When my kids were little I discovered a great parenting "hack" that helped me cope with the daily frustrations of life with two under two. When I felt myself getting stressed or irritated I took myself off and screamed as loudly as I could into a pillow.
It was a technique that I relied on a lot during the early years. I wasn't a saint – there were still occasions where I snapped at them, and times where I shouted. But my pillow absorbed a lot of stress and anger too.
I haven't been screaming into a pillow much over the last few years. Instead, I've been enjoying life in the sweet spot. My kids are both at school and have reached a certain degree of independence. They need me around, but I don't have to shadow their every move. They can play and read by themselves, dress themselves, shower themselves… parenting has been easier, my pillow redundant.
So when I found myself experiencing "one of those days" my old technique didn't spring to mind. My kids had been pushing my buttons all day – they had squabbled over Every Single Little Thing. They had lashed out at each other, fought with words and fists, and ignored every instruction I gave them.
I could feel myself getting more and more irritated. But instead of taking myself away to calm down, I blew up. I yelled at my kids – and not in my every day shouty parent way – I yelled at them with an aggression that I didn't recognise. My kids were shocked – and so was I.
My seven-year-old spoke up first. "I think you need a time-out Mum," she said, her brow furrowed. Her sister agreed, "go and sit on the blue chair until you've calmed down."
They were echoing the many times I have removed them from heated situations. Their serious faces told me not to argue and so, like a scolded child I took myself off to my office and sank into my blue armchair.
The fact is, sometimes parents need a time out. Psychologist Giuliett Moran at Empowering Parents aggress. "It's definitely better to step away from the situation to calm yourself down, so that you can think through the best way to manage a situation rather than being fuelled by emotions," she says.
"Doing this allows you to make a more calm and considered decision about the way you will handle whatever has triggered the emotion. It allows you to take a deep breath, relax and develop a plan for what you will do next."
As well as giving the parent a chance to cool off, taking a time out also sets a good example for children. "It can be a powerful lesson for children, as they are often being corrected for not managing their emotions (i.e. hitting, yelling, etc when they are angry or upset)," Moran explains.
For this reason, Moran notes that it's a good idea to be vocal about why you are walking away from a heated situation. "It can be beneficial to explain what you're doing, i.e. 'I'm really angry so I need a couple of minutes to myself', as this is modelling a positive coping strategy for your strong emotion."
Of course, there are times when it is impossible to simply walk away. Moran says that if you find yourself in need of a time out when you're out and about with your children a good coping strategy is to simply stop and take a few deep breaths. "It's important to take a moment to check-in with yourself and to make a rational decision about how you will react," she says.
I'm glad that in the heat of the moment my kids had the sense to send me for a time out. Hopefully next time, I won't need to be told.