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Calm Parenting: Mantras

frustrated african american businesswoman with baby in office

Mantras are often cited as a good way to calm down in general. When I am stressed about anything, I repeatedly remind myself to, “just breathe, breathe, breathe.”

Targeted mantras can help in parenting. A mom, who had been working on potty training for weeks with her three-year-old son, reminded herself often, “no one goes to college not potty trained.” This helped her put the momentary frustrations in check.

Another mom reported she had a mantra only when her mother-in-law was in town. This mom said she would print out and tape on her refrigerator, “gnaw off their own arm.” I had to ask. She explained that no matter what her mother in law was doing that added frustration, her mantra would bring calm. It reminded her that, aside from her and her husband, grandparents are the only people in the world that would consider gnawing off their own arm to save her child’s life. She said this put the extra cookies and missed naps into perspective.

Your mantra might be general like, “I can do this,” or more specific, “tantrums will end.”

Calm Parenting – Shift Your Responsibility

Staying calm when your child is misbehaving can be a difficult thing to do. I think part of the answer lies in where you place your focus. Often parents feel responsible for their child’s behavior. The misbehavior feels like a direct reflection on you. If you think other’s are judging your parenting based on the child’s behaviors, it is easy to lose your cool. To calm, shift your focus. Think of being responsible to them rather than for them.

For example, you and your three-year-old are having lunch together at a restaurant. They are busy eating their mac & cheese when all of a sudden, they fling a forkful and hit a person at the next table. You are not responsible for them throwing food. You didn’t arm and aim them. You are responsible to model, teach apologies, to address and curb the behavior. You are responsible to teach them how to behave in restaurants moving forward.

Another example, your eight-year-old decides to skip spelling homework and studying for a week and gets a poor grade. You are not responsible for the grade. It is not your homework. You are responsible to help them understand the importance of homework and studying moving forward. You are responsible to check their homework completion in the next few weeks while they get back on track. You are responsible to sort out whether this was truely a dip in effort or a bigger learning difficulty.

Overall, this means to focus your efforts on what you can control. If you are so narrowly focused on changing their beahavior, you are likely to feel frustrated. Focus on the piece you can control. Rather than focus on changing their behavior, focus on changing your reaction to their behavior. Focus on building skills to better address, manage and teach about behavior.

Calm Parenting – Take Care of Yourself First

I speak with so many moms in our workshops, and lately a common complaint is they are “running on empty.” Moms comment they aren’t getting enough sleep, aren’t eating well and feel increasingly stressed. Basically, they just aren’t taking care of themselves. Some cite the time crunch, others the effort after taking care of everyone else in the family. Whatever the cause, feeling empty is such a difficult way to come at parenting.

  • Sleep – It’s suggested that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation provides this article on sleep needs:
  • Nutrition – I’ve never been one to count calories or limit foods, but, as I am getting older, I can feel food choices impacting my mood and energy levels. provides this interesting article on nutrition guidelines for women:
  • Stress – When you can directly manage the stressor, all the better. It’s best if you can cut back on work hours or better design your schedule, and relieve stress at the source. If not, here is an article with so many great suggestions for managing stress:
  • Exercise – When I can fit in exercise, I feel great. It is so hard to find the time and energy. I am inspired by one of our preschool teacher/moms who fits exercise in in small ways throughout the day. She lunges to take out the trash and stretches before she sits for each meal. Apparently, a little at a time adds up in beneficial ways. For lots of great tips about exercising read:, and visit a great blog at
  • Relax – Do whatever it is that helps you relax. Read, run, sing, dance, wine with friends, walks in the park or nature hikes. The more you can refresh and recharge before you take on parenting, the better!

Calm Parenting – Know Your Triggers

Calm Parenting is a hot topic these days. My Calm Parenting workshops have quickly become as popular as my Positive Discipline classes. In both sessions, and in many other, unrelated classes parents report losing their cool often. They say they would like to provide a calm household, but find themselves yelling more than they’d like. This week’s posts will all focus on ways to calm.

It can be helpful to first identify your triggers for losing that sense of calm in parenting. Right now, make a list of the things that happen or the things your kids do that make you lose it. A top three list would be a good place to start.

Next, think about and jot down how you typically react to each. Be honest with yourself, what do you typically do and say? What do you look like and sound like to your kids? What is the intensity or volume of your response? This is your reaction.

Now realize, you never need to react that way again. There are so many other things, likely more productive things you could do in these moments. Brainstorm a list of better things you could do. Maybe focus on giving them choices related to the behavior, focus on creative ways to better teach them or build a list of children’s stories that would illustrate the point you are trying to make. In the long run, you could learn positive discipline and develop better things to say around I messages, empathy, positive intent, choices and consequences. You might read Playful Parenting by Cohen and make light when it seems appropriate.

