What’s the secret to being a calm mama?

I thought I had it figured out after many years as a therapist, keeping calm while being bitten, spat upon or having my hair pulled.

When I become a mother, I did my best to use all those skills, and I took pride in keeping my voice steady. I was strong, stubborn and composed. I was also extremely frustrated. As my children grew, their challenging behaviour grew harder to tolerate. Sometimes I was calm on the outside, but if you had taken my pulse, you would have seen the emotional car-crash on the inside.

So, it comes down to one question.

How do we respond calmly when our child’s behaviour is disrespectful, defiant, rude, violent, aggressive, out-of-proportion, stubborn, exhausting or unhealthy?

Answer: We don’t. (Wait, don’t go! It was a trick question!)

Words like “defiant, rude and violent” are labels. They’re not actually behaviours. They don’t really describe what happened, but they do suggest what we should do next…

Is it rude? We hurry to correct it.

Is it disruptive? We’d better calm it.

Is it defiant? We feel we must control it.

Is it aggressive? Better contain it.

Is it stubborn? Get ready to overcome it.

It is out-of-proportion? Best minimize it.


Then there are the labels we give ourselves:

“If my child is rude, then I am an irresponsible parent.”

“If my child is stubborn, then I am a weak parent.”

“If my child is aggressive, then I am a terrible parent.”

shift focus to the WHY

Boosting calm by shifting attention

When you shift your focus to the “WHY” of behaviour, and you refuse to label your child or yourself, it’s easier to respond calmly. Instead of leaping into action, we can look closely at our child’s needs and desires, and we recognize that they are very similar to our own. We can connect.

For this reason, I prefer to use the word “challenging behaviour” when I want to describe a difficult situation with my children. The challenge is to discover the WHY, before I jump into trying to control or stop it.

This approach has been a game-changer for me. When I take the time to do this, I don’t go to bed feeling anxious and confused. I don’t pull the blankets over my head, feeling full of guilt and inadequacy. When I write in the “diary of a behaviour mama,” I can see positivity and hope, instead of blame.

I sat down to write a list of a child’s needs and desires, then tried to write another version for adults, and realized I didn’t have to: the list is the same! If you want to be reminded of this list, to help you connect instead of labelling, I created something for you to pick up here.  This freebie is designed to remind you of how to shift your focus, and to give you ideas about the WHY of behaviour.

We and our children are so similar. When we label our own needs and desires, and help our children label their own, we can connect and move forward, calmly and creatively!

what the calm mama knows