I am generally a pretty calm, even-keeled person. I don’t get too worked up about many things in life. Except of course when my kids push my buttons. At a very young age they have found and acted on things that frustrate me and challenge my patience.
I am continually working on better managing my frustrations and anger. I want to be more patient with my kids. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this boat. I’ve put together some strategies that I use and have used over time that can help you be more patient with your kids.
13 Strategies to help be more patient with your kids
Know your triggers
What frustrates you? What do your kids do that causes your anger to well up? Your kids know your triggers, so it is important that you know them too. Understanding the issues and actions that cause you stress can help you to recognize when you need to start implementing strategies to find your inner peace. In my case, I can feel my stress levels start to rise when we are going to be late, my kids are being lazy or ignoring me.
Get enough sleep
I know this is laughable for many parents, especially if you have kids – like I do – who don’t believe sleeping through the night should be a thing.
Getting enough sleep helps to build our resilience and tolerance for dealing with frustration. you may not be getting the mythical eight hours of sleep per night. The good news is that is a made up number. Our sleep needs vary. Basically if you feel tired and need caffeine to function, then you probably need to get more slee. In our house I operate on less sleep and my partner requires more. I always find my temper is much shorter and my patience is more likely to be frayed before my kids start pushing back on days when I’m operating on less sleep.
Until recently I thought everyone breathed more or less the same. As it turns out some people take shallow breaths into their lungs and others breathe more deeply into their abdomen. I am a belly breather. I learned to breathe deeply as a teenager studying martial arts and playing the tuba. Unfortunately I was never able to accomplish both things at one time.
I think a tuba-playing ninja would be a terrifying opponent.
When we are stressed we tend to breathe faster and more shallow breaths. When you feel your stress levels rising, take a step back, pause and take 3-4 conscious deep breaths, drawing the air down into your belly and exhaling slowly. This will give you a break in the action and will help to calm your brain and slow your heart. The pause and moment of calm will help you to refocus and decide how you want to address the issue causing you frustration.
What is important to you and your family? Setting priorities as a family and understanding your personal priorities can help you move past the things that are unimportant. I know that one of my priorities personally is to get out the door on time. I also know that one of my triggers is when kids are actively working against my plans to be timely. Because this is a priority to me, I try to incorporate time for freak outs because socks feel funny, last minute changes and generally resistance to leaving the house so that we can be on schedule. Also I am working on trying to stop rushing my kids through life.
When you establish priorities as a family it provides an opportunity to also discuss consequences for not participating in achieving those priorities. If you decide it is important to keep your house clean and that everyone has a role to play in achieving that priority, then you might also decide on some consequences for people who don’t complete their assigned chores.
Identifying triggers and establishing priorities can help you to determine where consequences are required. They might be positive or negative consequences to encourage productive actions and discourage frustrating behaviours.
Setting the rules of the game helps to ensure that everyone knows the rules and outcomes if they choose to break the rules. This removes the stress of figuring out how to stop certain behaviours or put an end to a frustrating situation. If your child is misbehaving, remind them of the consequences if they don’t stop. If they don’t stop enact the pre-determined consequence. over time this will drive behaviour change. In our house for example whenever there is an instance of hitting, all three girls lose access to screen-time for half a day. It doesn’t matter who started the conflict. We don’t bother trying to sort it out. The result has been a significant reduction in the amount of physical conflict between my daughters.
Set realistic expectations
What kind of behaviour do you expect from your kids? What kind of behaviour do you expect from yourself? Do you account for a certain amount of freak out time when you are planning departure times or when an activity is going to start or stop? Do your kids need transition time – are you giving it to them?
You know your kids and how they behave. You know your triggers and some of the things that are likely to trigger your kids. It is hard to account for all of these things when you are planning and there are absolutely times when you will be on the receiving end of unexpected behaviours.
If you know that your kid is likely to actively resist putting on their boots when it is time to get ready for school, build extra time into your morning get ready for school routine. Start getting them ready ten minutes earlier so that you have time for some deep breathing while you help them put on their boots. Planning extra time will also help to reduce the stress you feel since you will will not feel as rushed.
Hugs and smiles
It is hard to be upset when you are smiling or hugging a kid. Depending on circumstances your kid might be willing to hug out whatever situation is taking place and challenging your patience. Some kids – like one of mine – are less likely to go for this idea. If your kid isn’t willing to participate in a hug, consider smiling to yourself. Even if you aren’t feeling it, pretend you are happy. Make sure the smile reaches the corners of your eyes. Smiling helps to produce endorphins which help us to relax and feel less stress.
How is your child feeling?
