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Challenge: Keeping Your Cool

The Viral Hair Tie Hack That Will Make You Calm When You Feel Like Yelling

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It's normal to feel like an angry mother sometimes. But if you’re snapping at your kid more than you feel comfortable with, grab 5 hair ties and do this.


A couple months ago while my husband and I were making dinner, my toddler walked up to me and held one hand up for me to see, fingers spread out.

"Hey, sweetie." I could see something dark on her fingers, but I wasn't close enough to see what it was.

I stepped closer. "Oh no."

"What?" Ty asked.

I turned and ran in the opposite direction towards the closet where we keep the diapers.

And in my rush, I missed seeing something in my path. My feet got tangled up, and I hit the floor, just barely catching myself with my hands.

I looked back to see what tripped me up. My preschooler's shoes, left right in the middle of the hallway.

"Bailey!" I yelled.

I stood up and grabbed a diaper, then scooped up my toddler like a sack of potatoes and headed towards the living room floor.

"Bailey!" Louder this time. She must have been upstairs in the kids' playroom.

As I bent down to start the diaper change, my knee throbbed from the fall. "Bailey!" Even louder.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins because of the poop-mergency. Because of the fall. Because I was being ignored.

Bonus: Download a free cheat sheet of 30 ways to connect with your child after you've lost your temper.

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Photo by Donnie Ray Jones

And Then She Peeked Around the Corner

"What, Mommy?" Innocence on her little face, not malice. But I missed it because I was hopped up on stress hormones.

"You can't leave your shoes in the hallway like that! I tripped and fell because you didn't put your shoes away."

Her chin dropped to her chest. "Sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just don't do that again." I flinched at my sharp words.

She turned and walked away, head still hanging.

After I finished up the diaper change and sent the toddler on her way, I sat there and couldn't hold it back.

The shame spilled over onto my cheeks and then my lap.

What's wrong with me?

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Photo by Donnie Ray Jones

Here's the Disconnect

My personal goal is to talk to my kids with the same level of respect and kindness that I use to talk to my husband. The good news is that for the most part, I do talk to my oldest and my youngest that way.

But my poor middle child.

Something about the preschooler-ness of my preschooler was turning me into an angry mother every time I opened my mouth to talk to her.

I needed help.

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Hair Ties to the Rescue for Every Angry Mother

How many times have you set a goal – to exercise more, or to eat healthier, or to stop watching Friends re-runs on Netflix so you can get to bed at a decent hour – only to revert back to the status quo after a few days or a couple weeks?

This is where habits will save you. They work because they put your brain on autopilot so you don't even have to muster up the willpower to do something. You just go through your normal routine, and it happens.

Brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and guzzling that first cup of coffee in the morning are all examples of things you might do on autopilot.

Unfortunately for me, I'd developed a bad habit of talking sharply to my preschooler. My brain was on autopilot headed in the wrong direction towards being an angry mother.

I flipped open my book Happy You, Happy Family to the chapter titled "Break the Bad Habits" and re-read it.

And I realized the solution to breaking my bad habit: hair ties.

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Photo by Eric May

Let Me Explain

Visual cues are a powerful science-backed tool that will remind you to avoid a bad habit when you’re most likely to slip back into it.

For example, if you were trying to eat healthier, you could leave a bright Post-It Note on the fridge to remind yourself that "Snack = veggies only." Or if you were trying to start a morning exercise habit, you could set your workout clothes on your nightstand the night before.

I decided my visual cue would be 5 hair ties.

Why? Because a few years ago, I'd read a blog post about using rubber bands as a visual parenting cue.

This isn't a new idea. But I added my own research-backed spin to pack an even bigger punch to knock down that angry mother habit once and for all.

Get Your Copy: Happy You, Happy Family

How to Stop Being an Angry Mother With 5 Hair Ties

If you've been snapping at your kid more than you feel comfortable with, follow these steps:

  1. Find 5 hair ties that will be comfortable to wear around your wrist. We bought this pack of 100 as a stocking stuffer for the girls last year, and by some miracle, we still have a few left, and they're super comfortable on the wrist. But you could use anything that's comfortable and easy to get on and off – thin bangle bracelets like this or just plain old rubber bands.
  2. When your kids wake up in the morning, put the hair ties around one of your wrists. It's important to wait until they wake up because visual cues won't work very well if they blend into the background and you stop noticing them – kind of like wallpaper. In other words, once you get used to seeing the cue in your environment, the cue is no longer effective. To prevent that, you'll:
    • Put the hair ties on when your kids wake up.
    • Take them off when you'll be away from your kids, like if you leave the house for work or an appointment or if the kids go down for a nap or leave for school.
    • When you're with the kids again, put your hair ties back on.
  3. If you catch yourself snapping at your kiddo, move one hair tie to the other wrist. But your goal is actually to make it to the end of the day with all 5 hair ties on the original wrist. So what do you do if you slip up...?
  4. You can "earn back" one hair tie by doing 5 simple things to reconnect with your kid. Research shows that to have a healthy relationship, for every one negative interaction you need 5 positive interactions to balance that out. It's called the Magic 5:1 Ratio, and here's a list of a few ideas for how to get those 5 positive interactions on the books as fast as possible, from a hug to a dance party and everything in between. (At the end of this post, you can also download a free printable cheat sheet of all the Magic 5:1 Ratio ideas for reconnecting.)

