off internal alarms.”

Understand that all feelings are natural, normal and acceptable—but all behaviors are not. Our challenge is to accept our feelings, but take control of our behavior when our strong feelings are triggered.

Triggers and Buttons

And what triggers our feelings so strongly? We are all vulnerable to different emotions that can set off an alarm bell inside of us. Some of us become easily angered and others deeply fearful. So many hurts and disappointments and struggles happen as we raise our kids, and each of these emotional experiences forces us to confront our true selves, our “unfinished business,” and our fears. Parenting can expose us to our own deep, dark self—the pretty and not so pretty— some of which we were probably hoping to keep out of sight! These moments of awareness are painful and can get in the way of our desire and commitment to be calm and speak kindly and reasonably to our kids. Of course, our explosion leaves us feeling more guilty and hopeless as parents—and the cycle continues.

When the sun is shining and all is going well we feel that we have this calm parenting thing under control. But when stress hits, buttons get pushed and heat starts rising all logic and reason and book smarts goes out the window and alarms start blaring.


Let’s imagine our brains with two offices – one upstairs and one downstairs. The upstairs office, called THE LOGIC ROOM takes care of processing logical information and preparing charts, systems, plans and strategies. The downstairs office, called THE EMOTIONAL ROOM, takes in and processes our emotions. When things are calm in the downstairs office, the upstairs office functions well. But if the downstairs office gets too heated, the alarms will sound, the LOGIC office upstairs shuts down and things go haywire in a desperate attempt to cool the flames. When the heat is finally lowered, the upstairs office reopens and checks for damage, plans for repairs and creates strategies for the future.

Overheated parenting takes place frequently. Without realizing it, we are often parenting from a sense of panic, urgency and fear, reacting to triggers that are continually setting off internal alarms. Often the logical and thoughtful part of our brains gets shut down, while emergency crews are working overtime.

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The good news is that knowing your own internal triggers and recognizing, acknowledging and soothing your emotions, will keep them from controlling you. If you control them and keep them calmly settled inside you, rather than having these negative emotions spilling outward, you will be able to parent more effectively. The best part is, you can learn how to do this with practice.

Remember that when your emotional brain is in control, you’ll be most likely to react by yelling and screaming. Other forms of reactivity can include: shutting down, distancing, ignoring, and turning a blind eye to behavior. Responding, on the other hand, is when you avoid saying anything until the internal fire is out. You  can then go upstairs to the LOGIC ROOM and think of the best way to respond to your child and the situation.

Can you recognize your own triggers? Typical ones for parents are feelings of:

  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness
  • Inadequacy
  • Fear
  • Guilt

If your child rolls his eyes at you, for example, it may trigger a feeling of being disrespected. This may cut deeply in to your childhood memories of being disrespected by a parent or peers. This feeling, when it gets triggered, might cause your heart to race, anger to rise and internal heat to set off alarms, shutting down logic…and your emotions take over. As much as the better part of you knows your child is just behaving as most teenagers would, your emotions register it as personal and threatening and your emotions get heated as a result. You start shouting and calling your child a spoiled brat. Why? Because she triggered unhealed feelings in you. If you do not know how to soothe and heal your feelings, you are likely to instead blame others. You still need to address the disrespect, but once you recognize why you get so triggered, you’ll be able to talk to your child with less emotionality.

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Parents are also triggered when when their kids don’t listen to them. This can make you feel disregarded and can flood you with the many painful times in your life when others disregarded you, especially your mom when your older brother was around, for example. Your emotions cause the LOGIC OFFICE to temporarily shut down while emergency vehicles rush out with alarms wailing to cool down the raging fire. Despite your best intentions, you yell, shout and hurl irrational punishments at your child for not listening to you. He might not have had any idea what he was about to set off in you.

Understand that your intense feelings and emotions don’t make you bad, hopeless or inadequate—they make you human. But as humans, we have control over our feelings and a responsibility to respond maturely and rationally to our intense emotions. Although challenging, it is possible. It helps to have compassion for yourself. You can even think of it as an imaginary compassionate friend sitting on your shoulder at all times. He or she needs to remind you that it is a tough journey to get from yelling to calm, or from a reaction to a thoughtful response. This friend needs to cheer you on throughout your journey. (Of course, actual compassionate friends can also help, but find ways to rely on yourself as well.)