You are feeling stress and losing your patience – what about your kid(s)? How are they feeling? It can be hard to step out of your own overloaded emotions to focus on your kid and how they are feeling in that moment. I have found that, particularly in moments of conflict, I am better able to manage and find my own patience if I shift my thinking to probing how my kid is doing. Often the foundation of the conflict has little to do with what I thought it was.
In many cases my kid is resisting me asking them to do something because they had a rough day at school. Maybe a friend said something mean to them or wasn’t available to play at recess. Perhaps they didn’t do well in a test at school or are frustrated that they didn’t understand something at school.
Once we get at the feeling underlying the conflict it is much easier to work through that feeling – sometimes with some hugs. My frustration melts away when I am able to focus on what my kid needs and help them through whatever challenge they are dealing with. As a bonus I get a moment to feel like a successful parent before the next issue emerges.
Change the channel
Take a step out of the situation that is challenging your patience by telling a good dad joke, asking your kid about something unrelated, reading them a story or doing something ridiculous. If you have time, get down on the floor with your kid and play with them or do some colouring.
Changing the channel helps you to escape from whatever conflict is causing you stress. Engaging with your child in a different way will give you both space to breath and work around the issue that is trying your patience.
Take a picture or video
This was an approach that I have used a number of times to deal with temper tantrums. When all else had failed to help one of my kids get a tantrum under control I would opt to disengage and let them burn out the tantrum. Given that the tantrum trigger was often something small and ridiculous I would step back and treat it as ridiculous. I took pictures or videos and narrated what I was seeing. Sometimes it made my kid mad that I was taking a video, but it usually broke them out of the tantrum because of the change in focus.
Putting a camera between myself and the source of my frustration had the effect of distancing me from the situation. I became a bystander to an event instead of an active participant. Once my kid was ready to engage with me again instead of just screaming and flailing about I was calm and ready to talk rationally, hug or do whatever they needed.
Disengaging from an intense situation can help you to find mental space to recharge your patience and figure out next steps or a solution. You can also disengage by sitting down and reading a book or surfing the web, etc. Stepping out of the frustration will extend your capacity for patience.
Tense and relax
When I get stressed and lose patience my neck and shoulder muscles get tense and I start to clench my teeth together. Once I recognize those physical responses taking place I tense those muscles as much as I can, take a deep breath and breath out or through the muscle tension. I do this as often as necessary to relax those muscles. Relaxing those muscles gives me more capacity to be patient and wait out or work through the issue that is making me feel tense.
This option isn’t always available, especially for single parents. Sometimes you just need to walk away. Tell your partner you need to tag out and go do something else until you cool down. Tell your kid you need to leave the situation. Go and hide in the bathroom, basement or garage. Find something else to do that helps you release the stress. For me it is sanding wood.
When I feel all the tension in my neck and my brain is overloaded and I can’t tolerate any more and nothing else is working, I go to my workshop and sand wood. I feel productive because I am getting something done. Once I have removed myself from the situation I can feel the pressure start to release instead just building. The repetitive motion of sanding frees my brain to work through what got me to that point and what I could have done differently. If I come up with anything useful in that moment I will go and talk with my kid if it is a good time. Otherwise I either hang on to what I have learned to discuss the next day when we are all calm or I implement the lesson learned the next time around.
The most important thing is to leave the situation before it gets out of hand and you do or say something that you come to regret.
It is tiring being a parent, and not just because kids don’t let you sleep through the night. Kids are demanding most of the time. If they are not physically demanding something from you, they can be mentally exhausting when we spend so much of our time thinking about them and their needs. It is important to take care of you and meet your own demands.
Making time for your interests will make you a better parent. Going to the gym, making crafts, singing, doing word puzzles and even sanding wood will build your reserves and your raise your threshold of patience. Find time to look after yourself and do something you enjoy where you don’t also have to respond to the demands of your kids. This time will help to recharge your batteries and help you cope the next time things aren’t going as well as you had hoped.
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Just Be Patient!
If I had a dollar for every time I said that to one of my kids… We all get impatient, kids included. It is normal. How you manage yourself in the face of issues that test your patience is what matters. None of us particularly enjoy yelling at our kids. None of us enjoy the tension and frustration that we carry after a stressful encounter with our kids.
There are strategies that work to help manage stress and be more patient with your kids. It is unlikely that the same strategy will work every time with every kid. You will need to use a variety of strategies depending on the situation. You will likely need to use a combination of strategies to find your inner peace, or at least avoid doing anything that might damage your relationship with your child. Test these ones out, see what works for you.
If you have any other strategies that you use and might be helpful for other parents to try, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. We can all learn from one another.