What if you have more than one child you're struggling to keep your temper with? Because the goal is to earn back a hair tie as soon as possible after you slip up, you can use one set of 5 hair ties for the whole day. In other words, you don't need a separate set of 5 hair bands for each kid.

After you have a negative interaction with one of your kids, try to get 5 positive interactions with that child as soon as possible to reset that hair band to the original wrist.

Related: How to Connect With Your Child: The Magic of the 5:1 Ratio {Printable}

But Does This Really Work?

I was skeptical because...hair ties? Really?

But I needed to try something different, and a few hair ties on my wrist certainly wasn't going to hurt anyone.

As it turned out, the visual cue of the hair ties coupled with the gentle pressure on my wrist was a magical combination.

The first morning I wore them at home with my preschooler and toddler, I didn't snap once. All I'd needed was a little nudge to jolt myself out of that angry mother habit.

Later I did snap, but I was highly motivated to move that hair tie back to the other wrist, so we repaired the damage quickly.

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The only negative that came out of it was that later that day, Bailey noticed the hair ties.

She pointed to my wrist. "Take those off, Mommy."

"Why?"

"Because they're for your hair, not your arm."

"Well, I need to wear these. It's like Wonder Woman and her bracelets. These hair ties give me superpowers and make me a Super Mommy and help me stay happy."

She narrowed her eyes. "Really?"

"Yes, really."

"Are you telling the truth?"

I nodded. "I'm telling the truth."

She was quiet for a few seconds, staring at my wrist. Then: "Can you fly too?"

Related: 10 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child {Printable}

What About the Wallpaper Effect?

I thought all this was a fluke. That it would wear off over time, and I'd revert to being an angry mother with my middle kid.

Months later, the hair tie hack is still working wonders. I talk to my preschooler with love and kindness in my voice instead of annoyance and frustration.

We even had an unfortunate incident with a black Sharpie, the carpet, and every stuffed animal in the house. But I didn't raise my voice. I didn't use unkind words. I calmly approached my preschooler and asked her what she was working on while gently slipping the marker out of her hands.

She explained that she was marking the animals so everyone would know they belong to her. Made no sense to me, but I guess ranchers do it to cattle, so why not preschoolers to stuffed animals? (The carpet was just collateral damage.)

I kept my tone in check and explained that markers are for paper only. That the marker would never wash off. Not even from her lovey, Wilbur the pig.

She's used to washable markers washing right off, so hearing that last bit crumpled her little face, making me extra glad I hadn't raised my voice to add insult to injury.

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But Here's What I Didn't Expect

Lately, I've been flying hair-tie-free here and there to see if my new habit will stick to keep that angry mom voice at bay.

And it has. But that's not the surprising part.

Ever since I started wearing the hair ties when I'm around my preschooler, her behavior has been night and day different:

  • She doesn't take toys from her little sister as much as she used to.
  • She doesn't blow up over small hiccups in the day.
  • And she's more compliant with my requests, like a reminder to take a potty break, or asking for her to pick up her toys, or suggesting she pretend she's an archeologist and I'm the dinosaur bones she's digging for so I can just lay on the couch and close my eyes.

Because I speak to her with more respect, she speaks to me with more respect.

Because every little thing isn't a crisis for me to freak out about, she can look for solutions instead of feeling shame about the problem.

Because she feels more loved, she's capable of giving more love.

Related: The 3-Letter Word That Will Overhaul the Way You Discipline Your Child

Before You Go, A Cautionary Tale

The night of the Sharpie incident, my husband Ty had a conference call so I flew solo on the bedtime routine. I got all the girls tucked in, then went straight to making a tea.

While the water boiled, I took my hair ties off.

Approximately 2.7 seconds later, a blonde head appeared next to me.

I sighed. "It's time for bed, Bailey."

I took her by the hand and led her back upstairs to bed.

