Why We Get Burnt When We Try To Parent "In The Fire"

Jan 25, 2021

Imagine this (probably all to familiar) scene:


Your child wants to stay at the park, but it’s time to go. You calmly tell them, “Time to go now” but they don’t listen and continue playing. 


You call after them, with your “sound like a normal parent voice”, but you can feel the panic starting to build. You said they could only play for a little bit – and now that carefully planned window of a allotted  playtime is toppling in your mind,  crashing, like dominos, into all the other things that still need to get done- school pick up, zoom call, dinner- this isn’t going work! Unless we leave- NOW! 

You can feel the adrenaline start to flood your system, as you scan the playground again. There they are! Your child is clamouring up another ladder, still acting oblivious to your requests which are starting to sound desperate, “Mommy’s serious. We HAVE to go now!”


You get more and more upset inside, thinking “Great, now we’re going to be late. We’re always late. Why can’t I be the mom who has it together, just once? Why doesn’t she EVER listen? Why does she have wait until I’m mad? It’s so embarrassing!” With each thought you get more and more angry. 

You finally drag your child screaming from the park. 


And it’s not just at the park. It’s when screen time is done, or time for bed, or the wrong colour cup, for petes sake!


They have a meltdown, and you have a meltdown right back at them.

Yelling, hurling words at them, throwing a fit… just like they are behaving to you. 


Sound familiar? 


You’re not alone in this response. 


This phenomenon is something that our brain naturally does. It’s called “mirroring emotion” (check out this link for a fascinating story of its opposite). 


What did that teach them? That they need to come when they are told? OR that they should throw a tantrum when things don’t go their way, ya know, like we did in response to them?


Nothing positive happens when we parent, act, respond or react when we’re in our highly emotional brain (I call this the red zone). Red zone to me feels like a kettle. Things have been heating up. Your blood starts to boil. Steam builds under increasing pressure.  The energy of emotion: frustration, anger, rage, even sadness that has bubbled up, flipping your lid (your rational brain) ready to blow, until a tantrum erupts. 


In the red zone we are highly combustible, about to explode. 


Red zone = the fire. Don’t parent in the fire. Don’t react in the fire. Don’t respond in the fire.


You can say something to your child like, “Mom needs a break for a minute”, or “I’ll be right back”, or don’t speak at all, if you can’t handle it well in that moment. 


Leave the room and do something to bring you back into your green or yellow zone. To release the steam/emotion. 


But what about the park, and pick up and dinner????  Is launching into a parenting lecture/tantrum in the van going to help the situation? No. You’re too in the fire. Tend to your emotional state first. 


One thing that helps me to release the emotion is to become aware of my thoughts through thought-work and journaling.  Maybe on the drive, instead of blaming and shaming your child, you could get curious about your own thoughts. Why is it so upsetting for me to feel rushed or behind? What do I make being late mean about me? And do I actually believe that? I have tons of good stuff about the power of thought-work, I will share later. For now, just observe your thoughts and the emotions they bring up.


You probably already know things that calm you… meditations, deep breathing, a glass of water, crying, going outside, listening to music or dancing it out. Spend some time brainstorming healthy ways of calming down and start doing them when you get upset. 


Be mindful of what you feel during the day and what green, yellow, and red feel like in your own body. Begin identifying situations that often gets you headed to your “red zone” and...


Remember:  When you’re in the “red” zone aka the fire, focus on what YOU can do to calm down, not on responding to THEM. 


As always, it starts with YOU, not THEM.



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