Before having kids, you likely had visions of what you hoped to be like as a parent, and there’s a good chance that having patience with your little ones was high on the list. Then, of course, you had a kid or two and quickly realized that those beautiful little beings can somehow cause endless stress and frustration and, well, it’s easy to see how you have ended up losing your sh * t on those babies you love so much.
On a logistical level, you know that the patience payoff is huge. While children learn many things from their parents, emotional regulation is a major one, which means your child will likely end up mimicking how you manage your emotions. So, here’s where figuring out how to be patient with kids really comes into play. If you tend to lose your cool at the drop of a hat, there’s a solid chance your child will develop those same tendencies, especially if you direct your frustration at them and not just at other external forces. (Hello, slow-moving drivers and casual chit-chatters at school dropoff!)
Before you stress even more about how short-tempered you are (or perhaps have become since becoming a parent), it’s worth remembering that every single person on the planet loses their patience from time to time. It’s a normal, natural part of being a human – and that’s only magnified when you have kids, explains Terri Bacow, Ph.D., New York-based psychologist and author of Goodbye Anxiety.
Why Patience and Parenting Don’t Necessarily Go Hand in Hand
“Patience involves the ability to tolerate discomfort, annoyance, delay, or pain without complaining or losing your temper,” Bacow tells Scary Mommy. “It involves being even-keeled and not responding to provocation with reactivity. This is hard when parenting, since our children constantly provoke us without meaning to. ”
There’s no bones about it: Parenting can really suck. Between emotional labor, pure exhaustion, and the inability to have a single second to yourself, it’s an unrelenting – albeit awesome – job.
“Children often test parents ‘patience because they can be impulsive and exclusively focused on their own needs, while not taking into account their parents’ needs,” Bacow says. “The onslaught of demands can diminish a parent’s resources, which makes being patient more difficult. Sometimes it just feels like ‘too much’ and we ‘lose it’… often multiple times a day. ”
How to Practice Patience With Your Kids
Giving yourself a break will likely help you naturally develop more patience with those around you, including your kids. Explains Bacow, “The key thing is to remind yourself not to take their behavior personally. Often we interpret the provocations as intentional, while kids are just being kids – that is, they don’t even realize what they’re doing is so maddening. You will be less quick to anger if you have a moment of compassion for them and for yourself. ”
In those moments of sheer frustration, try and step back for a sec and check in with yourself: You’re human, too, so maybe you’re short-fused because you’re hungry, tired, under the weather, or are simply carrying a particularly heavy load on your own shoulders. Take a break if you can, ”suggests Bacow. Even just a minute or two away from the situation might help diffuse those white-hot feelings bubbling to the surface.
And when it comes to your kids, try and meet them at their level. Many times, behavioral issues or tantrums are the result of your child having a need but not having a way to express that need. Letting them know that you’re there for them and you’re listening might just be all it takes for both of you to reframe the situation internally and meet each other with softness.
As Bacow mentioned, it’s also OK to ask for help in ways large and small. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to climb every mountain alone. You’re only human, remember? When you find yourself losing patience with your kids, that’s when your support system – whether it’s a partner, friends or family members, babysitters, or neighbors – can come into play. Ask for whatever it is you need at that moment.
Help can also come in the form of professional help, both for you and your child. Don’t be ashamed about seeking therapy for any reason, but especially for the health and well-being of you and your children.
When you’re not in the heat of the moment, take stock of your triggers: What causes you to lose patience? If it’s, say, your kid constantly running late, how can you help prevent the lateness from happening in the first place? Writing it down can make it easier to acknowledge exactly what causes you friction that leads to frustration, instead of allowing the thoughts and feelings to build up and marinate in your brain all the time.
Then, make a plan: What does being a patient parent look like to you? Develop strategies that actually work for you. Maybe it’s taking a few deep breaths before you react. Maybe it’s distracting your child while you collect your cool. Maybe it’s hiring a babysitter or caregiver once a month or every other week so you have dedicated, on-the-calendar time for you to do whatever it is you want or need to do away from your kids. Any and all strategies that genuinely make sense for you are worth exploring, so give them a try.
All that said, start small and take baby steps towards patience. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, and you’re setting yourself up for failure if you’re too hard on yourself and your child. “If you lose your patience, that is fine too,” says Bacow. “You can always get it back! Repair and move on. The great thing about parenting is that you’ll have countless other instances to practice patience. ”
Terri Bacow, Ph.D., New York-based psychologist and author of Goodbye Anxiety