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People love to share stories about sleep deprivation,
explosive diapers and projectile vomit when talking to expecting parents. They talk about the long nights, the days of
never-ending tears and every little thing that can go wrong.
As the baby becomes a toddler, seasoned parents share temper
tantrum horror stories and talk teething, playground spats and preschool
Then the stories stop. It's as if surviving infancy and toddlerhood are the biggest challenges
of parenting. But any parent of big kids
can tell you that tantrums become meltdowns and, although irrational toddler
behavior disappears, big kids know how to argue.
And push buttons.
The truth is that parenting is both amazing and difficult at
every stage. Each age brings new wonders
and new mysteries. There is a certain
freedom that comes with having big kids, but there are also different
Yes, parenting can be frustrating at times. All people have anger buttons. And all kids know how to push buttons. While it might seem like they do this to
manipulate or cause a problem, often they do this because they are overwhelmed,
upset or just plain frustrated, and they don't know how to cope.
No matter how frustrated parents might feel, yelling and
projecting anger isn't the answer. In
shows that yelling might be just as harmful as hitting. And yelling doesn't
teach kids how to cope with their feelings.
What's a tired and frustrated parent to do?
Try a few of these strategies for coping with parental
1. Investigate the
Instead of allowing the frustrating situation to fuel your
anger by assuming that your child is trying
to upset you, step back and ask the right questions. What are the potential hidden causes beneath
the behavior? Are there any new
stressors in your child's life right now? What happened just before the meltdown?
When we allow anger to trigger our own irrational responses
(e.g. "Why does he always do this to me? Why does my child hate me so much?"), we miss important clues that can
uncover the behavior. It's important to
remain calm and ask the right questions in the heat of the moment.
Therapists love self-talk for one very good reason: Talking your way through an upsetting
situation can help you remain calm and centered, even when a child is kicking
and screaming right in front of you.
Choose a few calming phrases to use when you feel your anger
increasing in response to your child's behavior. Talk your way through the event in a calm
voice and repeat your calming mantra as often as needed to cope with your own
feelings. In doing this, you model the
art of self-talk to your children and teach them how to keep calm during
3. Keep a trigger list
Knowing your anger buttons is a great way to keep your anger
in check. Keep a journal to log the
moments that caused you the most frustration during the week. Make a note of the time of day that the anger
occurred, what was happening, what was said and how you reacted. Chances are that a pattern will emerge, and
that pattern can help you troubleshoot.
If you find that you are quick to anger when you're hungry
or tired, for example, you can keep healthy snacks on hand or play low-key
activities for the kids during those times. I know that my family struggles with a packed schedule. My kids do one after-school activity at a
time, and we even skip those when we feel tired or overwhelmed. Knowing and adhering to your limits helps you
4. Tap into your empathy
If you can shift your thinking from frustration about the
event to empathizing with your child, you will feel less anger as a
result. We all have bad days, even
little kids. When your kids start
pushing your buttons, try to think back a time when you made a similar
choice. What were you feeling? What did you need in that moment?
When we rely on empathy to cope with difficult situations,
we are more likely to respond with kindness and understanding.
5. Make healthy choices
Parents hear a lot about the importance of consistent sleep,
healthy foods and regular exercise for kids. These things are just as important for parents as they are for
children. If you are overtired, hungry
or sick, you are more likely to respond in anger to minor triggers.