09/03/2012 10:33 am ET

Ask The Parent Coach: How To Avoid Losing Your Cool With Your Kids

Dear Susan,

I love my kids, but I yell at them much more often than I'd like. What can I do to keep my cool when they act badly?

Always Yelling

Dear Always Yelling,

No matter how much we love our babies, the reality is that family life isn't always smooth sailing. Our children resist our requests, speak disrespectfully, or tune us out, and our tempers may get the best of us. We don't want to yell, or threaten to ground them for a year, but when our heart is pounding and our blood is boiling, it can seem impossible to stay levelheaded.

Here are four tips to help you find your cool when you've temporarily lost it:

1. STOP. As soon as you realize you're sliding down a slippery slope, call a time out -- for yourself. Hitting the pause button and walking the dog or splashing some cool water on your face will help you gather your wits and regain your footing.

2. Don't take things personally. If you convince yourself that your children are deliberately trying to upset you, you're likely to feel disrespected, underappreciated and mad. Take two steps back and remember that children sometimes do things they shouldn't simply because they are tired, cranky or overstimulated. If you look at the bigger picture, you'll find it easier to prevent a (grownup) meltdown.

3. Avoid turning on “Mom TV.” Sometimes kids push our buttons for sheer entertainment value (“I wonder what Mom will do if I act like I didn't hear her?”) Don't help them turn up the volume on their favorite “show” by adding lots of extra drama. Walk away, if need be -- but don't reward your kids with a command performance when they provoke you on purpose.

4. Take care of yourself. Most of us find it much harder to stay even-tempered when we're tired, hungry or in need of a break. If you find that anger is frequently getting the best of you, take a look at whether your nerves are frayed because you've been burning the candle at both ends. When you take care of yourself physically and emotionally, you'll find it easier to handle the ups and downs of parenting.

Don't be hard on yourself if you lose your cool now and then; it's not easy to stay tranquil and composed when we do so much for our kids every day and they still misbehave. If you step back before reacting, avoid taking things personally, and make sure you're not running on empty, you'll have an easier time as Captain of the Ship in your children's lives, guiding them through childhood's waters -- rough and calm.

Yours in parenting support,

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Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.