All parents get frustrated at times. And some of us lose patience more often than we’d like. With the pressures of daily life and the demands of parenting, such as fatigue, sibling fights, homework time, it’s no mystery we get overwhelmed.
In a recent study, parents agreed raising children today is more difficult than in past generations. One major reason is the sheer number of parenting philosophies and choices available to us. Another is the pressure WE put on ourselves to get it all right.
If modern parents face more stress than ever, we also have a greater opportunity to learn and grow from it. Each challenging experience and parents have PLENTY, is a chance to accept and manage our emotions in a positive way (and model those skills for our kids).
The next time frustration occurs, try one of the ideas below to regain your calm and build up your emotional toolbox. With a little practice, you’ll quickly recall why you adore those kiddos so much!
1. Accept Your Child As They Are
So many issues arise from wanting our kids to be different than they are. If only they behaved the way we wanted, followed the paths we so carefully set for them, parenting would be a cinch!
It comes as a surprise to many parents that their children are separate individuals, with needs and temperaments often vastly different from our own.
Psychologist and author Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., suggests we “accept the ‘as is’ nature of our children”. We need to see and know them for who they are rather than who we expect them to be.
“Tell them from the start that you will love them...and repeat it all the time. Be awake to who they are; feeling seen is an essential part of feeling loved. And try to empathize with their differences, and to experience those differences on their terms rather than your own.”
- Andrew Solomon, author
Once we embrace our children and accept them “as is”, a new and powerful kind of connection emerges.
A great way to connect with your child is via their love language. By honing in on their primary love language, you can make them feel seen and appreciated.
Leaving affirming and positive notes for your child is a simple way to connect with them. You can use the lunch box notes found in our Resilience Kit. Tuck a note into their lunch box, back pack, under a pillow or leave on their desk.
2. Allow Your Emotions
All feelings are okay. As a guidance counselor and mom of two young girls, I repeat this phrase quite often. While parenting affords us an incredible range of experiences and emotions on any given day, we know they aren’t all pleasant. And that (really) is okay.
The solution to facing intense emotions and letting them go? Simply allow them.
When a strong feeling arises, observe it. Pause and take a breath. Know that as long as you accept the emotion, it has the room and space it needs to pass.
A helpful practice for accepting emotions is known as the mindfulness acronym S.T.O.P. When frustration arises, try the following four steps:
S-Stop what you are doing
T-Take a few deep breaths
O-Observe your thoughts and feelings as they are
P-Proceed with whatever you were doing before
Research shows simply naming our emotions has a peaceful effect. Each time you notice and acknowledge frustration, you return to the present moment and accept yourself and your experience just as it is.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
- Jon Kabat-Zinn
3. Know the “90-Second Rule”
Sometimes, it seems like negative feelings stick around while pleasant ones, like joy and happiness, are fleeting. But is that true? In her study of the brain, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor discovered the “90-second rule of emotions” and how impermanent feelings really are.
According to Bolte Taylor, “When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.”
When we resist a feeling, we inadvertently remain stuck in the same feeling. When we accept the feeling, it’s gone in under 2 minutes! So let’s use the time wisely.
In the critical 90 seconds of an emotional reaction, be sure to communicate your strong feelings to your child and how you plan to cope with them. “Mommy is feeling very tired and grumpy right now. I’m going to take a few deep breaths and then let’s go for a walk.”
You are modeling how to behave in stressful moments, and they will take notice.
4. Parent From a Place of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude improves mental and physical health, increases empathy, and improves sleep. It even changes the brain. In a study of adults who wrote gratitude letters to another person, participants showed lasting effects in the brain region associated with learning and decision-making.
So how do we parent with gratitude and reap the benefits of this important practice for ourselves and our kids?
One way is to tweak our words. Each time you’re about to say, “I have to” to, replace it with “I get to”. Notice the profound difference.
“I have to take my daughter to ballet” versus “ I get to take my daughter to ballet”.
“I have to put him to bed” versus “I get to put him to bed”
This easy change makes a huge difference in how we think about our time together.
Another powerful strategy is being aware of the wonderful and likable aspects of your child.
“Parenting gratefully means you often draw to mind your child’s good qualities, and as a result, these become more cognitively salient and they work as memory clues to what you find important.” - Anne Dunlea, psychologist
In difficult and frustrating moments with your kids, recall these qualities to maintain perspective and gratitude for who they truly are.
Try the 7-Day Gratitude Challenge with your kids (included in our popular Challenges Kit). It will surely spark important conversations and it's a great opportunity to practice gratitude together as a family.
5. Apply Growth Mindset to Your Parenting
We’re good at teaching our kids how to be gentle with themselves as they learn new and difficult things. Don’t we deserve the same approach for ourselves? Growth mindset isn’t just for academic or athletic pursuits: it’s for parenting too.
No one is born knowing how to parent. Just like our kids, we are always learning and changing and making mistakes. When frustration overtakes you, use it as an opportunity to grow from the experience, and decide what you’d do differently next time.
And when it all seems too difficult, remember the feeling of things being hard is the feeling of your brain growing.
“Every time you make a mistake, every time you fall flat on your parenting face, you are opening the door to a new opportunity to learn. What a great example of lifelong learning! Isn’t that what we want our children to see? We can show them how to continue learning and growing all through their lives.”
- Alissa Marquess, author
When we recognize the opportunity in our parenting missteps and struggles, we shift into a growth mindset where anything is possible.
Parenting is full of challenges and dealing with the inevitable frustrations that arise takes practice. We can learn to “ride the waves” of challenging feelings simply by accepting and acknowledging them.
The next time you experience frustration, acknowledge the feeling (and remember it will pass).
In the meantime, get busy sharing your feeling and modeling how you’ll handle it for your child. In under two minutes, you will be calmer.
And you will both have learned opportunities to grow and learn often come in our most frustrating moments.