237: Keeping Your Cool: Practical Strategies for Remaining Calm When Your Child Isn’t

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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In today’s episode, I’m diving deep into a topic that many parents struggle with: how to stay calm in the midst of the storm. As a parenting coach, author, and mindset mama, I’m sharing my personal journey of transforming from a parent who yelled and felt frustrated to one who responds calmly, compassionately, and clear-headedly. From reframing our children’s behavior to understanding that it’s not personal, I offer valuable insights and strategies on how to manage our emotions and effectively support our neurodivergent kids. 

3 Key Takeaways


Reframe your child’s behavior: Instead of viewing their challenging behavior as a personal attack, reframe it as a signal that they are struggling and need your help. Recognize that they are not intentionally trying to hurt you, but rather having a hard time coping with their emotions.


Model appropriate behavior: Stay calm and composed even in the face of intense emotions from your child. By responding calmly and compassionately, you are teaching them a healthier way to express and manage their own emotions.


Don’t take it personally: Remind yourself that your child’s behavior is not a reflection of your worth as a parent. They are not intentionally trying to hurt or upset you. By understanding that their behavior is not personal, you can maintain a sense of calm and respond in a more effective manner.

What You'll Learn

Staying calm with your child is possible, even in challenging situations.

You will understand that our natural instinct to respond with anger or frustration can be overridden with practice and consistency.

The importance of reframing your child’s behavior and recognizing that they are having a hard time, rather than intentionally trying to hurt you.

You will be encouraged to reflect on how your own reactions and behaviors can influence your child’s response and how modeling calmness can teach them more effective coping mechanisms.

You will gain insight into the significance of not taking your child’s behavior personally and recognizing that their actions are not a reflection of their feelings towards you.

You will be reminded to take deep breaths, maintain perspective, and remind yourself of the love and connection you have with your child in intense moments.

You will be encouraged to practice patience, consistency, and self-reflection in order to develop the ability to respond calmly, compassionately, and clear-headedly to your child’s challenging behaviors.


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Penny Williams [00:00:03]: Your child isn't intending to hurt you. They are having a hard time. Their behavior is a signal for you that they need your help. They need your help. Don't take it personally. It isn't personal. Welcome to the Beautifully Complex podcast where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams.

Penny Williams [00:00:32]: I'm a parenting coach, author, and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started. Hello, fellow caring adults. I'm here today to talk to you about how to stay calm. I get asked so often, how do I stay calm all the time with my kiddo? And I see comments like, my child makes me yell. My child makes me lose my cool. I can't be calm with this child. It's not so easy for me.

Penny Williams [00:01:14]: Lots of different sort of reasons that parents are giving for why it's hard to stay calm, I guess. Right? But I have a secret to tell you, and that secret is that we can all stay calm. Every single one of us has the ability to stay calm with our kids in very challenging situations. And so I wanna teach you some of the strategies today that I have used to go from a parent who yelled a lot, nagged a lot, was very frustrated a lot, more than once a day, to a parent who just automatically responds calmly, compassionately, and clear headedly, which probably isn't a word, but now it is. And It took some time. That's what I want you to know first and foremost. This is a process, changing your habits, Changing the way that you are wired to respond takes time, consistency, frequency, and a lot of practice. So, yes, I'm gonna tell you in 20 minutes or so strategies to make this happen, But you are not going to be able tomorrow to implement all these strategies and remain 100% calm forevermore.

Penny Williams [00:02:43]: It just isn't possible. This is a process. But I promise you that you can get there. Now the reason that it is hard for us To stay calm, when we are met with an emotional, intense, loud, angry child, is that our brains, as human beings, are wired to respond in kind. We are wired to give back What is coming toward us? And this was protection for us back in primitive times. But now we don't have tigers lurking about threatening our safety on a regular basis. Right? And so we don't need to be that Sensitive all the time. We don't need to respond in kind all the time in order to protect ourselves.

Penny Williams [00:03:35]: And this is one of those instances where our instinct, our biological instinct, is to yell back, is to slam things also, is to say mean things right back at them. But it's not okay to do that. We know that that is not helpful, and so we have to override those instincts. And the best way to do that It's, again, through a lot of practice and frequency and consistency until it becomes our natural response, until we have trained our brains that we respond in a different way. And, again, I just want to really sit for a minute in the idea that this is very hard. I am not here to tell you that being calm is easy and that there's something wrong with you or you're a bad parent If you haven't been able to stay calm up until now, this is the way that you are built and the way that all of us are built. It's okay that it's hard for you. What wouldn't be okay is if you didn't work at changing that.