This played out 11 more times in the span of an hour. And even though my hair ties were off, I didn't lose my temper, and I didn't speak sharply.

But my frustration must have been clear from my tone punctuated with sighs and the bone-tiredness of my body language.

Ty finished his call and came into the living room to find me staring at the wall, waiting for the next round.

"Bailey's still awake," I said.

"Still?" He glanced at the clock.

"She may be waiting for a hug and kiss from Daddy before she can settle down. Or maybe she's stressed about Wilbur's marker stains."

He headed upstairs, and after a few minutes, he came back down the stairs chuckling to himself.

"What?" I asked.

"I went to tuck her in, and the first thing she said was, 'Daddy, can you tell Mommy to put her hair ties on?'"

I laughed. "What did you say?"

"I told her, 'I think if you just went to sleep, Mommy would be fine.'"

"Oh, but that would be too easy." I shook my head. "I should probably go smooth things over, huh?"

He smiled. "It wouldn't hurt."

So I trudged up the stairs for the last time of the night, hopefully.

I opened the door to her room and stepped on something squishy. I bent over to pick it up. Wilbur the pig.

She's had this pig since she was a baby, she insists Wilbur is a girl just like her, and it goes with her everywhere. Many a freakouts have happened when Wilbur couldn't be located in time for bedtime, or leaving for the airport, or before sitting down to watch Charlotte's Web again.

"Hey sweetie," I said, walking towards the bed. "Why is Wilbur on the floor?"

"Because she's ruined now. She has markers all over her." It was dark, but I could hear the grief in her voice.

"Oh," I said, bending down next to the bed.

As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I brought Wilbur up to my face. "You know what, Bailey?"

"What?"

"These are some really cool tattoos you gave Wilbur."

"Tattoos?"

"Oh yeah. I don't know any other pigs with tattoos like this. It makes her absolutely one-of-a-kind."

She held out her arms, and I tucked Wilbur in under her chin.

Then we were quiet for a few seconds while I played with her hair.

I was about to stand up, but then: "Mommy?"

"What, honey?"

"Do you have your hair ties on?"

I smiled. "No, I don't."

"You're a Super Mommy anyway without them."

A sudden lump in my throat made it impossible to speak, so I just hugged her for a while.

As it turns out, that 14th trip up the stairs was the charm for Bailey...and for me.

Download Your Free Cheat Sheet

After a negative interaction, you feel the distance between you and your child, but it's not always easy to know how to close the gap with your child so you both feel loved and connected. Use this cheat sheet to help you bond with your child after those tough moments so you can "earn" back a hair tie.

  1. Download the free cheat sheet. You'll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
  2. Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
  3. Hang your cheat sheet somewhere handy like the fridge. You'll actually get two versions of the cheat sheet, and you can use them a few different ways:
    • For the one that looks like a bingo board on steroids, you can cut out each square and put them in a jar. Then when you need an idea for connecting with your kid, pull out a random idea and do it. Or leave the whole thing intact and pretend you're playing blackout bingo to see how many you can mark off over the course of a week.
    • With the list version, you can use the sections to help you try out a variety of ideas. Personally, I tend to rely heavily on words of connection, and I forget the more physical acts of connection. This version of the cheat sheet helps me remember to mix it up.

Here's a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet – first the bingo version:

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And here's the list version:

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How to Catch Yourself Before You Lose Your Cool

After my family welcomed our third little one into the mix, we became a family of five with a second-grader, a toddler, and a newborn. Even though I could have used more sleep and way more coffee, we were happy. Then my husband's paternity leave ended, and I was at home with the kids all day. As time wore on, my patience became razor thin. And one day, I just broke.

The shame burns my cheeks just thinking of that day, even now. But thanks to that experience, I realized I had to make a change. I threw myself into researching how to find happiness in the chaos of parenting. Something beyond "make time for you" and "exercise more." Because when you're overwhelmed and at your breaking point, you don't need the "experts" telling you more stuff to do on top of everything else.

That's how I discovered the secrets: 10 secrets every parent should know about being happy. After hearing from hundreds of parents in the same boat as me, I knew I needed to share what I discovered. And so I wrote a book: Happy You, Happy Family. One section of the book gives you a Temper-Taming Toolkit to help you keep your cool during those everyday parenting moments that test your patience.

Click here to download a free excerpt and start your journey towards finding more happiness as a parent.

Because the truth is that happiness won't come from a big promotion at work, or from winning the lottery, or from your kids all learning to put their toys away when they're done playing. Because eventually, you just get used to all that stuff.

True, lasting happiness comes from a conscious effort by you to put the right habits in place.

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This post originally appeared on The (Reformed) Idealist Mom. © Kelly Holmes

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