Do your children push you too far? Do you lose your temper and regret it later, but it's too late, and next time it's the same story? Parents can learn to keep their cool even when their children press their buttons. It starts with a decision that who we are as parents is our choice, and not merely a reaction to our children's behavior.

This is the story of how Jennifer took charge of her parenting.

Jennifer would walk in the door after a long day at work, both tired and hungry. By the time dinner was over, she was no longer hungry, but she was completely exhausted. Bedtime often didn't go smoothly, and in the end she threatened "Get into bed right now or you're really going to get it." Of course, such an open ended threat was too enticing to remain untested, and within five minutes, her oldest son came prancing out of bed, apparently intending to dance his way to the bathroom. That was the final straw for Jennifer. She hadn't really anticipated being put to the test, but her son's antics left her no choice but to respond. As she herself put it, "My response wasn't pretty. I was shrieking like a banshee. I way over-reacted. But by then I was just too exhausted to keep my cool."

Yet by the next day, Jennifer had thought things through, and she recognized that as the parent, she was the one who was responsible for making things run smoothly, and she couldn't blame her son "for pushing her buttons". That's when she consulted me to learn a how to keep her cool when the heat was on, and I shared with her the following plan.

Make a Plan:

You just walked in from work, and all you want to do is kick off your shoes and relax. But that's the moment when everything just goes crazy. Don't expect yourself to be able to think clearly or communicate effectively when you are exhausted and spent. Let your children know in advance what types of behavior won't be tolerated, and what the consequences will be. Then all you need to do is stick to your plan, and you won't over-react.

Jennifer didn't expect to be tested. Even her threat was empty and vague, with no pre-determined response. And as she learned the hard way, if you don't decide on the consequences in advance, you'll be forced to decide in the heat of the moment, which is a sure-fire recipe for over-reacting.

Expect to be Tested:

Children are not born with boundaries. Boundaries are integrated into the child's behavioral system through a continual process known colloquially as "testing the limits". Don't be taken off guard. "No" means "no" whether it's the first time they ask you, or the thirty-first time. Don't be afraid to say the conversation is over, and just walk away. They can keep whining, but you are not going to discuss it anymore.

Keep your Focus:

Parenting is not only about discipline. It's also about love. Don't let yourself lose sight of how much you love your children, and don't make your love dependent on their obedience. Regardless of how they acted that day, that week, or even that month, every day is a new opportunity to show them how much you love them. Kisses and cuddles never need to be earned, and especially when you have lost your cool, that's the best time to make sure they know much you care.

Jennifer kept her focus. That night, after she calmed down, and before she went to sleep herself, she wrote a note, and left it on her son's pillow for him to read when he woke up. The note read "Even though I screamed at you last night, I just want you to know how much I love you, and that nothing, not even your dancing to the bathroom, will ever change that."

Jewish teachings emphasize repeatedly that learning to control ourselves when our anger is triggered is a fundamental discipline. Aside for the practical benefits of remaining calm, and the toxic atmosphere created by anger, anger also demonstrates a lack of faith. Whatever situation you may find yourself in, this is where G‑d placed you, and gave you the wherewithal to manage. Anger is the natural reaction to an injustice. But with G‑d in charge, there is no such thing as injustice...