What will this change in your path require?

Educate the Logical, Thoughtful Part of Your Brain

Read articles (like the ones found here on Empowering Parents) that teach and remind you why it is important to stay calm and not lose your cool with your children. Stop, pause, and think before responding, always.

You Can’t “Make” Others Act a Certain Way so You Can Feel Okay

Keep in mind that we have a tendency to want others to think and act the way we want them to think and act when we get anxious, particularly our children. This is called the “herding” instinct; it makes us feel calmer when others act in ways that fit our needs. When we can’t get others to “be” the way we need them to be, we get more anxious and start shouting at them in our attempt to “herd” them. Know that this is a natural tendency that occurs in all of us, and prepare for it to happen when you get triggered. Stop, pause and recognize that you can’t yell your way to calm or get calm through someone else. Find ways to soothe yourself through calming music, quiet walks, and self-care. The truth is, yelling at others and jumping on their back will only cause more stress.

Know Your Triggers

Recognize your triggers. Pay attention to which of your child’s behaviors gets the heat rising in you. Check your body signals that indicates your heat rising. Are your shoulders tense? Throat tight? Are your words defensive? See if there is a pattern. Write all of this down.

Ask Yourself Why These Behaviors Upset You so Much

Write your thoughts down. Look to your past and look to your fears of the future. What does it trigger from your past? What fears does it trigger of the future? Ask yourself if your child’s behavior make you feel unsure of myself? Helpless? Out of control? Scared? Overwhelmed? Why? What can you do about these feelings? Are they rational or irrational? Write down what you can do to help soothe yourself when you feel any of these triggered emotions.

Know What’s at Stake

Remind yourself that angry interactions can often negatively impact your influence with your child. Influence will only come from a child wanting to be led by you. Use your compassionate friend that sits on your shoulder to help you calm down the deep emotions that get triggered. You will want to settle these emotions within yourself so they don’t spill outside of yourself onto others.

Have Realistic Expectations

Keep your expectations of yourself and parenting realistic and reasonable. Give yourself permission to be imperfect and recognize the inevitability of being inadequate at the job of parenting. If you have difficulty reminding yourself, speak to the compassionate friend that sits on your shoulder. She can remind you of these truths and help you keep a perspective. Also get support from friends and family that love you.

Heal Your Wounds

Heal the wounds of your past by learning your family history or seeking out professional help. Finish the unfinished business of the past so it does not repeat itself in the present. Get your adult relationships and personal life in order so you don’t rely on your kids to fill the void. Look at it this way: if you need this from your kids, your sense of worth will be up to them. You will be vulnerable to them and therefore easily triggered.

Avoid Power Struggles

Be careful not get hooked in to a pattern of negative interactions with your child when you get triggered. Don’t react to her reactivity and get caught in a battle of wills. Hold on to yourself and your realistic expectations of yourself and your child. Stay focused on your child’s strengths instead.

Stop Futurizing

If you are a big worrier, you probably carry lots of scary mental images of your kid’s outcome in your head. Images of disaster, what will happen if they venture out by themselves, failure, catastrophes befalling them. Some part of you probably falsely believes that if you worry  and “futurize” you will prevent these things from happening. Not true. Try and overdose your mind with visions of happy, safe outcomes for your children. When these negative images get in your head, replace them with an opposite image. Work on this. Do the same thing with negative thoughts that pop into your head; replace them with an opposite, more realistic thought.

Release Your Stress Through Exercise

Try walking, yoga, prayer, meditation. Practice mindfulness. Relax your body when you feel yourself tensing your shoulders. Take deep breaths and close your eyes. Notice your breath without changing it. Acknowledge all thoughts that come into your head and then return to your breathing.  Don’t judge yourself — just notice your mind has wandered and bring it back to focus. Do this 15 minutes a day and you will notice more calm.

Be Kind to Yourself

Our kids’ behaviors can trigger unhealed wounds in us. We don’t like the feeling their actions and words  brings up in us sometimes, and we don’t know how to soothe our wounds, so we blame, yell, scream, and criticize the person who triggered it in us. Blame helps us momentarily to feel calmer but resolves nothing. So next time you are triggered, pause before reacting, lower your heat by gaining perspective, then decide the best way to respond to your child. Spend time in the LOGIC OFFICE. Think about how to approach your child so that she will learn something from her misbehavior, but that your relationship will remain intact. For example, if you are triggered by disrespect, then once you have calmed yourself down you might discuss with her why disrespect is not acceptable and what she can expect to happen when she acts that way again.

