Have you ever lost your patience with your children? Yep, every parent has. It’s pretty common, but with the extra strain parents are under right now (and the few, if any, real breaks we’re getting), many of us are finding our “patience reserves” are running low. Learning how to keep your emotions in check can help you respond to stressful situations more appropriately, which in turn can prompt better behavior in your kids. The next time your tank starts to deplete, give one of these simple tricks a try.
Pre-plan for stressful times.
First, think ahead about those moments when you tend to lose your patience. Maybe it’s during a transition in your daily schedule, like when you’re trying to get everyone out the door or started on virtual school in the morning, or at bedtime when the kids fight sleep every step of the way. Or maybe you tend to get frustrated during times when you just need a little personal space, like during dinner prep or that moment when you’ve just walked in the door from work.
Instead of waiting until you’re in the situation, try talking to your child about it ahead of time so they understand what’s expected of them. It’s kind of like giving them both a “job” and independence, two things kids love, especially younger ones. Later, in the moments that tend to test your patience, it will be easier to reference a calm conversation you had about responsibilities you agreed on together.
For example, make a visual list together of all the things they need to do to get ready for bed, so you can just refer them back to the list instead of constantly reminding them that they need to brush their teeth. Similarly, knowing that the time when you’re making dinner is when they should do their homework, play with a puzzle, or take a bath helps tame expectations and minimizes the chance that they’ll inadvertently push your buttons while you’re busy or trying to regroup.
Jot down everything that’s bugging you.
Whatever your impatient self is tempted to say out loud, write down instead. If this means having a small notebook handy at all times, so be it, but scribbling on a nearby paper napkin works, too. The idea is to transfer that negative energy to the page instead of venting it towards your child. Putting it down on paper is like a release, and it may be just the thing you need to pull you out of that impulse to immediately respond in frustration. At the very least it should soften the blow.
Sometimes the stress we’re under can make kids’ regular, developmentally appropriate behavior—like being loud, whining, or begging you to play all day—zap our already thin patience. If that happens, try flipping the negative into a positive by saying “yes” to an alternate behavior that’s okay with you, instead of saying “no” or “stop” all the time. For example, try saying “use your inside voice” instead of “stop yelling!” or “Let’s have a jumping contest on the floor” instead of “Stop jumping on the couch!” Meeting a negative with a negative can exacerbate problems, making it harder to maintain your cool, whereas taking a more positive approach keeps moods higher and is better at ending the behavior you wanted to stop.
Be a comedian for a few minutes.
Channeling your inner comic is a great way to reduce tension. Did your kiddo accidentally spill the milk? “Scold” the milk for making a mess on your beautiful wood floors. Chances are it will make your kiddos giggle, which becomes contagious. Once you’ve diffused the situation, talk about how you might prevent spills next time, if it’s appropriate (sometimes it really was just an accident). This is a great way to teach your child that laughing things off is way better than making a huge stink about them. Plus, it’s easier to get your point across when everyone’s mood is lifted.
Turn up a favorite song.
Research shows music has the power to lift our moods, but many other sounds will do the trick, too. “Anything that makes you laugh or simply feel good is great—howling dogs and cute baby piggies are my go-to,” says Miami-based family therapist Tania Paredes, Ph.D. Once you’re feeling better, it’s easier to meet challenges and flip the script to something positive.
Many psychologists recommend that parents leave the room to catch their breath when their patience is about to run out, but Dr. Paredes recommends taking it further by stepping outside—or even just opening a window to sit by if you can’t leave the house. If you’re going to remove yourself from the situation and count to ten, you might as well get some fresh air while you’re doing it. “Even for just a brief moment, it’s a great way to reset,” she says. There’s plenty of research that shows being outdoors can improve your mood and reduce stress, even if it’s for just a few minutes.
Give your child a sign.
One mom told us on Facebook that she created a “Mom’s Energy” sign to let her daughter know how she’s feeling—a great idea for moms, dads, or any caregiver. Start by drawing a large cup on a piece of paper, then mark levels ranging from zero (way down at the bottom) to 10 (at the top). Zero represents when you’re out of energy (your cup is nearly empty) and you need a break, up to 10 when your energy levels are high (ensuring you have enough left for playtime, or whatever else your child might need from you). You can add a paperclip or other marker to the edge of the paper, and move it to reflect your status.
When patience is running low, letting your child know what level you’re at—“Mom’s at a yellow #5 right now”—can help trigger them to act accordingly. “It helps let [my daughter] know when I’m out of energy and need a break,” this mom shared. Modeling in this way can also help your kids to learn to notice when they need a break, too.
Your stress level might feel out of your control right now, but one thing we can control is our reaction to stressful situations. It might take some practice, but finding strategies for dealing fairly and positively with our kids will help us be the parents we want to be—even when our patience runs low.