Staying Patient

January 7th, 2011 by Dionna | 21 Comments
Posted in Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity, Strive for Balance

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sad preschooler sits with hands on his faceLet’s be honest: toddlers and young preschoolers can wear on even the most patient person’s nerves. From the constant questions (“why?” “wat dat?” “where mama go?”) to the wild mood swings and outbursts, life with one to three year old kids can be difficult. But screaming back at your angry two year old is not going to help him learn how to handle his difficult emotions. Telling your heartbroken three year old to stop crying and “get over it” after she spills her ice cream is not going to make her feel better about the ice cream or herself. Smacking your twenty month old’s hand for pulling the cat’s tail does not teach him how to give gentle touches.

Here are a few tips for staying patient with your child (this doesn’t just apply to toddlers and preschoolers, but those are the ages I am most familiar with).

1. Be Silly and Play: Play is a child’s “main way of communicating, of experimenting, and of learning.”1 Play is such an important part of children’s lives that there is an entire therapeutic technique based entirely on play.2 And not only is it important to get regular play time in with your child, but you can also avoid arguments and stress by being silly and playing with your child when you foresee a problem. I recommend reading Dr. Cohen’s book Playful Parenting for more ideas in this area.

2. Try Alternatives to “Punishment”: Rather than resorting to immediate “punishment” or “consequences,” take a few minutes to cool off before addressing your child when you are angry. Hitting your child, humiliating him with harsh words, threatening him, or calling him names all leave emotional scars. Instead of punishment, try making a connection. Your child is more likely to understand and communicate when they are not cowering in fear of a scary, angry parent. Give your child a hug, pull him aside, and talk quietly -without judgment – about what happened. You are more likely to get to the root of the problem by connecting with your child than you are while smacking him.3

3. Sing Instead of Shout: Similar to the idea of being playful, try singing your requests instead of shouting them. You may get your child’s attention faster by asking “please pick up your shoes before I trip and break my neck!” in a singsong voice than by saying (for the umpteenth time) “get in here and pick these shoes up right now young lady!”

4. Try a Change of Scenery: Boredom is rarely conducive to happiness and cooperation, so if you’ve been stuck in the same house or routine, get out and do something different.

5. Remind Yourself That It’s Age Appropriate: Sometimes all it takes to calm us down is a simple reminder that your children are not trying to make you crazy, they’re just being kids. Toddlers cannot help expressing big emotions – they simply do not have the tools yet to manage them. One year olds aren’t trying to kill themselves by climbing the bookcase or sticking fingers in the light socket – they just haven’t learned what is dangerous. It is our responsibility and privilege to help children as they learn. Would we rather our child’s experiences growing up be filled with gentleness, love and respect, or fear, self-doubt and shame?

6. Identify Your Triggers: Take notice of the times you feel the most stressed out and what can calm you down. Do you need more alone time? Do you feel better after visiting with a friend? Do your batteries recharge during small playgroups? Can you chill out while volunteering? Are you getting adequate nutrition? Parents must take care of themselves too.

7. Adjust Your Expectations: Are you holding on to expectations that are no longer realistic? Our children are always growing and changing – they will drop naps, they will develop their own preferences, they will constantly challenge us. Make sure that you are not expecting too much (or too little!) of your child. And remember that parenting does not equal control. If you are always trying to control your child, you will only be disappointed and frustrated, and your relationship with your child will suffer.4

8. Tell Your Child How You Feel: Are you angry? Frustrated? Tired? Share your feelings! Children need help identifying feelings in themselves and others. They also need to know that their actions affect others. Be careful, though, not to say “you are making me angry” – your child is not in control of your emotions, you are. It is not your child’s fault you are angry. Try “Mama is feeling angry that the paint spilled all over the carpet. I will have to spend time cleaning it up now, and I am disappointed because I will miss my book club meeting. I would appreciate your help getting some towels so we can start cleaning up.” A good resource for this concept is Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

9. Remember that “This Too Shall Pass”: If all else fails take a deep breath and repeat these words: “this too shall pass.” Your child won’t be two (or three or four) forever. This beautiful little one screaming in the next room will grow up too fast. These difficult days will be a fleeting (and precious) memory.