The point is to recognize that your typical reaction when you lose your cool is less than helpful. It likely isn’t working to curb the behavior and doesn’t feel good to anyone involved. Part of calm parenting is planning for these times.

Calm Parenting Tips

A few good resources about Calm Parenting:

  • Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids: Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Drew


  • Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Runkel



  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Covey



  • The DVD serives Celebrate Calm by Martin



  • Getting to Calm: Cool Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens by Kastner and Wyatt


In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Covey presents the benefits of thinking about the individual relationships you have with family members as an Emotional Bank Account. In my home, I would have three accounts, one for each child and one with my husband. In this account, deposits include things like speaking nicely to each other, speaking nicely about each other, spending time together or helping with a task. Withdraws include things like arguing, snide remarks, talking negatively about each other or being late for something important to them. The idea is to keep the balance overwhelmingly positive. It needs to be far more positive becaues the relationship will face challenges and upsets and the positives need to be able to absorb the negatives. Think about each account in the last 24 hours. Ask yourself if there was a positive balance. Keep a running tally moving forward.

Calm Parenting

If you didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution this year, you can share mine. This year I resolve to be a calm parent, to be a calm wife and to respond rather than react to upsets within my family at every turn. I know, it is going to take work. To help myself, and hopefully help you, I am going to include tips on calm parenting and calm relationships throughout the year.

The first thing to consider is the difference between reacting and responding to others. When there is an upset reacting means acting on impulse, without thought. It is what happens before we consider our better options. Know that you can do better. Every upset gives you an opportunity to step back, to stop and think, to consider your options and plan a response. If you can slow yourself down and know that your response to an upset is fully within your control, you can avoid the knee-jerk reactions.

Helping a Child Learn to Calm Down

Little girl closed her eyes and breathes the fresh air. Black an

Does your child get anxious, angry or frustrated easily? In the moment, it’s often best to err on the side of support; rather than, challenging or giving logic and reason as an answer to their emotion. It’s often helpful to acknowledge the emotion, provide empathy and give time and space to let a child calm down. It can also be beneficial to spend some other time teaching them ways to settle. Many of these techniques offer the child a distraction from the upset or anger which can be enough to help them start to calm.

Best to teach these things out of the moment – Don’t wait until your child is freaking out to try teaching them how to take deep breaths. When people are angry or upset, they aren’t in a good place to learn something new. It’s far more effective to teach new skills or introduce new ideas when they are calm, or when all is well.

Make a calm down spot, an alone zone, a content apartment – In our house, this was a corner of the living room stacked with a few bean bags, pillows and favorite stuffed animals. A mom said her son liked a cardboard box with a door cutout and flashlights inside. The idea is to make a space that is inviting for your child, and is known to be a good place to go to calm down. This space shouldn’t also be tied to discipline or used for time-outs.

Make a few calm down boxes – Fill a few empty shoe boxes with small, quiet toys. This might include lacing boards, invisible ink books, or matchbox cars. We had a few boxes filled with felt board story pieces. You might hand your child a box when they need to calm down or keep a stack of boxes by your calm down spot.

Art, drawing even scribbling – In addition to calm down boxes, you might provide art supplies. Many people find painting, drawing or even making things to be calming things to do. If your child finds this helpful, it’s good to openly provide supplies and encourage their use.

Build a calm down library – It can be helpful to read and discuss children books related to any expected skill. Good books for children on calming down include:

  • Calm Down Time by Verdick
  • Cool Down and Work Through Anger by Meiners
  • A Boy and A Bear by Lite
  • Sea Otter Cove by Lite
  • Cool Cats, Calm Kids by Williams
  • Peaceful Piggy Meditation by MacLean
  • Mermaids and Fairy Dust by Kerr
  • Enchanted Meditations for Kids by Kerr
  • Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids by Shapiro

Deep breathing – This is the simple one, and it can be so helpful if your child buys in. In our house this was counting five slow, deep breaths and then focus on breathing in a regular way for a few minutes, then another five slow, deep breaths and regular again then repeating until you feel calm. For a younger child, you might provide breathing shapes. This would be cutting out construction paper stars and putting a dot in one corner. Teach your child to start with the dot and take one deep breath for each corner. Others suggest it may help to describe deep breathes with a flower and candle. This is taking a deep breath in through your nose like you are smelling a flower, and then out through your mouth like you are blowing out a candle.

Counting – Counting can be enough of a distraction task to give your child a chance to calm down. This might be counting slowly to 10, or counting backwards from 20, or counting as high as they can by threes or sixes. The idea is to either slow them down or give them a slight challenge to get them thinking. As an alternative, it can be helpful to inventory something. This might be counting ceiling tiles or number of people in a crowded area.

