Dear Therapist:

...I find that as a mother of a large family I get overwhelmed at this time of year and really lose it with my kids. Overall I think I am a wonderful parent but I could use some extra tools to deal with this extra stress. Any advice?...



I don’t know exactly what you mean by “lose it.” I also don’t know the ages of your children, what your relationship is like with each child, or what the family dynamic is like. These, and other factors, can make a big difference with regard to the effect that your actions will have on the individuals within the family and on the family as a whole.

We’re all human. As such, we react differently under stress than when we are calm. We may be a bit stricter and more verbal about rules and limits, communicating our feelings more forcefully. Or we may become angry, taking this out on family members.

It’s important for children to have a sense of consistency. If rules and consequences remain constant (but on occasion are simply communicated a bit more strongly), this may not be very problematic. If, however, new or different rules and consequences (or severity of consequences) are created when you are angry, children can get mixed messages. Sometimes it’s ok for them to leave clothing on the floor; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes leaving clothes on the floor leads to a request to put them away; other times they are told that they are slobs and need to clean their entire rooms immediately.

Children often don’t connect (at least emotionally) our moods to the level of our reactions. They don’t recognize that nothing has changed, but that we are simply stressed. Children thrive on rules. Mixed messages can leave kids confused. It can cause them to feel that they cannot anticipate their parents’ responses, leading to a sense that they can never satisfy the rules. This often leads to negative emotions and to a disregard for particular rules—or to rules in general.

Just as we emotionally react differently within different situations, children feel differently depending on the emotions engendered by our actions. A child who is generally obedient and happy to help may feel hurt when yelled at, refusing to comply with our demands. Children also experience things differently than do adults. Depending on age, temperament, and other factors, a child may feel threatened, unsafe, unloved, ashamed, or worthless when they feel attacked.

Generally, it’s important to be aware of each child’s reactions. Although we can’t always discern a child’s emotional response to our behavior, their reactions can give us clues to the ways in which they are affected. We should be as aware as possible of both our feelings and responses and those of our children. This can help us to curb our emotional responses, giving our children a sense of safety and consistency.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317