Managing anger

Hi Brooke,

I am really struggling to manage my thinking and emotions — particularly anger — toward my two children, who are 3 and 5 years old. We recently moved abroad and my husband is traveling about 60% for work, so I’m solo parenting most of the time. When my husband is here, we tag-team a lot to give each other breaks but of course I don’t have that when he’s traveling. He’s been gone for almost a month now and I find myself losing patience with my kids so much more frequently. I yell more and say things that I immediately regret. I don’t show up as the mom that I want to be and yet it feels somehow out of my control, especially when I’m tired. I want to stop yelling and saying things that I regret and I’m trying to figure out how.

Here’s an example: my 3yo woke up 2 hours early today and I was exhausted. He started crying and saying that he wanted breakfast. I told him that I would make his breakfast and then go back to bed. Then he started screaming that he didn’t want breakfast and screaming that he did not want me to go to bed. I told him he could play with his toys if he wanted, but that I was going to get more sleep because it was too early to get up. He started screaming more and then I lost it and started yelling and swearing, which I had never done in front of the kids before, and started making breakfast at which point he decided to go in my bed and go to sleep. I was not able to sleep because I felt so incredibly guilty and ashamed for how I had behaved. I have been coaching myself on this for months to try to figure out how to get myself to stop yelling when I’m triggered. I know that my primitive brain is going into the fight/flight/freeze mode (it seems to prefer the fight mode of yelling) and I need time to calm down before I react and say something I will regret, but learning how to control myself in that moment is escaping me. I realize that I am essentially reacting the same as my children — with a temper tantrum — but I want to do better than that, so that I can teach them how to manage their emotions, too.

Here are my models:

C: Son wakes up 2 hours earlier than usual
T: He shouldn’t wake up so early and he should go back to sleep
F: Frustration
A: Yell, swear
R: I feel terrible and can’t go back to sleep.

Intentional model:
C: Same
T: These are just little humans who are learning about the world
F: Compassion
A: Respond with patience, take deep breaths
R: They have a role model for learning how to handle their emotions.

The problem is that when I’m triggered, I have a very hard time accessing the thought “these are just little humans who are learning about the world.” I’d like to know how to just not react: not yell, not swear, not say anything at all until the anger passes. And I also have so much shame about this because I’m a coach for moms, so I have the thought that I should already know how to do this. Thanks so much for your help.