The evening was feeling tense. My son was upset because the neighbors came over to play, but he wasn’t finished with his homework. My younger daughter was crying because the dog chewed on her favorite doll. And my older daughter was stressed out because… well, she’s 12. Meanwhile, my husband was trying to come down from a fast-paced day at work, the puppy peed on the floor (again), the neighbor texted and wanted me to watch her boys, and I was trying to cook dinner. Sound familiar? I don’t think I’m alone in this three-ringed circus.
Finally, I call everyone to the dinner table. As we sit down, the kids are bickering about who didn’t wash their hands, and someone comments that the mashed potatoes look “weird.” At this point, I’m frustrated and blurt out, “Just EAT THE BANANAS!”
Everyone stops. All eyes are on me.
I realize my error; they are potatoes, not bananas. One child lets out a little snicker. The other four stare at me in suspense, wondering, “How is she going to react?”
At this moment, I have a choice: get mad or laugh.
This time, I laugh. “I mean potatoes! What in the world?!”
As if letting the air out of a tightly filled balloon, everyone starts laughing with me. “That was so funny, Mom! Eat your bananas!” When the giggling stops, we have a great dinner, forgetting about the stresses weighing us down.
As a family works through its busy day, tension naturally builds. But there are 5 simple ways to ease that tension.
1. Take the opportunity to laugh at yourself.
Choose laughter over anger! Sure, it might take a little shift in your mindset, but it’s an instant pressure-reliever. Laughter relaxes the whole body, decreases stress hormones, and triggers endorphins. It lets your family members know that life doesn’t have to be serious all the time.
2. Don’t react to a grumpy family member. Show that you aren’t easily offended.
When a family member is irritable, it can be easy to shoot back your own grumpy response. Why not go a different route? Respond in a light-hearted way. To, “I have nothing to wear and you ate the last bagel. Worst morning ever!” Respond with, “Want to borrow something?” or simply, “Hope your day gets better, honey!” Sometimes a light response is all that’s needed to turn them around. Even if it’s not, a light response lets them know that you can still be cheerful while they are feeling grumpy. You are not dependent on or responsible for anyone’s mood but your own.
3. Give the benefit of the doubt (out loud), even if you don’t know if they deserve it.
Do your kids accuse each other of making wrong choices? Do they like to point out each other’s flaws? Well, they are normal. But you can model grace by giving the accused one the benefit of the doubt. Show that you want to believe the best in them, not the worst.
4. Get outside and move.
Sometimes tension runs high because of pent up energy. Being cooped up inside can make even the calmest people snap at one another. Getting everyone outside for a quick walk can hit the reset button. Go to the park, throw the baseball, or if it’s cold outside, go to the Y for an hour. Get that blood pumping!
5. Talk about it over chips and salsa (or your favorite snack).
This may sound silly, but it’s really hard to argue while eating your favorite snack. Try this: “Hey, sounds like you’re feeling a little tense. Why don’t we talk about it over chips and salsa?” Whether their blood sugar needs bolstered or something is bothering them, this technique provides a laid-back opportunity to talk.
Even when tension runs high in our homes, we have a choice about how we respond. Proverbs 15:1-3 has some great wisdom about this: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Next time, instead of stirring it up, try one of these ideas to tell the tension goodbye.
Tell us! How do you ease the tension in your home?