My son is upstairs in his bedroom moaning, groaning and stomping around.

As he walked in the door from school, I asked, “Hey, can we look at your backpack together?” You would think this a perfectly reasonable request from a mother.

“No” was his short reply.

After another disagreement about the chores he needed to complete, he was sent to his room for 10 minutes as a consequence for breaking the family obedience rule.

As I’ve been listening to his laments and wondering what is causing the emotional breakdown, I realized today is his third day back in school. As a 6-year-old, the whole day at school sometimes wears him down. The more I’ve thought about that, the more I’ve realized that there are actually many factors playing into his behavior:

  1. He’s back in school, a switch in his routine.
  2. He’s been playing baseball and getting to bed later than normal.
  3. He woke up earlier than usual this morning.
  4. He hasn’t had a snack, so he’s hungry.
  5. He’s been asked to do a chore he hates (putting his clean, folded clothes away in his drawers and closet).

Add all of these factors up, and I can understand why this little guy is having such a difficult time. But it is so easy for me to get frustrated with his meltdowns and tantrums and get lost in the moment with my own feelings of anger. It takes a lot to pull myself back out of the moment, look at the factors involved and see what is really causing the bad behavior. I’ve thought about my frustration when we are on vacation or celebrating a holiday and the kids are acting out when we are supposed to be bonding as a family. When I reflect on the reasons for their misbehavior during what is supposed to be a fun time, I recognize many contributing factors: We are living out of suitcases. They are out of their routines. We are all tired from travel and staying up late, stuffed full of sugar and overstimulated. Then I expect them to be cooperative and angelic. Is it really fair for me to be frustrated with them when I’m the one who put them in this situation?

As a mother, it is easy for me to expect my kids to own their behavior and find the willpower to change it. Many times, that should certainly be the case. But it is also important for me to remember that often their bad behavior has a cause, or multiple causes, and I very well could have a hand in the conditions they are experiencing, along with the resulting behavior.

If, in the midst of a breakdown, I can step back and see all the factors coming into play, it will be much easier for me to have mercy in the moment. I just need to do the following:

1. Have enough willpower myself to stop reacting.

2. Step away for a moment and ask myself, “What are the contributing factors?”

3. And then find mercy in my heart.

The 10-minute buzzer is beeping, and it’s time for me to go upstairs to get my upset son from his room. I am going to snuggle him close, tell him I love him and ask how his day went. Even if his behavior doesn’t dramatically improve the rest of the day, I know my attitude toward it will.