Calm Parenting does not have to be a far off dream, but it does require serious commitment and practice. Parenting is serious business, and because we love our children, parenting becomes a very emotional experience which triggers our deepest and most vulnerable emotions. Be kind to yourself on this journey.

Related Content:
Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child Makes You Angry
Tired of Yelling at Your Child? 6 Tips to Stop Screaming and Start Parenting Effectively


For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (24)
  • Always concerned.
    This is not only good for parents but good for live stressors when working with others as adults. Good stuff.
  • Aina Olukayode
    Very helpful. #emotionaltriggers
  • Tera Krider
    Is there an audio book related to all things in this topic? If so I want it!
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      Thank you for your kind words about this article; I’m pleased to hear that you found it so helpful. While we do not have an audio book available, you might find Debbie Pincus’ program, the Calm Parent: AM & PM, useful for you moving forward. This programMore has 5 audio lessons, a bonus audio lesson and a workbook, and expands on many of the concepts Debbie presents in the article above. You can find more information about this program, as well as our other programs, by clicking HERE. Please let us know if you have any additional questions. Take care.
  • Desperate mumm
    Hello, I am a single mum , my parents came and they are helping me to raise my daughter, they are amazing , I am so greatful for having wonderful parents,but sometimes I can see myself I am loosing in and I start shouting at my 2 year old daughterMore for things which frustrates me , and I feel guilty, ashamed and that I am monster mother,honestly I've cried so much and blaming myself why I doing this to my child , I want to be a better person and mum, sometimes I can see that my daughter is even scared from me me which really upsets me because I've lost the connection between me and my daughter ???????
  • Joseph27

    Great Article,

    Be nurturing to yourself and practice seeing things going really well. Loving yourself is a key to loving others . As the article clarified it not about winning or losing but living a harmonious life with your children. 

    It is amazing how life will change when you have mastered the art of getting to know who you really are and loving yourself unconditionally.

    Joseph. Child Psychotherapist

  • swaran
    Thanks for this article. Exactly this is what happens with me. There is always power struggle and which ends up yelling and screaming. I have myself seen that it does not work but sometimes I get emotionally carried away that I simply lose my temper. This upsets the whole situation.More I have teenager twins , a boy and a girl. My daughter is very slow in her work and gets low grades .I sometimes feel so helpless and frustrated. I have tried different style of teaching. I took her to the councillor as well  but everybody says that she is a smart girl but why is she not doing well academically . Sometimes I feel that I am juggling between my emotions and my children. Thanks once again for this article . I think if I follow this article I might do justice to my daughter because yelling and shrieking is not helping at all
  • Judy Wipf
    Thanks for this article. It really brought perspective. Parenting is one of those things where you never really feel like you have it figured out. In parenting you are ever learning and circumstances are ever changing. This makes me feel out of control. This articlE helped me to rethink myMore expectations and gave me tools to deal with things as they come up. Thank you again.
  • jumza

    Tony1234 i need that myself each time i forget what to do after i sit down its then i realise i was not suppose to do that or react that way

    so drainning most times

  • Suzanne Parvin
    My daughter is still holding me emotionally hostage by not contacted me to let me know she is alright after being in the hospital ER. My mom has dementia and just threw a fit and hung up on me! Omg...it's actually so nutty it's starting to get funny. REALLY!!!! TheseMore are adults! I will go crazy about this and they will be fine. Co dependence sucks! I need that little guy who is sane tattooed on my shoulder. Forever. Now.
  • schwende

    My daughter is 32 yet I feel she is not taking care of herself re: chloresterol level, future career possibiltieis......She can only see a dtr 1x year with her insurance plan and therefore get her chloresterol level checked lx yr!!   Her level was high last year.  She keeps delaying making an appointment.  I called the doctor office to find out what times are available..because her schedule is tight :I thought  it would be helpful for her to know what times and days are available til the end of 2015,  She is an emt and works nights, sleeps days!!  So I called her and told her what days, dates, etc. were available and she went ballistic!!   "I am 32 years old, etc. etc."    I was sick when we got off the phone, I wanted to walk away from her...she is such a no it all at times.

