11 Things To Ask Yourself When You’re About To Flip Out On Your Kid

Parenting is hard even at the best of times.

mom and daughter try on shoes Nicoleta Ionescu/ Shutterstock

Children can be frustrating, and parenting is not easy at the best of times (never mind when you’re in lockdown because of the coronavirus).

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Here are 11 things to ask yourself when you're about to flip out on your child:

1. What was my child thinking? 

The first answer will be "nothing" or "whether he can antagonize me into an early grave." 


The second answer may be useful.

A child who just hit his sister is unlikely to have done so for no reason. He was frustrated or felt powerless or misunderstood, or didn’t sleep well and is irritable and overreacting to a perceived slight. If you can figure out even one reason that your child acted out, you will have slowed down your response time and given yourself some breathing room to calm down before responding.

Note: do not actually ask your child what they were thinking unless you’re already calm. Just try to shortcut it in your brain: "Oh he probably was responding to something his sister did and he’s been cooped up in the house all day." If you try to ask your kid what he was thinking while you’re angry, nothing he says will appease you.


2. Am I hungry or tired right now? 

If you are hungry or tired, you are going to be far more irritable. Anything your child does will seem personally offensive.

If you scan your body and feel hungry, go have a snack and deal with your child later. If you are tired, you may not be able to sleep, but go into another room, even the bathroom, and sit down and close your eyes for a minute.

Even being aware that you are hungry or tired will moderate your reaction to your child.

3. Am I premenstrual? 

Why is it not PC to say that most women are significantly more irritable and easily hurt when they are in their premenstrual week?

Look at the calendar. If you are a couple of days, up to a week, away from your period, try not to discipline your kid at all. Give this over to your partner or let them run feral as much as possible.


If this is not an option, at the very least give your child more leeway and more screen time during this phase of the month.

RELATED: Top 6 Childhood Complaints I Hear From Adults In Therapy

4. Am I being triggered by what my kid did because it’s stuff my partner and/or parent does or did to me that I hate? 

I am easily triggered by a child acting overly anxious because this was something I hated about my home growing up.

I am too quick to respond with irritation and frustration instead of empathy when a child allows their anxiety to constrict their options (e.g. when a child that was complaining of boredom is too shy to approach another child on the playground to start a game).


I tend to catastrophize that developmentally normative child anxiety is a harbinger of adult pathological anxiety. When I am aware of this innate tendency and relate it back to my own upbringing, I can be calmer and more empathic with my kids.

5. Am I being cared for adequately by myself, my spouse, and others? 

When you feel that nobody is taking care of you, it is easy to resent your children (consciously or subconsciously) for being so "needy." You then have a quicker temper even when their needs or demands are appropriate for their age.

Think deeply about whether you have felt cared for lately. If the answer is no, schedule a massage, ask your partner to cuddle with you or make dinner for the family, call a best friend, or even post something on Facebook that will garner social support.

When you are tapped out, you are likely to respond to your child in angry, impatient ways.


6. Have I been connecting with this child in positive ways? 

Often, your child will be objectively irritating and attention-seeking when she feels that you have been ignoring her or criticizing her.

If you cannot remember the last time you spent even 10 minutes of one-on-one time with the child who you’re about to yell at or harshly reprimand, try to take a deep breath and walk away.

Only when you’ve come up with a game plan for how to connect with your child later that day should you allow yourself to address whatever they did that angered you. (Often after taking this time, though, you’ll no longer need/want to reprimand them anyway.)

7. Am I depressed? 

Here are some symptoms of atypical depression which is likely what you experience if you’re a depressive female.


A key symptom is rejection sensitivity. This is what makes you whirl around and snap back at your child for something they intended to be a joke or didn’t even know would hurt your feelings.

Therapy and medication are both helpful for depression. If you’re in a depressive episode currently, and you have a supportive partner, enlist their help and lean on them for disciplining the kids when you know you don’t have the bandwidth to do so effectively.

RELATED: 8 Concrete, No BS Ways To Stop Overparenting Your Kids

8. What am I teaching my child with my response right now?

No, really what are they learning at this moment? Often, your first answer may be "I’m teaching him to respect me." But when you see your child’s face, you realize that you are really teaching him to fear you.


Or you may first think that your harsh tirade against dishonesty is teaching a child not to lie when you’re really teaching her to lie better and not get caught so she doesn’t have to listen to your bulls***.

Take an unflinching and deep look into what your tone and words are really teaching your child and you may be made uncomfortable. This discomfort can then be the impetus for learning new, healthier ways to interact with your child and teach them the valuable lessons that your anger fails to impart.

9. Am I striking out because of fear/anxiety? 

When you are highly anxious, you can perceive your child’s normative behaviors as overly risky and dangerous.

You then respond to a child’s adventurousness with harshness or anger, because you want to deter them from doing anything that could put them at risk.


If you know you struggle with anxiety, seek counseling. Kids generally are impacted by parental anxiety in one of two ways: either they become anxious and scared of the world themselves, or they flout their parent’s "crazy" rules and become more of a risk-taker. I’m sure neither is your best-case scenario, so address your own anxiety with a therapist ASAP.

10. Would I do this if a video camera was rolling and my friends and family would see? 

If not, you’re condemning your children to a way of thinking that haunts adult children of dysfunctional families forever: "We don’t tell people what goes on in this house."

Believe me, if you are acting in ways that you wouldn’t want your peers to know about, your child knows it, whether they can verbalize it or not. And once you start to allow yourself to parent in ways that you know you won’t report to others, it is a slippery slope to abusive behavior.


The best thing you can do is parent your child in a way that you would be proud of others to see, or at least not terrified that they would see.

11. How would I feel seeing my child parent their own child one day in the way I am parenting them right now? 

If this is a deeply uncomfortable idea, then use that as a wake-up call to re-examine how you’re acting.

If you can visualize watching your own child, as an adult, behave the way that you are acting, and feeling like you would want to protect your own hypothetical grandchild from their anger, irritability, contempt, or unfairness, use this image as a motivator for figuring out new ways to interact with your child so that one day they can use you as a healthy role model when they parent their own kids.

If you struggle with knowing exactly how to parent your child in healthy, functional ways, it is likely because you yourself are an Adult Child of a Dysfunctional Family. Therapy can be invaluable in allowing you to understand the full ramifications of your difficult childhood, and helping you learn healthy ways to parent your own child.


Stay strong, parents, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Parenting During Lockdown Is Parenting On Hard Mode.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.