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Behavioral Techniques Just Don’t Work When You’re Exhausted

The past few weeks with my three-year-old daughter have been pretty miserable. I’m acutely aware of the fact that I’ve had MORE miserable weeks of parenting, but I’m far enough removed from those sleepless newborn nights that these days FEEL horrendous.

The amount of energy it took for me to even sit down at the computer to write was ridiculous.

My daughter fell asleep at 5PM, and I didn’t even stop her. We all know how awful a 5PM nap is because you always have to pay for it later, but I just didn’t care today.

For several weeks, her volume level has been maxed out at a ten … AT. ALL. TIMES. Her immediate response to every problem she has is shrieking and flopping herself on the floor. Even if she thinks there *might* be a problem arising, she starts shrieking just in case.

She started hitting. She started whining. She won’t wear underwear. She won’t eat foods she has always loved. She even tried unlocking the front door today to “run away” because she was so mad about not getting something she’d asked for.

I know how to respond to this (in theory) because it’s literally my profession to know how, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exhausting. And when you’re exhausted? Parenting becomes five times more difficult.

She was the easiest baby of all time. She was even a super fun, laid-back toddler. But all of a sudden, she’s an exhausting three-and-a-half-year-old.

I’m so tired, y’all. I just want a nap. And maybe a stiff drink?

I don’t know. I don’t even drink, but I feel like this is a moment when a person would want a stiff drink.

I think Starbucks could stay afloat just from the profits they make off of me.

Threenagaers are no joke.

And the worst part of this is that I know staying calm will make the situation easier. I know that having clear boundaries and effective consequences will make tantrums less frequent. I know that being consistent will nip these problems in the bud sooner than anything else.

But when you’re working three jobs, you’re in college almost full-time, your husband is gone half the week for work, AND you’re doing projects all hours of the night to help pay for college … you just don’t have the “calm” it takes to get through these hard weeks successfully.

I could write article after article about what to do if your child is being defiant. I could tell people how to avoid being sucked in to their children’s chaos. I could sing praises about how well behavioral intervention techniques work.

But none of that matters if you’re not getting enough sleep to stay calm and focused.

Lack of sleep (and down time) makes the human brain so unable to function properly. You just end up going through the motions with minimal effort because that’s the only thing you have energy for, and when something extra difficult pops up … you just kind of shut down.

I’m in the zombie shut-down phase of parenting right now.

So if you ever read my blogs and feel like I’m trying to pass out these neatly folded boxes of advice, please know that I GET the chaos. I completely understand.

The things I write about are true, and the advice I give is helpful in most situations, but I understand that they don’t always apply and are not always doable.

Today, I want you to know that you’re not alone in the exhaustion. I’m a “professional,” and I’m sucking big time at parenting this week.

But it’s just a phase, and we’ll all survive it. One threenager at a time.

*gives the Hunger Games salute to all the other drowning parents*

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Behavioral Techniques Just Don’t Work When You’re Exhausted

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2018). Behavioral Techniques Just Don’t Work When You’re Exhausted. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Jul 2018
Published on All rights reserved.