Here's how to stop losing your sh*t with your kids

By Cheryl Maguire
"How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids" offers practical advice for stressed out parents.

Parenthood can cause even the most patient person to lose it sometimes. With that in mind, Dr. Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker based in Newton, had two goals when writing the book, “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent” -- to teach parents how to stay calm and patient in challenging parenting moments, and to reduce the shame that parents feel around this totally common parent/child dynamic. Here, she shares some advice on how we can keep our cool around our kids. 

Q: Why a book about parents losing it?

A: We parents are losing our shit, and that sucks and we all want to do better but we don't know how. Also, because staying calm when everything is falling apart is the key to eternal happiness. Ok, maybe not eternal happiness, but it is necessary to get the chaos under control rather than contributing to it.

Q: We loved what you said about there being no such thing as a bad parent. Can you explain that?

A: Don’t get me wrong. There are parents who make less-than-ideal parenting choices. But rather than calling them “bad parents,” I think we should call them “human parents” or perhaps “every single one of us parents” or maybe “parents who don’t have the right support, resources, and information.” The one thing I don’t want to call them is “bad parents,” because that sort of label is shaming and shitty and leaves parents feeling isolated and stuck and that’s not helpful for anyone. 

Q: Explain a little more what you say in your book, that “calmer parents make for calmer kids?” 

A: Look, we’re not responsible for our kids’ shenanigans. But we don’t want to make everything crazier than it already is. And whether we like it or not, our kids are totally tuned in to how and what we’re doing. It’s a survival mechanism that evolved over generations because we are literally the adults who keep them alive. The bad news is that if we’re falling apart, our kids are going to take their cue from us, and ramp up their stress. The good news is that the opposite is also true. Now, we’re not Jedi’s and we can’t mind-trick our kids to calm down, but the calmer we get, the more we’ll send the family energy in the right direction.

Q: You mentioned that too much information and too many experts are making parenting harder. What do you mean by that?

A: I know this is a bit rich coming from someone who has written three parenting books, but hear me out. The right advice can be helpful, but there comes a tipping point where we’re getting too much advice and that makes us crazy. It can increase our stress, anxiety, and self-doubt and set us off on unhelpful paths to change aspects of our parenting that may not need to be fixed. All of this makes us more likely to lose it with our kids, which is the opposite of awesome.

Q: How can understanding brain science help people parent their kids?

A: In the moment when your kids are pushing your buttons and you’re about to explode, it can be hard (if not impossible) to keep things in perspective. Why can’t they stop hopping around the freaking kitchen and just put on their shoes, which you’ve only asked them to do twenty-seven times? Sometimes, our kids’ shenanigans can feel like personal attacks; after all, you can’t get more personal than your own kids. This is when the whole brain science thing can be helpful. When we can remember that our kids literally don’t yet have a prefrontal cortex— the part of their brain that helps them make plans, follow through with said plans, and regulate their emotions—it can help us have a little more compassion and patience for everyone involved.

Dr. Carla Naumburg, author of "How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids."

Q: What is a trigger?

A: Anything that makes it more likely that we’ll lose our shit with our kids. The most common triggers for parents are exhaustion, stress, and anxiety, but there are lots of other triggers too, including difficult anniversaries, chronic pain, an obnoxious conversation with that annoying parent on the playground at pick up, or bad news from your boss or your doctor or social media. When we’re triggered, our sympathetic nervous kicks us into fight, flight, freeze, or freak out mode. It makes our buttons huge and glowing and super pushable, and when our kids come along and push them, we lose it.

Q: How does multitasking make parents lose it?

A: Multitasking makes us crazy. We think we’re being all awesome and adulty, but the truth is that trying to do multiple things at once increases our stress and anxiety and makes us all tense. This is not the awesome adultiness we’re going for. When we take the time to do just one thing at a time whenever possible, our nervous system calms down and we make it far less likely that we’re going to break, drop, forget, or lose things, including our minds and our shit.

Q: How can parents prevent themselves from losing it?

A: Sadly, there is no iron-clad guarantee that we’ll never lose it again. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to make it far less likely that we’ll explode, and these steps will also make our freak-outs less frequent and intense. Basically, we want to reduce our triggers when we can, and take care of ourselves in specific ways that will make our buttons smaller, dimmer, and less pushable. I have a whole list of such practices in the book. They’re not rocket science, but they may require some habit changes on our part. The most powerful practices involve getting some sleep, reaching out to our support system when we’re struggling, and having a whole lotta compassion for ourselves when the shit hits the fan anyway, as it inevitably will.