    Also she is a college graduate and is working as an emt, refuses to go onto nursing (common sense next step??)....only makes $20/hr and there seems to be no future other than to continue doing same....after a certain age that job may become physically diffcult.....I don't know what I can do...nothing and I am worried and scared for her lack of future plans.

    • Jess
      Live your life and let your daughter live hers. Sounds like she is going well, and nothing wrong with being an EMT!!! Sounds oike you are trying to live thru your daughter instead of being proud of her!!
  • Determined
    My children are 10 and 11 and so disrespectful and mouthy to me and I often find myself in a yelling battle just basically thinking I am heard this way because no calm approach has ever worked for me. I get so frustrated at my children for repeatedly breaking theMore rules that they know better than to break. Or, I feel they should know by now. Everyday is chaotic!!!! The constant arguing, yelling, fights..... I feel like I am a referee 24/7. Discipline has been a complete failure for me. I set the rules and try my best to keep the same schedule. Still, they argue with me when I discipline them for breaking the rules as if they did not know they broke a rule. If I tell them no electronics for a day they will still ask me a hundred times or more if they can play on the computer. So.... should I discipline them as well for repeatedly asking for things I've clearly already said no about? We need some calmness here!! I am also one of the parents who feel like I am disciplining them more than spending good quality time with them, because of their bad behaviors and the repeated rule breaks, even tho I know they should not get away with how they have acted or what they have done. We try the family night and fun night but it's always a complete disaster. My children act as if it is the absolute worst punishment in the world to have to focus on family time and bonding. They would rather do their own thing and I eventually give in because the chaos is so over whelming at times that I find it easier to just say ok... go..... does anyone else else feel this way? I want more quality and good times with my children and make good memories to look back on and smile.... not for it to be a battle field every time we have a family day. Any advice???
    • MomOf4
      @Determined The best way to end an argument is with 3 little words ..... ASKED AND ANSWERED! I have boys that are 12 & 9 and when they keep asking over and over my ONLY reply is ASKED AND ANSWERED! I show no emotion when I say this. The argumentMore is over very quickly!!
    • MelanieRandallPotter
      @Determined I have only one teen. A lot of times, he thinks he is  "entitled" to everything. He is constantly asking for me to buy him fast food after school and on his way to his tutoring session and on the way home- a growing boy. It is hard toMore find food he will eat from home . The other parent-teen power struggle sometimes with me , but more heated between he and his dad(my husband). It is over too much time on his sister's laptop computer and his own hand held game device. Also he asking  for us to buy him things. I told my husband , we should find a way we both agree with to let him earn some money for things he wants. He also does not go to bed when he wants him too or go to church or scouts. He is going to school  and tutoring thanks to the help of one of his older brothers who has a promised reward DS 3  if he complies . His brother is also paying for the tutoring sessions. I get to drive him 3 times a week and I stress because he swears at me most of the day and insists I keep the windows rolled up in the heat of summer and the heat full blast in the winter. He also controls the radio too. My other son and my husband think I am a big wimp, I know I should try to be more firm with him, but he is strong -willed. My husband gets angry late at night sometimes around midnight, preventing our son to settle down , and then he is very late the next day. When ever we have tried to offer "me time' or family fun time,  my husband and our son clash about something. It does seem  hopeless many times. We have an in home dcfs counselor we have been seeing from our community since April- it does not seem to be working at all- we asked him to come.
    • Deborah Wolf Lawhorne
      My situation is so similar to yours except that my husband and I are raising our 10 year old grandson who has been diagnosed with ADHD and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder ). He is totally disrespectful and makes me feel like I'm talking to a wall. I have found thatMore the "3 times rule" works more often than not. I will tell him something twice. At that point, if he does not listen, I'll tell him, "ok, I've told/asked you twice. If I have to tell/ask you one more time, this is what will happen." But then it is imperative that you follow through with the consequence. I find that an early bedtime often works, or taking away electronics or TV for the rest of the day.
      • MelanieRandallPotter
        Deborah Wolf Lawhorne  I totally agree that if a consequence is warned about , that it needs to take place. It is really tough for me to not give in.  My son is also adhd ocd.
    • Redbubbles
      Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Kids will test boundaries constantly because parents have been inconsistent with keeping them. If they learn that your 'No' means absolutely 'No' than they will stop nagging. Also don't argue, it gives your power away.
      • MelanieRandallPotter
        Redbubbles I like your statement that when the parent argues, their power is given up. This happens chronically at our house - wish it would end. I can't control anyone's tempers. Its surprising that  although our son can appear strong in what he wants, he is usually way more calmMore than his dad. His dad is very sensitive and has anxiety issues.
        • talemwam1
          MelanieRandallPotter Redbubbles We have a 10 year old son  who likes arguing about everything. I started practising the walk away rule; It works. It really works. Sometimes it takes a little longer before he does what he is asked to do, but he eventually does.  There are less arguments withMore me in the house. Just stay firm and calm. My husband, will not follow my lead, they have heated arguments almost daily.
  • NolaBowley

