You should have left for work 10 minutes ago. The house is a mess and as you rush around getting ready, you feel stressed about when you will have the time and energy to clear up. You notice a stain on your top (from little jam-covered hands) and need to change. You have asked your children 10 times already to put their shoes on, to no effect. You can feel your anger and stress levels rising as you start to shout…
There are no two ways about it, parenting can be hard –and relentless and exhausting. I have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, and I feel constantly pulled in different directions trying to meet their different needs, give them the attention they need and manage everything else in life too. We all have days where something along the lines of the above scenario features. For some parents however this becomes the norm, turning into an exhausting cycle which is difficult to break.
But, what is actually happening in the above situation? What is causing your temper and anxiety levels to soar? The answer is not, as it may seem, your child/ren, but the answer has everything to do with your response to the situation.
There are likely two key factors at play: Firstly, parenting practices which are not helping you manage the situation effectively, and secondly, the thoughts you have during the situation, which are the triggers of the negative feelings (such as anger and anxiety) which provoke your response to the situation.
Let’s look in more detail at these two elements:
There are many parenting practices which could be negatively affecting the situation, but a couple that I come across most often are:
- Not giving your child focused attention and feel of being in control. Many tantrums and general bad behaviour are due to kids wanting to assert some control, or trying to gain attention from you. Children need to feel that they have been given a generous dollop of your attention every day, (not while you also unload the dishwasher or check through Facebook) and that they have the power to make some decisions in their life. This can be as simple as letting them choose which T-Shirt they want to wear, or which brand of toothpaste they like to use.
- Issuing empty threats of punishments which you are not following through on. This confuses your child and leaves them feeling the need to push you further to test the boundaries.
How to better manage your responses: Your anger and anxiety response will very likely be because the situation has triggered an issue for you. To give an example, let’s go back to the scenario outlined earlier. All sorts of thoughts will be racing through your mind during this situation (many of which will be at a completely sub-conscious level) which are the trigger of your anxiety and anger. Some examples might be:
- My boss is going to give me that look again when I am late, which may escalate in your mind into thoughts about thinking you are no good at your job, or fear that you might lose your job.
- Why do my children never listen to me? I am an awful parent.
- My child is growing up without any respect for me.
- I have no control over anything and I can’t handle this situation.
Every situation is different, but by unpicking the thoughts and parenting habits which affect us, there are many parallels. Here are some tips that most parents will find can help them to better manage their anger and anxiety:
Become aware of your early warning signs: This might be a feeling of breathlessness, or a tightening in your chest or just feeling utterly exhausted. This is the time, before the high emotion starts and you become angry at your child, to take five minutes out.
Make the most of your time out: Manage your emotions.Go to another room away from the situation. You can tell your child that you are feeling upset/exhausted and need a few minutes to yourself. This demonstrates self-control and shows that you are managing your emotions, which is a good skill for your child to learn and develop.
Once away from the situation, try to distance yourself and see if you can work out the particular thoughts that might be triggering your body’s reaction. Once you have some distance and awareness of those thoughts, they will be less able to have such a strong effect upon you, both now and in the future. Ask yourself, ‘Is this really that big a deal? What different way can I react here?’.
Calm down your whole nervous system: The chances are you are living in a state of high adrenalin and your body isn’t having much chance to stop and experience rest, recovery and calm. Finding some time for yourself (I know how hard this is) – just 10 or 15 minutes a day – to practise meditation or mindfulness allows your body to reset and you will find it much easier to respond calmly.
Breathe: Breathing allows the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for relaxation and rest rather than adrenaline) to take over. Breathe in for three seconds, hold your breath for six seconds and then release your breath slowly for nine seconds. Repeat this for as long as you are able, but even a couple of deep breaths like this should help to calm and focus you.
There are many different coping techniques that can be helpful and if you have a few of these up your sleeve, you should find that not only are you better able to manage each situation, but that you feel more in control. It’s also likely that your child’s behaviour will improve as your way of handling situations improves, so a win-win all round!
About the author: Kate Mayor practises Cognitive Behavioural Therapy combined with Hypnotherapy in Edinburgh, helping parents overcome issues such as stress and anxiety, anger and low confidence. Find more from Kate at hypnosis-edinburgh.co.uk