Keeping You Cool When Your Kids are Driving you Crazy
We’ve all said it at one point or another, “My kid is driving me nuts!”
There’s this moment in time when you’re staring off into space, chaos ensuing around you and you’re thinking that this is for sure the moment you lose your mind.
It’s during these moments where mom guilt can hit hard. I think most moms can agree that they want to genuinely enjoy their kids. No one likes getting annoyed with their kids or feeling like motherhood is just an 18-year long span of stress. So how do you handle difficult behavior without absolutely losing your marbles over it? How do you keep that spark of joy when parenting isn’t exactly joyful at the moment?
If you’re waving your white flag of surrender yelling “Help! These kids are driving me crazy!” I have an interesting outlook that might help.
This will work regardless of your parenting style and choices, actually, it’s probably the key component in most of these techniques. The key here is separating your parenting and discipline from your emotions. It helps to stop viewing their behavior as a personal attack and letting it influence your mood.
Usually, when it gets to the point that I'm feeling like I should check into an insane asylum it also means it’s gotten to a point where my son’s behavior is now dictating my emotional state. Essentially I’ve handed the control over to him and my own behavior is easily swayed based on his decisions. For example, the louder he screams, the more irritated I get and louder and sharper my directions to him become.
How do you know if you’re letting them play Russian roulette with your feelings? If you begin thinking in terms of “why are you doing this to me?” why don’t you ever behave for me” or “I’m asking you to listen to me just this once” then it’s a pretty good indicator that you’re starting to internalize their behavior.
And leaving the fate of your peace of mind in the hands of a kid/teen? Risky business.
I know what you're saying, “No lady, you don’t understand. This kid just will not behave. It's tantrums left and right, he’s bored, he’s angry, she won’t stop whining, she talks back every two seconds- of course, I'm stressed! If they just stopped then I wouldn’t be so dang stressed out!”
I hear you! I do. But an interesting quote that puts it into perspective? It’s our job as parents to calm their chaos, not join in on it. The last thing a rampaging toddler needs is for mom to lose her cool too. If you have a sassy teen? Snapping back your own sassy retort just fans the flame. You add into their chaos and in some cases might even reinforce it. Children are made to test and they learn through trial and error. So if they see they can easily push your buttons by screeching, like the little scientists they are, they’ll keep doing it to test their theory. How much longer can I scream until she gives in? If I do X will it result in Y or Z, and so on and so forth.
Of course, we all have our moments however! It's much easier said than done to not let their less than stellar behavior get under your skin. But practice makes this perfect (well, perfect-ish) and the more mindful you are about letting them dictate your own mood and behavior, the easier it is to grab back the controls.
So why is this even important?
- Like I mentioned earlier, staying in check with your own emotions is key for almost any parenting technique to succeed. For example, Allana Robinson describes “planned ignoring” for stopping attention seeking behavior. She gives some excellent points on how to do this effectively without isolating or shaming your child (you can check out the full article here). But the key here is you also being able to maintain your composure. If not, then your strategy is in danger of falling apart.
- Staying in control of our own emotions help us stay consistent as well. I don’t know about you but when I start losing it, I start throwing out random “consequences” just hoping something will stick. Illogical consequences have very little effect on children and when we're unable to follow through, it makes the situation worse. So pretending like you're going to have them talk to Santa might put you in a sticky situation when they call your bluff and wait for you to dial up Mr. Clause. When we start losing our own tempers, we start making irrational decisions in terms of discipline and more often than not, this is ineffective in stopping the intended behavior.
- It can be detrimental to your relationship with your child if you’re internalizing their behavior. If you’re constantly letting their choices dictate if you’re happy or not then it can easily turn into resentment. It sounds harsh but it’s true. Instead of planning a fun family outing that you’re thrilled about, you’ll be focused on if this is even a feasible trip without some sort of public showdown. After enough of those thoughts, you might start feeling a little bitter that you can’t enjoy time outside the house because of it.
- It can harm your own well-being. I’m always harping on how important it is for moms to take care of themselves so they can better care for their children. Stress has a way of sapping all the energy out of you and if you’re constantly letting your child’s behavior negatively affect you, your health and mental well-being can start being impacted. Mommy survival mode especially sneaks in when we’re letting external circumstances control our inner peace. I describe mommy survival mode as scooping water out of a drowning boat, and you can think of those external circumstances as giant waves. The more they hit you, the more water fills up in your boat.
So with all that being said, it all sounds good and dandy, but how do we actually stay in control of our own emotions when our kids are driving us nuts? Especially during exceptionally challenging behavior?
