If you clicked on the title to read this article, you are probably feeling frustrated. Tired. Defeated. Parenting can be tough, especially after this year of parenting in a pandemic. You’ve probably already read a lot of parenting and child development articles, blogs, and books. But even with all the expert recommendations, you still feel like you’re struggling with your child’s behavior. What now?
Here are six things you may want to consider or look at from a slightly different perspective.
Many undesirable children’s behaviors are developmentally appropriate. These behaviors are stressful for you, but appropriate for them. Children go through various growth spurts and developmental milestones. Some milestones are adorable, like blowing their first spit bubble or saying “mama” for the first time. But others are draining, like colic, teething, and explosive diarrhea. With everything they do, their bodies and their brains are growing at a rapid rate. Some children move through these stages effortlessly, while others fight that stage of development. Your child is not choosing to be difficult; they are seeking independence, control, and a desire to assert their voice. Reflect their wish or desire and help them feel heard and seen.
Remember that they are building skills and healthy habits. Many of our children’s challenging behaviors are a result of not knowing how to respond to others or their environment. It can also be the result of not practicing the healthier and more appropriate behaviors enough. Unfortunately for us and our adult brains, we don’t have a lot of patience with repetition. However, this is how our brains learn, especially a child’s brain. Repetition with the support of a loving and attuned other helps them file the new skill and the healthy habit until one day it clicks in place and they maintain the better approach. Be patient with the process and remind yourself they are always learning.
Practice self-compassion and mindfulness. Does this really work? Absolutely! There is evidence that supports being kind to yourself is important in reducing stress, level of anxiety, depressed mood, anger and frustration. Self-compassion elevates your self-esteem, self-concept, and the way you view your child. What does it look like? It involves saying kind words to yourself in those moments of possible rage (“My child doesn’t really hate me. She doesn’t like limits. Many people don’t. I am a fantastic parent.”) Staying present in the moment and allowing yourself time to enjoy being a parent and enjoying the little moments with your child can go a long way during those not-so-great moments. (Try practicing mindfulness with your children by doing belly breathing or making a mindfulness jar.)
Identify your parent triggers. We all have them. Parents, like anyone, desire to rest, to be nourished, and have quiet time. We also desire to feel significant, competent, appreciated, loved, and acknowledged for our efforts. When these needs aren’t met or aren’t met consistently in the way we would like, our children’s behaviors are more likely to frustrate us. Meet your needs. As you take care of yourself, you can more effectively take care of your children.
Monitor your parent mindset. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us had certain expectations of what parenting would be like, what our child’s personality would be, and how easy parenting would feel. You may be feeling disappointed with parenting not being quite what you expected. If that is your reality, you will be more likely to react to your child’s behaviors in ineffective and inconsistent ways. This can be quite confusing for children because they may not know what to expect from your reaction moment by moment, day to day. Remain consistent and see how your children’s behaviors change.
Know when to reach out for more help or support. Although many behaviors in which children engage are developmentally appropriate, there are other behaviors that are red flags for more serious concerns. This is not meant to scare you, but early identification and prevention are extremely important and lead to more positive outcomes. When a child is struggling with an issue that is beyond what they are developmentally able to handle, it will show up in many ways such as tantrums, long periods of isolation, moodiness, excessive tearfulness, school refusal, and clingy behaviors. If your child’s tantrums, reactions, or mood are causing significant stress in your home, and if you feel pulled beyond what you feel capable of handling or you don’t feel like yourself, it is time to reach out for more professional help.