    I've been reading up about differing types of parenting,punitive ,non punitive and authoritive,where one type doesn't use consequences time outs or "naughty step"

    But focuses on working together,playing ,communicating, so all these put together binds together partnership of parent and child,hence the child is respectful, conforms and is learning from a positive role model

  • suevandyke

    I always hope to hear some consequences when I am reading these articles. Even when the title of the article says "how to give fail proof consequences, it still does not list any. I need some badly.

    • learning mom

      suevandyke  That is the challenge of all parents.  You need to decide the consequences which you will uphold in your own house.  They need to be specific and directional. 

      We have a problem with hitting and yelling in our home.  My children are 3 and 5.  My 5 year old has an undiagnosed condition that we are working on with a therapist. My children are allotted 15 minutes a day of game time (ipad or video games), and its literal.  They get to have their game time no earlier than 3:30 every day, and we put on a timer so no one gets cheated.  If they decide to hit or punch each other anytime through out the day, they loose one minute of gametime per punch.  We keep tallies on a whiteboard.  If my 5-year old starts yelling, I give him one warning that there is to be no yelling, and after that he gets 1 tally for every word he screams at me.  (So that its fair, they do have ways of earning positive tallies also, but I don't need to explain that here.) 

      The thing is, when my 5 year old goes into a rage, the 3 year old sometimes wants to help him.  So he will give him something precious, like his real money.  I recently realized that giving tallies to try to curb this behavior won't be effective. The 3-year old just wants his brother to feel better, and sure enough, the 5 year old does feel WAY better if he gets a dollar.  So, for our family, an effective consequence in this money situation is different than the hitting/yelling situation. 

      To this end, I told my 3 year old that "Mommy will always find out if you give money to your brother.  Mommy can give boys money as an allowance.  But, children do not give other children their money.  Money is for saving in your wallet.  If you are tempted to give your money to other children, then mommy will help you keep your money safe by keeping your wallet in her room.  If you want to show brother that you love him, you can bring him his own blanket and say, 'I love you,' but you cannot give him money." 

      I then told the 5 year old, "Mommy will always find out if brother gives youy money.  Mommy can give boys money as an allowance.  but, children do not give other children their money.  Money is for saving in your own wallet.  If you are tempted to take money from your brother, even if he thinks he wants to give it to you, I will find out.  That is not a good habit for him.  If he gives you a dollar, you can give it back to me and I will take care of it.  If you don't give it back to me, then you will have to pay me double.  Money if for saving in our own wallets, children do not give money to each other."

      They have been saving dollars for a month because we are going to the circus soon, so I have been aware of how much each boy has.  Then last night, sure enough, I found out that secretly my 3 year old had given my 5 year old a dollar.  I reminded them each of their consequences, and sure enough, my 5 year old give the dollar back promptly without so much as a complaint.  And my 3 year old put the dollar back in his own wallet.

      These things work on my children because I know what is important to them.  All parents need to find out what is important to their own children and be creative when it comes to specific consequences. 

      If your children are significantly older than mine, these specific strategies probably won't work for you.  Try your best to come up with some consequences that are specific and directional for you and your own children.  They will love you for it later on, and you will feel better about your own parental authority.

  • peggy10
    when a teen does not want his parents direction but choose bad association instead, nothing will work.
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