First things first: ditch the mom guilt. It happens. We get stressed and tired and overwhelmed and frustrated. We try out some techniques that work and some that fail miserably. That’s 1,000 (and 1)% okay.
2. In a book I read by Janet Lansbury, she describes how she uses visualizations to keep herself mindful about her own emotions when dealing with her child’s behavior. I personally like to do this as well and my favorite thing to visualize is an anchor. There’s a storm coming and I need to be the steady chain to keep us from being swept away by it. She also described being a superhero that can effectively shield herself from being influenced by the child’s behavior.
You can also try creating a phrase or a mantra to repeat to yourself. “I am unrattled, not bothered, and will not be swayed by my child’s behavior.” Remind yourself that you’re 100% capable of taking care of your child and one bad moment is not reflective of their whole life.
3. Remember you are an individual and so are they. I’m sure you’ve seen the quotes that you can’t control people’s actions but you can control how you react to them? Most people apply this to a jerky ex-boyfriend but I like to think this extends to every relationship dynamic, including between mothers and children. At the end of the day, you can’t control your child’s decisions, you control the consequences to them, and from there they learn if that’s something they’d like to repeat or not.
4. Stop caring about people’s opinion. This one is hard. Everyone has an opinion and seems to be an expert when it comes to disciplining your child and it can be hard to ignore those judgmental stares (and some audacious enough to whisper). At the end of the day, however, that’s your child and they’re just outside spectators. When we start getting self-conscious about what other people are thinking we change our thought process from “my child needs me to help them work through this” to “why is my child embarrassing me in public” and BAM, we start internalizing their behavior and the mood swinging begins.
I made an observation once that for some reason my parenting style became more authoritarian in public. I knew it stemmed from wanting to put on a show. I felt the need to convince the other people looking at me (or my perception that they were) that I was indeed parenting and as a result, I strayed from my original parenting beliefs on more than one occasion. I had to learn to stop caring and stick to my guns about what was the right approach for my child.
A perfect example being a grocery shopping disaster. In the store my son had an epic meltdown; a no-holding-back, mini tyrannosaurus rex kind of meltdown. I knew that I was expecting waaay too much from him (that was our 4th store for the day and he was exhausted, bored and hungry) but for some reason, I decided to take my chances anyway. Obviously, it didn’t go well. An older lady approached us as I was trying to get him out of the aisle and decided she’d give it a go and cooed and baby talked at him for a second which just resulted in him getting louder. I politely tried to dismiss her but she was insistent and gave it a second go. I was already flushed with embarrassment and now it was becoming a scene. Her second attempt failed just as miserably. I managed to scoop him up and again politely dismissed her with the “Oh, it’s time for a nap” line and hustled off.
I had to hustle on back since I left my backpack in the cart I abandoned. As I approached I heard her telling someone how kids lack discipline these days and something about young mothers not having enough backbone to teach manners.
Unfortunately, my first reaction was towards my son. *insert sad face* I thought “why couldn’t you just say hi to the lady instead of being so rude?”. Then I grew frustrated because he was still wiggling around in my arms crying and I had to see this lady again. As I grabbed my bag though my son gave a huge yawn and I snapped out of my own feelings. I was embarrassed, sure but she had no idea about the events that led up to his meltdown and my son wasn’t “out to get me”. I just needed to compose myself and go take care of my baby.
Moments like these, when you're feeling the weight of someone else's judgment, can make it very easy to take their behavior as a personal attack on yourself. It's important to be aware when you're letting outside influences direct how you deal with their behavior.
5. Have a plan of action. If you know there are certain triggers and common behaviors your child exhibits, prepare for it ahead of time. This helps keep you from feeling caught off guard and trying to decide what actions to take under pressure. Feeling like you’re prepared can also help you from having your own feelings ruffled by their behavior.
Example: if you know your child has a hard time leaving the park, develop a plan of action for when you have park visits. Give a 10-minute warning before you leave. Verbally tell them it’s time to go. If they choose not to, you can lead them to the car. Have a prepared list of consequences for if they choose to run from you or argue about leaving. What will be their consequence if they force you to have to physically carry them to the car? By having a plan of action you help keep yourself in control, as well as stay consistent which is crucial when it comes to discipline.
6. Ask for help. Being a single mom doesn't mean you have to be a lonely mom. When you find that you're consistently having a hard time with internalizing your child's behavior it might be time to call in backup.
And the last and final tip? Ditch perfection. There will be times when you do get overwhelmed or swayed by their behavior. They will drive you insane. Sometimes we lose our cool and our temper. Extend yourself some grace when this happens and embrace it as a learning opportunity.