10. Adjust Your Expectations: So often when we get angry, it helps to take a moment to realize that our children’s behavior is either a) entirely age-appropriate; or b) not meant to annoy us. Remember not to expect behavior that is outside of your child’s current ability level, otherwise, you will both be frustrated. Likewise, do not automatically assume that your child is “misbehaving” or trying to irritate you: often, when we take a minute to get on our child’s level and understand her intentions, we understand that she is having a joyous learning experience. Be a part of her experience rather than becoming impatient. For more on this topic, read “Assuming the Best Intentions” and “Tips to Help Parents Assume the Best Intentions,” both on Hobo Mama.

What tips do you have for being patient with your young children? Please share in the comments!

Photo Credit: LilGoldWmn

This post has been edited from a version previously published at API Speaks.

  1. Playful Parenting at 4
  2. “Play therapy is a technique whereby the child’s natural means of expression, namely play, is used as a therapeutic method to assist him/her in coping with emotional stress or trauma.” Play Therapy, Tom McIntyre
  3. Playful Parenting, Chapter 13
  4. I just read a great post on adjusting expectations at Becoming Mamas, click over and read “You Should Know Better!

21 Responses to:
"Staying Patient"

  1. Analytical Armadillo   An_armadillo

    Love this article, have shared.
    I would also add to this – assess your expectation. I was reading something recently totally unrelated to parenting that explored what makes us angry. Most often it is someone/something not fulfilling our expectation. Therefore asking yourself whether you have realistic expectations over the situation I find can be helpful. It’s really funny reading what often pushes new mums over the edge (and would have me at one point) would be something that wouldn’t phase me now one iota – all due to changing expectations I expect….

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      You are SO right – I’m absolutely adding that to the list!! Thank you so much for the idea, and for sharing :)

  2. Thanks for the reminder. I have NEVER EVER been a patient person so parenting has proven to be quite challenging in that respect. Last week I was not feeling like the girls and I were “in-sinc” and out of the blue I started being goofy with them. Was putting their shoes on to get out of the car and started pretending the shoe was a hungry monster that need to eat their feet. They loved it and we were all laughing.

    Since then I have tried to do at least one thing silly and fun with them a day and it has really helped. I actually feel like they are listening to me even when I am not being silly, more so then before, actually.

    I have Playful Parenting on my Kindle and plan to read it as soon as I finish the book Im reading right now.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      It’s funny how often I forget to be silly, but it almost *always* works!! (Ok, it almost always worked when Kieran was 2, I think now that he’s 3 silly might prove less of a cure-all, but we’ll see ;))).
      You will love Playful Parenting – it is my favorite!!

  3. Great tips! I saw Naomi Aldort speak at the LLL conference last fall and she was great. I have her book but have yet to read it — must get on it because I think it would be really useful for me! I struggle with how to share my emotions with my girls — I want to express my feelings but also don’t want them to feel they have power to control them. That example is really helpful!

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I really like Aldort’s book, but I would encourage people (esp. people who might be from a more traditional discipline background, like I am) to not lay it down after the first chapter or two. Her philosophy was a lot to take in, but once I got to the meatier parts, I really liked them.

  4. Sarah MacLaughlin   sarahmaclaugh

    Very, very good suggestions. Also, having another person (partner, friend, etc) to process with. We need to be listened to as well!

  5. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I have realized recently that I have a lot of expectations about what my nearly 6-year-old ‘should’ do. And as long as I hold on to that story that she SHOULD be this way or SHOULD do that, I become frustrated easily. When I let it go, voila! It’s like magic.

  6. Stephanie B. Cornais   mamaandbabylove

    Great post, Dionna!

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I swear, I can always draw correclations from articles like these and books like Unconditional Parenting, to my marriage. I think all of these can work as ideas for ways to interact with your partner better, especially number 10!

    • Olivia   OliviaStreaterL

      I definitely agree!! Staying patient helps me have more harmonious relationships alround… when I manage it (which is definitely not all the time)!

