How to Have a Calm Response

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I just gave birth six months ago and I have a three-year-old. Since the new baby came, my three-year-old has become very aggressive and reacts with anger towards me and others. I have already been given the advice to make time for just spending time with my three-year old. That has been somewhat effective. I am dealing with a bit of post-partum depression and sometimes have a hard time not reacting with anger myself. How do I teach my three-year old to not react with aggression, especially since I am having trouble with it myself? -Alexandra, Cincinnati, Ohio


First, make sure you and your doctor are talking about your post-partum depression and you are taking all necessary suggested advice to heart.

Second, arranging your schedule to have one-on-one time with your three-year-old is good advice. Just keep doing it and make sure it is not happening as a response to your kid’s aggressive behaviors. As long as it happens before the aggressive behaviors, one-on-one time is great advice.

As far as not reacting with anger, I used to have a terrible time doing this. I used to blow up all the time until I learned to replace my anger with a calm response. The response that I chose is simply to replace any number of angry responses: “What in the world are you DOING?!?!” or “How many times do I have to tell you to not talk to me when I am answering a student’s question??!!” with these two words:

“Oh, man.”

I trained myself to say this on the exhale. This forces me to breathe in before I say it. In all my years of parenting, teaching, and principaling, I don’t believe I ever got angry after breathing in, and then saying “Oh, man” in a nice, calm voice. Using the same calm response each time instead of reacting with a barrage of terrible words that may or may not accompany terrible actions allowed me to stay in a thinking state and to enjoy myself while I was around kids.

By picking one brief statement or sound and using that same response every time you get frustrated, you will be teaching both of your kids to respond calmly to stressful situations while simultaneously staying calm yourself. The truth is that your kids won’t listen to the words that you say as much as they will copy the actions that you take. Explaining the virtues of reacting without haste and anger to a three-year-old is about as effective as explaining quantum physics to a cave man. However, showing your kids how to be calm can teach them a lesson that can last a lifetime.