Many of us struggle with being patient with our children, and for good reason. Children are unpredictable, sometimes erratic, and most importantly, they’ve figured out how to push our buttons. But there is some good news: you can improve your patience in parenting. It’s true —but it’s not a quick fix. Becoming a patient parent takes time and intentional practice. Think of it as training for another long-term endeavor–a marathon.
How is becoming a patient parent like training for a marathon? For starters, they both require a lot of repetitive work and a bit of long-term thinking. In a marathon, the runner must focus on a long-term mindset and coping strategies that work for the whole 26.2 miles, like breathing techniques or pacing, not just short-term solutions. Thinking in a short-term mindset can turn a minor problem into a larger one. For example, if you are running a sprint, a small blister on your toe is manageable. You can push through the temporary pain for a short duration. In a marathon, however, that small blister can quickly turn into a large, painful sore.
The same is true for parenting. Short-term focused solutions for being patient with your kids might work temporarily. Ideas like counting to 10 or taking deep breaths to control your temper might work for a few moments of parenting. But will they work for the marathon that is parenting? When you are in the marathon of parenting, these short-term coping strategies are like putting a bandaid on that blister–they only work momentarily, but that sore spot is likely to become a bigger problem.
Marathon-thinking strategies require looking beneath the surface to uncover the real reasons why losing patience with your kids has become a regular challenge.
Why Can’t We Be More Patient?
When we lose our temper with our kids, it’s easy to start pointing blame. It’s just human nature. When we do something we regret, our first instinct is to look for a way out by blaming others. Some of us point the finger at ourselves and berate ourselves for being a “bad parent.” Others tend to point the finger at our kids and blame their misbehavior for triggering our temper.
What if we dig a bit deeper? What if the real root of the problem has to do with issues circulating just below the surface?
We all know parenting can be stressful, but we may not consider how the other stressors in our lives influence our parenting. Imagine this kind of morning: you sleep through your alarm, you are rushed to get ready on time, your child has a tantrum while getting dressed for school, and they spill their milk at breakfast. By the time you get to the car, the stress of the first few hours of the day has already set you on edge. You lose your temper when your child tells you they forgot their homework at school, so they didn’t complete it last night. When we look at a situation like this, we quickly realize the cumulative nature of stress. It wasn’t just the fact that your child left their homework at school; it was all these other stressors adding up throughout the morning.
This idea of cumulative stress is helpful to consider when thinking about our reactions in parenting situations. Many psychologists use the image of a cup to illustrate this point. Our stress tolerance is like an empty cup. Each stressor or emotional upset that happens fills our cup just a bit. If we don’t monitor our internal “cup,” it can easily become full and even overflow. When this occurs, we are likely to lose patience and yell at our kids to release some stress (i.e., empty the cup).
Action Tip for Patient Parenting
The key is to monitor your stress tolerance cup carefully. If you feel the stress building up, it’s time to take a break, practice some self-care, or find a healthy way to empty your “cup.” Two easy ways to practice self-care are with exercise or meditation.
Of the list below, what is your preferred way to care for yourself?
- Time alone
- Reading or journaling
There is no perfect answer to coping with stress. Whatever practices help you to cope with the emotions and process them can help release stress.
Fatigue can affect our parenting in similar ways. Although fatigue itself is a form of stress, it has its own unique effect on our brains. Fatigue is associated with declines in cognitive performance, especially related to executive functioning skills like planning, inhibiting responses, and attention. Although not surprising to many parents, research has shown that tired parents tend to be less patient. While under a fatigued state, parents are much less likely to exhibit positive language when trying to encourage their child to, for example, do a task. When we are tired, the “please” and “thank you’s” tend to disappear from our language. From there, demanding and yelling can sneak in quite easily.
Action Tip for Patient Parenting
As hard as it can be at times, prioritize sleep when you can. Certain phases of parenting inherently come with sleep deprivation (newborn months!), but other stages hopefully allow for a bit more rest. In a world that values productivity above everything, sleep is sometimes considered a luxury. It’s not a luxury; it’s essential maintenance, and more importantly, improves your health. Parents shouldn’t feel guilty for resting when they need it, even if that means putting kids’ activities aside for a bit.
Stress and fatigue are two underlying factors that often challenge a parent’s patience with their kids.
But what if you’ve addressed these two issues but still find yourself losing your temper? Time to dig a bit deeper and return to that marathon mindset as you search for more answers.