Feel like your patience is in short supply lately? You’re not alone. These tips can help.
When it comes to the ways your child can drive you crazy, the sky’s the limit. Countless questions. Nonstop messes. Constant nagging. Rollercoaster moods. Epic meltdowns. Endless needs.
And, of course, the pandemic has only heightened all of this. We’re stressed out about everything from the state of the world to our job status to our shrinking support systems. We’re short on sleep and have a sliver of alone time — if we’re lucky.
We’re also trying to work from home without losing our minds. One of the psychologists I spoke to, Christopher Willard, PsyD, says his young kids have appeared in his online workshops and his 2-year-old has wandered into a therapy session.
The natural breaks that we had when we went into the office are now nonexistent, further fraying our nerves, he says.
In short, it’s a recipe for rage to bubble up and spill over. So, if you haven’t been acting like your best self, it makes perfect sense — please don’t beat yourself up! And know there are plenty of helpful things you can do, from behavioral tactics to fast-acting, calming techniques.
Ignore any behavior that’s annoying, attention-seeking, or occurs after you’ve already said no to a request — and shower your kids with attention when they’re performing desirable behaviors, she says.
Since our kids are likely also stressed and anxious, their irritating behavior may really be about seeking reassurance. They want to know that despite the upheaval, everything will be OK, you’ll still be there, and you’ll love and protect them, says Shelley Davidow, a long-time teacher and author of “Raising Stress-Proof Kids.”
Responding to this deeper need, she says, will likely diminish their annoying actions.
Davidow suggests carving out 20 minutes to play a board game, play tag, draw together, or do any other activity that pulls you both “out of the dynamic of creating stress.”
“When you are more connected to your emotions, you can make better choices regarding how you respond to your children,” says Tracy L. Daniel, PhD, a psychologist and author of “Mindfulness for Children.”
To check in, simply take a few minutes throughout the day to do the following:
- Close your eyes.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart.
- Notice your heartbeat, inhales, and exhales.
- Scan your body for any sensations.
- Lastly, open your eyes and notice how you feel.
Because our nervous system perceives a threat or obstacle when we’re about to lose it, it’s important to “let your body and mind know that you are safe in the moment,” says Hunter Clarke-Fields, a mindfulness coach and author of “Raising Good Humans.”
Do this by walking away for a few moments or telling yourself, “This is not an emergency. I can handle this” or “I’m helping my child,” she says.
Name what you’re feeling, and then sit on the floor, count backwards from 50 by 3s, or take several deep breaths, says Devon Kuntzman, ACC, a toddler parenting and life design coach.
The key, she says, is to find a strategy that works well for you.
To counteract your body’s stress response (increased blood pressure, tense muscles) and frustration-fueled excess energy, shake your hands, arms, and legs, says Clarke-Fields.
Interestingly, “Many animals are known to shake dozens of times a day to clear away the effects of stress,” she says.
“If we get ourselves into a calm state, research at the HeartMath Institute shows that our children’s hearts will respond physically to our state of heart,” says Davidow.
Try this technique developed by HeartMath Institute:
- Focus your attention on your heart.
- Breathe in for 6 seconds and out for 6 seconds, a little slower and deeper than usual.
- Try to actively feel care or gratitude for something or someone.
Do this for 2 minutes (you can ask your kids to join you).
Being upside down helps to calm the nervous system, increases blood flow to the brain, and gives you a new perspective, says Daniel.
She suggests doing simple yoga poses such as Downward Dog, Forward Fold, Child’s Pose, or legs up the wall. To boost the calming benefits, take 5 to 10 deep breaths, Daniel adds.
This creates an opportunity to connect with your kids and model stress management, says Willard, who’s also the author of “Raising Resilience.”
For example, he says, you could do a simple mindfulness activity: Lay in the hammock, explore the garden, take a walk during lunch, or stretch in the evenings.
“Perspective is one of your most powerful parenting tools,” says Kuntzman.
Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, agrees, noting that the stories we tell ourselves about our kids’ misbehavior can either fuel our anger or lead us to respond in helpful ways. The stories we tell ourselves about our own capacities are also critical.
Try these perspective shifters, according to Kuntzman and Kennedy-Moore (respectively):
- Shift “She is being so bad” to “She is having a hard time.”
- “I can’t take anymore” to “I can do hard things. What do I need right now to move forward?”
- “I’m failing my kids as a parent” to “I’m learning every day and so are my kids.”
- “He’s being so manipulative” to “He’s trying to get his needs met.”
- “She’s doing this because she doesn’t respect me!” to “She’s testing her limits.”
- “He’s trying to get me mad!” to “He’s hungry and overtired.”
- “They don’t care about anyone but themselves!” to “They’re frustrated and bored because they haven’t seen their friends in so long.”
When your child will only wear pajamas and spills the entire bowl of watermelon all over the floor, your first instinct might be to sob, scream, or lose it, says Pearlman.
Try to laugh instead. “If we can laugh at some of the ridiculousness of the situation or even some of the parent failures, it can make life more palatable” — and reduce our stress.
For routinely difficult situations, involve your child in problem-solving when everyone is calm, says Kennedy-Moore, author of “Kid Confidence.” Not only can this lead to helpful ideas, but your child is more likely to cooperate with solutions they propose, she says.
Simply describe the situation and ask your child: “What can we do to solve this?” or “What ideas do you have to help things go more smoothly?”
For instance, she and her family had the rule “you hit, you sit.” “The expectation was that you would use your words when you were frustrated or angry, and not hit or throw things” — something they’d regularly practice with simple sentences like “I am mad.”
If a child did hit, they’d have to sit for a specific period of time, take a deep breath, and use their words.
To stop feeling like you’re “parenting in a vacuum,” find at least one friend to regularly text with about how you’re feeling and what you’re struggling with, Pearlman says.
Commiserating, joking about a situation, and feeling listened to can be tremendously healing.
According to Daniel, during stressful times, this vital mineral is depleted, which is precisely when we need it most. “When magnesium is low, it is difficult to stay calm and not react,” he explains.
Eat dark green leafy plants, like spinach and kale, or make a smoothie with a banana, avocado, and dark chocolate, says Daniel.
If you have a partner, support each other in staying calm, like having a secret signal.
Kennedy-Moore worked with parents who would offer to bring each other a glass of water when one of them was getting worked up. “That small distraction was often enough for them to take a breath and regroup.”
Since you’re human and will inevitably lose your cool, make sure to apologize, ask for and accept forgiveness, repair, and move on, says Willard. This is a valuable lesson for your child in confronting conflict and making amends.
Remember you’re not alone in feeling on edge, and thankfully, there are many effective strategies you can employ. Ultimately, try to cut yourself — and your kids — some slack. You’re both doing the best you can under some tough circumstances.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is a freelance writer and associate editor at PsychCentral.com. She’s been writing about mental health, psychology, body image, and self-care for over a decade. She lives in Florida with her husband and their daughter. You can learn more at https://www.margaritatartakovsky.com.