How ToRound Table

Round Table: Handling Stressful Moments Without Prayer

Today’s round table discussion is a question for parents who don’t subscribe to a specific religion. How do you handle those moments when you feel helpless or frustrated as a parent, and the stress piles up to the point you feel as if you are going to snap?

It seems that often the reply parents seeking help get is to pray: trust in God, give over your troubles to God, etc. As non-theistic parents, handing over our troubles to an invisible friend isn’t a helpful suggestion. So, we asked our writers to tell us what they do in those pot-boiling-over moments. Please share your favorite techniques in the comments.


J.G. Hovey

Well one thing I always try to do is prevent myself from getting stressed.. As in, I always ask myself if something is worth freaking out over. A lot of stress is stuff parents create for themselves, I find. So, stage one is prevention. But if stress happens I just walk away for a bit if I can, make myself some hot chocolate or something like that and wait for bedtime. Oh, glorious bedtime!

Emily Sexton

The short answer is I put myself in time out. I am not particularly good at staying calm and no amount of “take a deep breath and count to 10” seems to help me (probably because that would require remembering to do it when I’m feeling so overwhelmed that I can barely remember my own name, let alone a cliche of a calming technique). What I have learned to do over the years to do for everyone collective well-being is to disengage and remove myself. I don’t always catch myself before I yell, but I am usually able to get past that initial boil-over, apologize, make sure everyone is physically safe, and take five minutes to step away and get myself under control. If only we could apply the one minute per year of age guideline to parents too. That would equal a decent nap!

Topher Hunter

Walk away. Unless there’s an imminent threat of real harm to person or property, I try to step away and get some space. My son is a soft-hearted guy, and the simple act of me stepping away in frustration is often more than enough. Now that all said: I readily admit it’s not as easy as it sounds; the impetus to win, to control, to be right and maintain status is terrifyingly strong. I’ve certainly had moments when I didn’t walk away, and I really, really wish I had. Then it’s time to adult-up and apologize. I’ve made mistakes as a parent, but being accountable is one of the best (and hardest) things I can demonstrate for my kids.


I try to convert frustration to fun and confusion to cheer. This is something that I learned recently from my significant other. If you can change a tense moment to a silly one, it’s worth a shot. If it’s really not possible, I try some empathy or what Brene Brown calls perspective taking. If I can try to understand where they are coming from or why they are being challenging, I can generally respond in a calm and more understanding way. Even if their reality isn’t my reality, it’s still real for them. Lastly, I try to prevent these moments as much as possible. Usually tantrums and outbursts are caused by something that can be controlled. Does someone need a Snickers? Is someone left out? Did someone not get a nap? Are we in a really difficult place for them to manage (the mall on a Saturday?)? If I can foresee these things potentially happening and address their needs before a meltdown, I spend less time muttering “for the love of all that is holy will you please shut up!” under my breath.


I don’t have a good answer to this question because there are so many moments daily where I feel like everything goes spectacularly wrong at once and I don’t alway deal with them well.  For now, avoiding them is my best tool. Scheduling around naps and food helps. Rehearsing the day by talking (or singing) about what my toddlers can expect, or making a social story if it’s a bigger event (like moving to a new house, going on vacation, visiting the dentist). A bag of meltdown tools, like a toddler carrier, bottle, and small toys comes with us almost everywhere, and is a huge help.

But, in those moments when everything is going to pot, I stop talking. Nothing I say is going to help, and being quiet means not adding to the volume and chaos. I take a deep breath, and sometimes just taking that moment is enough to let me express myself gently. Other times I still speak crossly (which I later regret), or walk away to have a longer time alone. The kids use “calm down moments” or “take a break” when they are overwhelmed, so I use those phrases when I explain to them that I need to walk away for a bit. I’m still looking for more (and better) ways to handle these stressful moments.

Jenny Splitter

I tweet this!  


Lou Doench

I’ve cycled through several coping methods over the last decade for when wrangling The Hellions has pushed me right past Wit’s End and started barreling towards Breaking Point. When I was new to the job I had a tendency to lash out, yell and stomp and gnash my teeth, hoping to scare sanity back into the universe. I think we can all figure out how well that worked. Now I have two contrasting methods. One is to take myself out of the equation. My kids are old enough to handle most non-life threatening situations on their own. Unless something is on fire I step away from the conflict and give myself some space to cool off. Count to ten, take a bathroom break, head to the backyard and make some putts at the disc golf basket. The truth of the matter is that most kid centered conflicts will work themselves out in 10-20 minutes all on their own. It takes energy to be upset over the little things that most kids squabble about, energy that will sputter out after a few moments.

When benevolent neglect is neither working nor wise, for situations that absolutely require my intervention, I make a concerted effort to make myself small, get down on their level and talk to them calmly and respectfully. I’ve found that meeting children closer to their own height, joining them in their world so to speak, but treating them as an equal at the same time, goes a long way towards getting them to listen.


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Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

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