“The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.” – Brené Brown
Parenting has more than its share of frustration. This important and unrelenting job pushes most people to the limits of patience. Children see the priorities of a day differently than does an adult. They are growing and learning and take time to learn skills, develop time management, and manage their emotions.
Despite the inevitable frustrations of parenting, maintaining patience as much as possible is important. Most parents understand that to create the kind of loving relationship that is vital to a child’s healthy development, reducing frustrated outbursts is key.
What can parents do to manage frustration?
Notice when you begin to feel frustrated. Look for physical clues such as signs of tension in your body or increased heart rate. Increases in the volume of your voice also suggest you are becoming frustrated and it could lead to an angry outburst if not managed. Do something as soon as you notice these feelings to soothe your emotion.
Use a calming technique to bring your frustration to a manageable level. Strategies that create some space between frustrated feelings and reaction such as mindfulness or breathing exercises help. Mindfulness and breathing exercises can help manage stress in the moment, but it is more helpful if you can do regular practice. Taking yourself out of the situation briefly, if possible, and returning when feeling calmer can help.
Reduce your expectations. Parenting with extremely high standards for yourself or your child is a recipe for frustration meltdowns. Children will have tantrums when it is least convenient, they will lose and forget things, and they will be noisy and interrupt. This is not to say you accept all their behaviours but it helps lessen frustration when your expectations are lower. Where possible be flexible. Keep your child’s developmental stage in mind. Children usually want to please their parents. If they are not, it is often due to a mismatch in skills and expectations. Hold yourself and your children in a compassionate light as you journey together in life.
Problem-solve your recurrent problems. If the same point of frustration recurs regularly, it’s time to make a plan. Sit down and look at what happens. Is there anything about the situation that needs to change? Do your children need more help than they are getting? Do they still need prompting to get dressed for example? It’s not uncommon for me to say to parents in my practice that a solution to rushing and being late is to wake the family a half-hour earlier. Sometimes small common sense changes are all it takes.
Change your thinking. Thoughts such as, “If I was a good parent my children would sleep/ eat vegetables/ do their homework” or “I shouldn’t feel angry at my children,” create a lot pressure. If you interpret what your child doesn’t do as a reflection of you as a person, you are more likely to feel annoyed and frustrated. Instead remind yourself that parenting is not easy. Use kind self-statements such as, “even though I feel frustrated it’s understandable given what a tough job parenting is.” Realistic feedback from other parents about what they experience can help.
Repair. If you raise your voice at your child or behave in a frustrated way, repair that moment. Parents sometimes prefer not to acknowledge those moments because of feelings of shame, but it is helpful for your children’s emotional well-being for you to do so. Repair tells your children you love them even though you felt frustrated. Talk with your child about that moment and apologise for letting your emotions run the show. Explain how you wish you could have handled it. Children learn a lot from how parents model emotion and communication. When you model repair, they learn about forgiveness and also what they can do to make it better when they act out in emotion.
Feeling frustrated in your role as a parent is normal. Daily efforts to lessen your expression of that frustration can help you be more of the parent you want to be. Keep in mind that occasional slip ups are normal for parents. After all, we parents are only human.