How to Keep Sane When the Going Gets Tough


Being a parent is certainly a challenging undertaking, especially since most children can push the boundaries and be emotionally-charged at times. Nowadays, it seems as if the concept of ‘good’ parenting is forever changing, depending on which expert is doing the talking. This is because the very context in which parenting takes place (our cultures, society and the global community), is in a state of constant flux…

While it certainly is a blessing to live in an age where information is so readily available, there is a flip-side to this golden coin. The result can be a parent that is overwhelmed, tired, unsure and lacking confidence. Unfiltered and contradicting information can paralyse instead of galvanise.

However, one thing has not changed… That little person standing in front of you who is throwing a wobbly because he is not getting whatever it is he so desperately wants. Young children the world over are more alike than different, and they all share the same uncanny ability to push the limits with relentless stamina at times – as if they are programmed to ‘go, go, go!’.

Another unchanging fact is that all children experience frustration from time to time. It may be caused by all sorts of things – not getting their way, not being able to get their body to do what they want, not being able to reach the chandelier from which they so badly want to hang… This is one of their jobs as children – to experiment with what is and what isn’t possible.

However, many parents today feel that they need to ‘protect’ their children from becoming frustrated, as if frustration in itself is a bad thing. They overlook the fact that frustration teaches children valuable lessons: how to be patient and to persevere. Being able to delay gratification is not inborn, it is a learned ability (and one that many adults can’t do too well either) – and it is an important factor in developing Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

Nowadays many well-intended parents try to give in to their children’s every whim in an effort to protect them from feeling frustrated. In the process, these parents become tired, overwhelmed, and quite frankly grumpy…

Sadly, when parents are noticeably emotionally battered, their children run a very high risk of experiencing intense feelings of guilt. And a child who is riddled with guilt and shame is far worse off than a child who is given the opportunity to learn to deal with the natural frustrations of everyday life!

Every parent will undoubtedly feel unsure, tired and overwhelmed at times. The road which parents walk is long and winding… But the good news is, whatever your parenting style or philosophy, there are six tried and tested steps and thoughts that you can keep in mind to help ground yourself emotionally – to keep you just a tad further away from slipping into a ‘bad place’ when you’re facing daily challenges with your little one:


Make Friends with Frustration

1. Stop seeing your child’s frustration as ‘bad’… Remember patience, perseverance and the ability to delay gratification are not inborn qualities, but learned skills (and “obedience” is not a four-letter word!).

2. Don’t feel guilty for being the ‘bad cop’ parent… If you’re worried that you’re the one who is always dishing out the discipline, don’t let the lure of being the ‘good cop’ push you off course. Children desperately need boundaries. Over the long haul they naturally gravitate towards adults who discipline and guide them in a nurturing, but firm way. It’s simply a part of their innate need to have structure in their lives.

3. Fight the urge to ‘give in’ so that your toddler leaves you in peace… There comes a point when parents are just too tired. So in an effort to maintain their sanity, they undermine months of hard work by giving in to their child just to get some peace and quiet. Sound familiar?


Make Friends with Yourself

4. Align your expectations with reality… Children are children after all. The sooner we all start talking about reality, the better. And toddlers specifically are little tornado’s of energy with very little life experience… 

Accept this. Understand that things will not run smoothly (most of the time). Accepting that your toddler is just ‘being a toddler’. Because a child is prone to make mistakes does not mean that you condone undesirable behaviour. But, acceptance makes it possible to guide and discipline a child with love instead of with anger.

5. Set firm boundaries… Exactly what these boundaries are is up to you. Some of the rules in your home may seem trivial to others – but if they keep you sane and grounded, go ahead and do what you need to do in order to keep yourself and your emotions on an even keel. A tired, frustrated, ‘empty’ parent is no good for a growing child.

6. Nurture yourself as a caregiver and parent… In order to give abundantly of yourself to your children, you must have a resource from which to draw. You cannot draw from an empty tank. If this means taking 30 minutes a day to help you re-charge, or a whole afternoon once a week, then so be it.

The bottom line is that frustration is a natural and normal part of life – not only for adults, but for children too. The key is to adjust expectations without condoning undesirable behaviour. Then you will be able to make choices and interact with your child from a place of confidence. Put boundaries into place in order to protect yourself from burn-out and your child from guilt. To parent in a way that makes you unhappy will also make your child unhappy – without a doubt.

When you learn to balance the self-sacrifice that naturally goes along with being a loving parent, with making parenting choices that make you happy, you are well on your way to becoming a more emotionally grounded parent. And this will give your child a better shot at being happy too. Let’s put first things first.

Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better

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