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Evolution of a Mama Tantrum – and How to STOP One

My five year old is sitting by me making mouth noises when I lose it.

“squish, bleerp, swishhhh, squish.”

“OK STOP! ENOUGH with the mouth noises!!  GET OUT of here!!! GO!!!” I shriek in my loudest most threatening voice (and ask anyone who knows me, I have a very loud voice.)

Putting the brakes on a Mama Tantrum

The toddler and the five year old begin to cry and the seven year old makes a quiet retreat to his room.  Realizing I am completely boiling over, I follow up with a gruff, “I’m going pee.” (Because isn’t that where most overwhelmed moms go to *try* to collect themselves?)

Standing in the bathroom I struggle through furious angry thoughts to get a handle on myself. I know it’s not just the mouth noises that sent me over the edge.  That little tantrum was fueled by a pile of things, not the least of which is that we’re all hungry.

  • I wanted to finish the craft I was doing (the one I started with the kids, ironically.)
  • Everyone is asking for a snack.
  • I’m pretty sure they won’t like anything I will offer for snack.
  • I have a lingering cold.
  • I’ve forgotten to put dinner in the crock pot and we'll be at soccer during prime dinner making time.
  • I hate soccer.
  • There’s this tone that your kids can say “mama” in that rivals nails on a chalk board and my toddler is practicing it down to a fine art.
  • I need to do dishes. And mop. And reorganize basically everything. And finish laundry. And change the sheets on my bed because the toddler peed on it, yuck.
  • We’re dog-sitting and my mom’s dog keeps escaping.
  • The kids don’t appreciate me!
  • I haven’t done a good job teaching them to do chores!
  • I should be better about cleaning!
  • I should have planned snacks and lunches better!
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

AND – let’s not forget the mouth noises.

Anyone of those things, though mildly frustrating wouldn’t be enough to set me off, but that multitude of triggers is how tantrums work:

-We have a different expectation of how things should be than how they are.

-We are hungry, tired, or sick.

-Through life phases, external circumstances or choices we’ve made we are overworked and overwhelmed.

And then someone won’t stop doing mouth noises.

Stopping the Mama Tantrum

Your children will not learn anything from you when you're screaming at them except how to shut you out.

Sure, I'm calling it a, “Mama Tantrum,” but there's nothing cute about it.  This kind of boil-over of our emotions can lead to hurt feelings, shaming or hitting our kids and a whole HEAP of guilt.  We want to STOP before it goes too far.

I’ve made a little acronym for what you can do to put the brakes on a Mama Tantrum.

1. Stop – get a hold of yourself and stop talking, stop acting.  If you are having a melt down it is no longer a time to try to FIX things or to try to discipline.  Your children will not learn anything from you when you're screaming at them except how to shut you out.  Notice that you’re boiling over and put on the brakes.  This is the hardest part.  What will be your thought or cue that lets you STOP?  What thought will you hold onto to get yourself to disengage?

2. TIME OUTDon’t think.  Don’t try to solve. You are trying to give yourself time so your anger response cools.  Count, breathe, go to the bathroom, go outside,  plug your ears, stare off into space.  Call a friend or the Childhelp Hotline (I called to check – they don't care if you call with something very minor like, “I'm having a bad day and just want to chat for a second so I don't yell at my kids.”  They don't trace your calls and they can't call CPS on you.)

Do SOMETHING that helps you disconnect from the situation. I know – when you child is kicking or hitting you this is much harder to do. I have closed a door, locked it and stood there with my hands over my ears  while someone pounds on the door.

3. Organize – Get your thoughts in order. What is the REALITY of the immediate situation?  What can you do next that will get you through this with the least hurt feelings all around? OK – don’t start trying to fix everything, just make it through to calm and know you can work on things from there.

4. Plan – Once things have calmed down (WAIT until you’re calm to do this.  Don’t try to FIX anything while you’re angry, you’ll only rile yourself up again.) Plan for what you’ll do if this happens again.  Think about what happened and figure out how you’d like to react.  Picture yourself reacting in the way you'd like to behave.

  • What were my triggers?
  • What will my “script” be next time?
  • How can I prevent these kinds of situations?

This approach is based on a fantastic article by Laura Markham called 6 Simple Steps to Stop Yelling along with my own need to have something short I can remember!

A Brand New Ending

I do NOT want to leave the bathroom and go deal with the kids, but the reality of this afternoon is that no childcare/housecleaning/cooking fairies will pop in and rescue me.  It’s ME, THREE KIDS and whatever attitude I set for the next couple hours.

SO what can I do to turn it around when I still feel pissed?

Reality 1: I will not be gaining more energy today.

Reality 2: I need to make us something to eat or this will only get worse.

Reality 3: I do not have to suddenly feel excited to hang out with my kids.  I don’t have to be a fun mom in order not to be a yelling, mean mom.

The most I can manage right now is to make it through today with as few hurt feelings as possible and I’ve got to let go of my huge list of chores that are not going to get done – they won’t get done with screaming kids and my kids have no magic “off” button.

I remember smoothies.  We all like those.  I can make a smoothie.  I resolve to head out of the bathroom and not think about anything else until smoothies are done.  The loud blender is cathartic and by now enough time has passed that I manage an only-slightly-fake cheerful voice when I say, “Hey, smoothies are ready.  Do you want a straw?”

Mama Tantrum calmed for now.

Your Turn

What do you think will help you to STOP sooner?

Do you know what triggers your anger so you can notice when you're starting to boil over?

What thoughts can stop you in the middle of your own tantrum?



Alissa Zorn stands near a pond with an orange shirt on wearing a black button down over that.
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Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.