  7. Great article. Without a doubt, wonderful advice, as its all been tried and tested at my house! I have to say, even when I’m feeling my maddest, just dropping everything to go outside works wonders. So does being silly. I feel my frustration or impatience or whatever melt away with our giggles when I get silly with Everett. It may take some practice for some parents to let go of being mad but being silly and reconnecting REALLY DOES WORK!

  8. Just typed a long response and it vanished… I really needed this article this morning. My 23 month old is changing fast just when I thought I had parenting her ‘figured out’. Ha! It is hard to be patient and tolerant all the time when my nerves and emotions are so raw with my dad’s illness, mom in hospice care with little time left with cancer both out of state, husband working 14 hour shifts this next 6 day/night, new city with few friends etc. I find I have been pushed almost past my limit. I plan to be much sillier with her today if I can just recall how! I love the shoe monster idea as well as the reminder to practice this with my marriage also.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I’m sorry your comment got lost – that is so frustrating!
      I’ve heard that right around the half-year and year marks, kids get a little more challenging – so hopefully the “this too shall pass” will hold true for you. That being said, you are in such a stressful situation – are you taking care of yourself too? I’m sure that your little one is just soaking up your stress and sadness. Maybe you could arrange to have a consistent day every week that you two could just relax and enjoy each other’s company? It must be so hard to find the time.
      You and your family will be in my thoughts!

      • Thank you. I am trying to take care of myself, with my husband on shift work it is hard to find consistent moments and I find myself wearing thin. I am taking someone elses suggestion to think about when I am most vulnerable to feel that way, write it down and try to ‘schedule’ a way around it, to try to preempt it. Sadly, Curious George on PBS is my best friend right now as I have no child minders who are safe to watch her. J’s parents are close but they persist in trying to hand smack and belittle her in ways that are ‘normal’ parenting here….. they love her dearly but just won’t listen to us. Anyways off to make that list!

    • I just wanted to wish you my best while you go through this incredibly hard time. My grandmother died recently and I did a lot of crying (and not being as patient as I could be) in front of my toddler. I tried to explain why I was sad in developmentally appropriate ways, but of course then all she wanted to talk about was what was making me sad. I tried to remember to have patience with myself, even when I lost it, it wasn’t the end of the world, and she and I would recover.
      Good luck.

      • I am sad to hear of your loss Shannon. Thank you for your encouragement and wisdom. I need to take to heart that I need to be patient with me and that even when I lose t E and I will recover. This season will pass. We found out about Moms cancer right before E was born, it was a rare triple negative in stage 4 and the prognosis even then was grim, a kind so rare there are no research funds going into curing it.. it led to preeclampsia and many complications that turned my homebirth into a csection. But I learned that I internalize my pain and stress without knowing it! So this whole time of having Ellie has been full of grief, sadness, stress, etc. I hope it does not mark her for life. Everyone says she is so sweet and so happy always smiling. It worries me though. We don’t expect my Dad to live much longer than Mom. So E will possibly lose both her grandparents whom she asks to talk to daily on the phone and begs to go bye bye jeep to.
        Patience I think is the hardest virtue, a work in ourselves always in progress.

  9. The best thing I did for being more patient with my toddler was identifying my trigger points. Lunch time and right before nap time are the hardest for me to be in control, so I try to make sure lunch time isn’t late, and force myself to be more patient before naptime.
    There was an article in the most recent Mothering magazine about teaching your children deep breathing techniques, and since that is one of the things that has most helped me with emotional control, I started describing to her more of what I was doing, and also suggesting it as an option whenever she loses it. So far she just wants to pant like a doggy, which isn’t really deep breathing, but it does seem to help her.

  10. Chrystal @ Happy Mothering   HappyMothering

    I definitely need this reminder lately! I am juggling so many things right now and the girls are both at challenging ages (32 months and 11 months), so sometimes I just find myself wanting to break down. When that happens it does help to just drop what I’m doing, go to their play room with them and just play for a bit. I can just sit there and cool down and they have my attention… everyone’s happy!

  11. Tat   muminsearch

    I’ve retweeted this post, it has some great reminders for everyone. Turning the desired behaviour into a game definitely works for me, as well as taking a few breaths before responding. I will try singing out my request next time, I wouldn’t have thought of that :)

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