Visual counting -This one can take several practices before it’s useful in the moment. First, help your child pick a favorite activity or sport. Let’s say it’s soccer. Then, instruct your child to close their eyes and imagine themselves kicking the soccer ball down the field and into the goal. Have them keep their eyes closed and picture it once for as many years as they are old. For a six year old, they’d picture making six goals. After a few practice rounds, let your child know that when they are getting angry or frustrated it can be helpful to close their eyes and count their soccer goals.

Think of a favorite time or place – An easier visualization task may be to have them close their eyes and think about a favorite vacation or time at their favorite playground. Again, practice a few times and then recall this in the moment.

Mantras – My own mantra is, “breathe, breathe, breathe…”Whenever I am stressed, just reminding myself to breathe and focusing on each breath is helpful. A parenting mantra might be, “no one goes to college NOT potty trained,” for that difficult stretch of time. A child’s mantra might be as simple as, “I’m okay, I’m okay…,” or, “I can do this, I can do this…,” A mantra might follow one of the other suggestions like, “let’s just count, let’s just count…,” until they can get themselves started.

Get physical, run, swing or dance – Movement is calming for lots of people. This may be repetitive movement like swinging, or more physical exercise like running or climbing. It’s great to give kids movement opportunities often and movement outlets for their negative emotions when needed.

Muscle relaxation – There are a few mucle relaxation clips for children on youtube including relaxation: clip 1 and clip 2. Once you get the hang of it, this is something you can walk your child through, or they can do it by themselves. In our social skills groups we play a few related games including Melting Snowman and Tin Soldier. We start off as ice-cold, frozen snowmen. Then, the sun comes out and ever so slowly the snowmen melt until they are just puddles on the floor. For tin soldiers, we sit as upright as we can with our arms and legs and back held straight out. Then, we turn into ragdolls and flop on the floor. The idea in both is to end up relaxing your whole body.

Yoga (gymnastics, karate, ice skating) – If a child enjoys these activities, it’s good to encourage them to continue. While the movement itself can be relaxing, there’s also the long term benefit of children learning to control their bodies and be disciplined to practice.

Fully describe something – Describing something is another way to distract from an upset. This means looking around the room and finding something to fully describe to yourself for a minute. This might be a painting or a toy.

Focus on solutions – Focusing on solutions can be calming to anyone. If I am frustrated by how messy my house is, and I continue to focus on the mess and who made it or how they don’t help, I am just upsetting myself. It can be calming to make a plan for cleaning, and make decisions about how it should look in the end. For a child who is angry about how a game is going, this is getting them to focus on the solution, how to best resolve it. Even better if they can brainstorm and come up with a few options for solving.

Music – Listening to a favorite song or happy music can be a way to help children calm. It may be useful to have them build a playlist and keep it handy.

Mindfulness – This is teaching children to stay present and to let go of worries about the past or anxieties about the future. It’s slowing down and being aware of your feelings. Here are a few fun ways to get started: midfulness clip 1 and clip2. This may include meditation. Here are a few links to meditation ideas for children: meditation clip 1 and clip 2.



My Parenting Book List

So this is a work in progress, but I thought I’d share my first draft of my Parenting Book List. Please let me know your thoughts. Are there categories or books that I’ve left off?  Thanks!


The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Siegel and Bryson (2012)

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by Ginott (updated 2003)

Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Bronson and Merryman (2011)

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Tough (2013)


Playful Parenting by Cohen (2002)

The Power of Parent-Child Play by Sargent (2003)

Early Learning

The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally by Elkind (2007)

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek and Eyer (2004)

Mind in the Making:The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Galinsky (2010)

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher, Third Edition: Encouraging Your Child’s Natural Development from Birth to Age Six by Dancy (updated 2012)

Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline by Nelsen (2006)

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish (updated 2012)

Parenting with Love and Logic by Cline and Fay (updated 2006)

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Bailey (2001)

The Discipline Book by Sears and Sears (1995) – best discipline book for parents with children under 3 years old

Calm Parenting

Screamfree Parenting: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Runkel (2008)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, More Secure Kids by Payne and Ross (2010)

Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids: Practical Ways to Create a Calm and Happy Home by Drew (2000)

Parenting as a Couple

Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently by Pruett (2009)

Screamfree Marriage by Runkel (2011)


Focusing on Peers: The importance of Relationships in the Early Years by Wittmer (2008)

The Friendship Factor: Helping Our Children Navigate Their Social World and Why It Matters for Their Success by Rubin (2003)

The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends by Elman and Kennedy-Moore (2003)

Social Skills

Raise Your Child’s Social IQ: Stepping Stones to People Skills for Kids by Cohen (2000)


Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish (2012 updated)

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are by Leman (2009)

Screentime and Technology

Screentime: How Electronic Media from Baby Videos to Educational Software Affects Your Young Child by Guernsey (2012)

The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Steiner-Adair (2013)


Too Much of  a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age by Kindlon (2003)

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast by Bromfield (2010)

Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World by Rigby (2013)

Self Esteem and Resiliency

The Optomistic Child by Seligman (2007)

Your Child’s Self Esteem by Briggs (1988) a classic

Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Carter (2011)

Boys and Girls

Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Gurian (updated 2010)

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Sax (2006)

Mealtimes and Eating

Child of Mine by Satter (updated 2000)

Dr. Paula’s Guide to Good Nutrition for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elbirt (2001)

The Picky Eating Solution by Kennedy (2013)


Sleepless in America: Practical Strategies to Help Your Family Get the Sleep It Deserves by Kurcinka (2007)

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth (1999) – a classic

Sleeping Thru the Night by Mindell (updated 2005)

Only Child

The Future of Your Only Child: How to Guide Your Child to a Happy and Successful Life by Pickhardt (2008)

The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child by White (2004)


The Shyness Breakthrough by Carducci (2003)

The Shy Child: Helping Children Triumph over Shyness by Swallow (2000)

Strong Willed/Spirited

Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka (2006)

Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child by MacKenzie (2013, 2nd edition)


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dweck (2007)

Sensory Integration

The Out of Sync Child by Kranowitz (updated 2006) a classic

Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder by Miller (2007)

Calm Tips

There are two main ideas for how to manage tantrums once they start. Both ideas start with, “stay calm yourself.” I know, this can take a whole lot of self-control. It can be difficult to stay calm when your child is losing it. Part of it is recognizing that losing it yourself likely just adds fuel to the fire and takes the tantrum up a notch. The other part is realizing what your child needs most in these moments is someone who is calm, who is safe to connect to, who is modeling calm emotions especially when all else feels out of control.

There are so many ways to stay calm. Of course, not every way works for every parent, so I am including calm tips in our emails often this year. Here are a few more ideas that may be helpful in tantrums as well as other times you need to stay calm.

  • Learn about child development. It can be calming to know that saying ‘no’ all day long and doing the opposite of what is requested are common two-year-old behaviors. It can be calming to know that five and six year olds are often driven by a sense of fairness and hearing, “that’s not fair,” is par for the course. There are a few good series on development including Touchpoint: Birth to Three and Three to Six by Brazelton and Your One Year Old thru Your Nine Year Old by Ames.


  • Shift your thinking to view the benefits of the negative behaviors. Every time your child is aggressive, think of it as an opportunity to teach them better ways to express anger and how to use their words. When your child has a tantrum, think of it as a chance for them to practice calming or an opportunity to teach emotion language.



  • Assume changing behaviors and learning new behaviors takes time. If you assume potty training will be a two day process, you may be frustrated when it takes two weeks. If you assume it will take a few months, than you are pleasantly surprised at the two week mark.


To learn more ways to calm, join me for my two evening session on Calm Parenting. The next workshop series is offered on June 2 and 9 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit:

Bookclub on Screamfree Parenting Notes

Last week our Parenting Bookclub met to discuss Screamfree Parenting: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Runkel. What a great book! Here are a few tips from our discussion:

  • Focus more on being responsible to your children, focus less on being responsible for them. You were not the one screaming in the restaurant, but you are the one responsible to teach them better.
  • Focus on your own response more than their behavior in each discipline exchange. Control what you can. The capacity for change in the parent-child relationship lies in the parent. Focusing more heavily on changing their behavior often adds to the frustration.
  • Emotional reactivity is damaging to relationships. When you get reactive (acting out of anger, fear or frustration), you are very likely making the situation worse.
  • Respect that your children’s emotions, thoughts and opinions will differ from yours.
  • Take pressure off the end result. If you want your child to be religious, and you force the issue, they can never authentically choose it for themselves. You are in a far better position to expose and guide them, take them to religious events, read the books, have the discussions. Focus on making it available rather than forcing.
  • When your children are “testing you,” shift to thinking that they are testing your ability to stay calm, dependable, stable and consistent.
  • Take care of yourself to better take care of them. This includes your health, your relationships and your time.
  • Learn and decide how to use a wide variety of positive discipline tools, so you can be prepared and rely on the to help in finding the calm.
  • There is a real balance in parenting. You must address the business side before you can enjoy the personal side. You must provide the empathy and positive intent to balance the use of choices and consequences.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say. In the positive, keep your promises. In the negative, follow through on discipline.
  • Your children want and deserve a parent who keeps their cool and stays level headed even when things get hot!
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