Penny Williams [00:04:49]: But you're going to because you're here, and you're listening to this right now. So I know that you want to do it differently, and I know that you're going to put in the work that it's going to take to do it differently. So, yes, we are wired to respond in kind, but that's not an excuse for lashing out at our children, yelling, etcetera. We still have to stay calm. And I want to talk to you a little bit about how you can do that. How do you walk into a space with someone who is Irate, someone who is yelling, someone who is slamming things, breaking things, throwing things, saying mean and hurtful things, maybe cursing at you. Their behavior is inappropriate. No question.

Penny Williams [00:05:41]: But how do you stay calm when all of that is being hurled at you. The first thing that I learned to do was to reframe what was going on, Reframe my kids' behavior. And the mantra that I have used for years To help me to do this in those really challenging times is your child isn't giving you a hard time, Your child is having a hard time. Say it with me. My kid isn't giving me a hard time. My kid is having a hard time. This helps you to reframe that yelling, that breaking things, that slamming things, those ugly words, into something different. Those are a signal that your child is having a hard time.

Penny Williams [00:06:38]: Those are a signal that your child needs help from you. You are the grown up. You are the one with the experience and practice in managing your emotions, managing your frustration. And so you are the one who is being signaled to help in those situations. So you're reframing that. You're saying to yourself, what is going on for my child that is causing them to lose it right now, to lose it on me. Why can't they cope with the emotions that they're feeling in this moment. Why are they not able to Express how they're feeling in a more appropriate and healthy way.

Penny Williams [00:07:32]: Now we're looking through that brain based lens. Right? We are looking at why a behavior is happening, and that's going to give us the information that actually makes us helpful. Because, you know, I wanna step back for a second. Let's think about when we are not able to stay calm, when we respond in kind. The biggest problem with that is that we are actually modeling exactly what we are upset with them for doing in the 1st place. If my kid yells at me, I hate you, and I yell back, well, I don't like you right now either, I have just modeled for them to say hurtful things to people when I'm emotional. Why would I do that? Why in the world would I do that? Because that's not what I want them to do. That's the opposite of what I want them to do.

Penny Williams [00:08:23]: So we must stay focused on How our kids are learning from what we're doing also, that will also help you to reframe that behavior. It will also help you to really be looking at it through that brain based lens because you know That that is just an inappropriate coping mechanism or an inappropriate response or an inappropriate communication method for how your kid is feeling. So think about, I don't want to model for them something that I'm asking them not to do. I don't want to respond in kind because I know that's not helpful. I do want to respond in a way that teaches them a more appropriate way to share their feelings with me when these types of things happen. Another way to remain calm is to stop taking it personally. I knew when my kid was in the grocery store screaming at me that he knew I never loved him and I was a horrible mother, And all the people in the other aisles were peeking around the corner to see if I was doing something horrible to my child. I knew that he did not mean what he was saying.

Penny Williams [00:09:47]: I knew he loved me, and I knew that he knew that I cared a great deal for him as well. I knew that. I had to remind myself of that. Right? When things are really overwhelming, I had to take that big calming breath. I had to reframe that behavior, and I had to remind myself that it was not Personal. Your child's intention isn't to make you miserable or to upset you or hurt you. They are not sitting back and going, well, mom said no to that sugary cereal that I really love, so boy am I gonna make her pay A 6 year old, that's not happening. Probably not even with a 10 year old or a 12 year old, especially when our kids who are neurodivergent are also developmentally delayed.

Penny Williams [00:10:36]: So they are not intending to make you miserable, to hurt you, to ruin whatever activity you're doing or whatever time of day it is. They are not acting from a place of intention. They are acting from what their body is instinctually signaling them to do, or They are acting in the only way that they know how because they don't yet have more appropriate skills. Again, Your child isn't intending to hurt you. They are having a hard time. Their behavior is a signal for you that they need your help. They need your help. Don't take it personally.

Penny Williams [00:11:23]: It isn't personal. The next strategy I wanna talk to you about in staying calm is to not let your own stuff get in the way. Part of the work that we have to do as parents is to be mindful and aware and recognize when it's actually our own stuff that is triggering us. It isn't about our kids. It's about something that may have happened in our childhood. Maybe you had someone in your family that you didn't feel respected. You. You didn't feel respected as a child.

