When a Parent Needs a Time-Out

I’m alone with my kids a lot and find myself losing my temper over small stuff. What can I do?


Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): Well, that happens a lot, especially when parents are cooped up at home with the kids.

MOLLY: Yes, especially if your husband or partner works a long hours.

MOM: One parent may have full responsibility for the kids if his or her mate travels a lot, too. It’s easy to fall into this kind of behavior when you’re feeling overburdened, overwhelmed, or exhausted by demands on you.

There are a couple of things this mom can try to help ease her burden and allow her to enjoy her kids more without sweating the small stuff.

She can work on setting up some play dates for her children because that takes a lot of pressure off of her to be in the business of entertaining the child. She’ll want to gear that to the amount of time she thinks the child can handle. Some kids can tolerate only short play dates, like an hour, and some can tolerate much longer spans with friends. Either way, it can help give this mom a small break to keep her sanity and temper in check.

MOLLY: What about after school? For me, the after school hours can be tiring.

MOM: Well, after school is a little trickier in terms of playdates. A lot of kids are involved with activities, like dancing or sports or other clubs, and I think that’s really good for kids. I would encourage that.

MOLLY: That also takes the pressure off the primary caretaker a bit.

MOM: It takes a lot of pressure off the parent. But if the parent is home alone with their kids (like on a rainy day when you can’t go outside), they might think about instigating an activity together, like making cookies. Something together that would actively involve everyone in the process. Kids really like that.

MOLLY: The reader also said that she would find herself getting extremely angry when someone just spilled a drink… She is becoming really short  tempered with her kids and she’s not liking this behavior in herself.

MOM:  This Mom needs a time out. She can say to her child, “Mommy needs a time out right now and that means you have to read quietly or color quietly because Mommy needs a few minutes to get herself together.” And then, once her children are in a safe place, she can take a few minutes to herself to get composed before facing the spilled milk or the whiney children again.

Children can actually understand this because they have the same issues. She will want to redirect her kid into some kind of activity.

MOLLY: I think a lot of Moms turn to alcohol. In moderation, of course.

MOM: Well yeah, kind of like they can’t wait for that 5 pm for a drink. I certainly can understand that, you just want to watch that a little carefully. The hardest time is around dinnertime, right before dinner is ready. Probably between 4-6:00 seems to be the most stressful time for Moms and kids.

MOLLY: The witching hour.

MOM: Right, she might need to structure her kids’ time, or that might be the time they can watch a bit of television to settle down. As a mom, she will have to learn to recognize when she is losing her tolerance and know when she needs to step back to gain some perspective. Sometimes bathing kids at that time is not a bad idea because it’s an activity for them and can be quite soothing.

MOLLY: Oh, that’s a good idea and gives you a little bit of a break.

MOM:  It can give you a little break although if you have a lot of children, it’s going to be tough. Another option might be, if you can afford it, to plan to have a babysitter or a grandparent over for an hour or two during that late afternoon time to help out with the kids and dinner and give mom a break.

It may be easier to feel appreciative of our kids rather than annoyed at them if we are feeling more fulfilled ourselves as parents. I hear from moms that, if they can get out to see friends and do some things for themselves every so often, even if it’s just going to the grocery store without kids in tow, they find they have more patience and feel more tolerant and more able to appreciate and enjoy their kids than if they never get a break.

I think the lesson here is that parents usually do a better job at parenting if they get breaks from their kids on a regular basis, when they can recharge their own batteries and return to parenting with a fresh attitude.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success staying calm (especially during the “witching hour” using other strategies. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

ding 3 comments on “When a Parent Needs a Time-Out

  1. This stuff has always been hard for me. I just have to pray about it and take lots of deep breaths. It seems to be the only thing that helps.

  2. Completely agree with Mom’s time out! I work in the school system and while I wait all year for summer break to get more time with my kids, it is a HUGE adjustment for us all, spending all day, every day with each other. They hubby is a farmer and during the summer months, he is gone from before the kids wake until after they fall asleep so it is ALL me. What has worked well for us, is our “drink break.” In the afternoon, our witching hour, I load up the car with all the kiddies and their sippys and head down to a drive through for drinks, and on Friday, French fries for everyone too. Then we make a little drive through our town just checking things out. It helps break up the day and gets us out of the house because I’m not brave enough to go anywhere else with 3 children four and under all by myself!

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