Penny Williams [00:11:57]: And so when someone talks to you with blatant disrespect, and that's how it feels even though that's not how it's intended, But that's how it feels to you. That's triggering some of your own stuff. That is bringing up your own emotions about things that happened to you. It's not about that situation with your child, but very often, we interject it right in there in the mix. So we have to recognize when our own stuff is triggering us, when our own stuff is clouding our judgment so that we are not taking it out on our kids, so we are not responding to them in ways that We wouldn't otherwise. Another sort of strategy, this isn't really a strategy for staying calm. This is more of a strategy for helping your child to get calm, and that is that dysregulation is never, Never, never, never, ever a teachable moment. A dysregulated kid cannot learn.

Penny Williams [00:12:58]: A dysregulated adult cannot learn either. Because when we are dysregulated, our thinking brains are offline. They are physically inaccessible. We cannot learn. We cannot process language. We cannot be logical or rational when we are dysregulated. That tells you a lot about what you should and should not do when your kid is intense, when they are dysregulated, when they are having a hard time managing their emotions, When their big emotions are coming at you intensely, it is not the time for teaching, and it is not the time for rationalizing. And this was me as a parent for a very long time.

Penny Williams [00:13:50]: I call myself the great rationalizer. All I wanted to do was talk him down, talk him out of things, make it better. Right? And so I got very stuck in always trying to rationalize and be logical, and it never, never, ever worked. And I couldn't understand it. I totally could not understand why that didn't work until I learned about the amygdala hijack, And I learned that my kid's thinking brain is inaccessible when his survival brain and or his emotional brain has been triggered and is flooded. Then I realized, well, my gosh. All I was doing is escalating the situation because I was piling on to the overwhelm by trying to rationalize, by talking, by adding to the situation in any way of actually escalating that situation. And so it's so key when we're trying to stay calm that we're also not trying to teach in those moments.

Penny Williams [00:14:55]: Everyone has to be calm for that. That has to come later. But knowing that It's going to help you stay calm. Because if you are trying to rationalize and be logical and your kid still is irrational and illogical, You're going to get more frustrated. You're going to have a harder time staying calm. So this totally comes into play with you as the adult, the parent, the teacher, staying calm. I have a script that I used with my son once I learned this. It was very, very helpful.

Penny Williams [00:15:28]: And I think that it will really be helpful to you, your family, maybe if you're an educator listening, helpful to you when you have a student who is intense and having a hard time. And this is the script. I would say, I really want to help you with this, But we can't problem solve when we're upset because our thinking brains are offline. So let's take a break until we're calm enough that our thinking brains are online so that we can work on a solution. You're showing your child, you're telling your child, I do want to help you. I see that you're having a problem, that you need my help, But I can't be helpful to you until all of us are calm because that's when our thinking brains can work and help us out. This helps kids understand themselves. It takes away some of the blame and shame, and it reminds you that you can't resolve the issue while everyone is intense.

Penny Williams [00:16:31]: You and your child, your child, you, Whoever is intense, if there's any intensity, thinking brains are inaccessible. So I just wanna recap For a second, because I gave you a lot of information. If you wanna know exactly where to start right now, today, The next time your kid is upset, intense, having big emotions, having inappropriate responses, inappropriate, you know, coping or communicating emotions. The very first thing I want you to do is just Take a big belly breath, And ask yourself how you can reframe the behavior that you're seeing. One question that I love to teach adults to ask is, If it's not blank, what else could it be? If it's not disrespect, yes, I know it feels like disrespect. But if it's not disrespect, what else could it be? That question will help you not only to reframe, But to also take that next step of decoding that behavior, it will remind you that your child isn't giving you a hard time, that your child is having a hard time. Just start there, the first few instances. Take that really empathetic, Deep breath that you need for yourself, but also your child might coregulate with, Your child might actually mirror and just think about how the situation is different from how it's feeling to you.

Penny Williams [00:18:18]: And what information might this behavior be telling you? What information might it be signaling? If you want the show notes for this episode, go to parentingADHDandautism.com/237 for episode 237. And I am sending you lots of calm vibes And hope and optimism for this shift in your relationship with your kid or your student It's going to feel so much better to you as well. I will see you next time. Take good care. Thanks for joining me on the Beautifully Complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com.

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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