The Key to Parenting with Patience
I am momentarily deaf. My toddler is screaming so loudly that I’m afraid the neighbours will come out to check on us. I look around to be sure that there aren’t in fact people peering at us over the fence, wondering if something is horribly wrong.
It isn’t. She’s not hurt. There’s nothing physically wrong. Oh but she’s having some big feelings. She wants something her older sister has and when you’re two years old it is very hard to wait your turn. Moments earlier I was standing holding her, comforting and empathising. Deciding to sit with her appears to have been the wrong move. My ears are ringing as she screams at me to stand up while also trying to hit me, the anger inside her escaping. I know that I need to stay calm.
I want her to calm down. Right now I would like to make her stop! I could make her sister give her what she wanted, that would stop it. I could give her ‘time out’ in her room, that might eventually stop it. But I won’t do these things.
When she is grown I want her to feel capable of dealing with disappointments. I want her to know her feelings are always ok and there’s no need to squash them down or make them go away. Those skills don’t develop without practice. What she needs right now is my help. I need to help her practice regulating her emotions.
I know exactly how to do that in theory, but the reality, well that can be hard can’t it? You have all these great ideas, you’ve read so much about peaceful parenting, it all makes so much sense, but when it comes to putting it in to practice… it feels hit and miss. Sometimes you are cool, calm, and collected and you see how beautifully it works out when you are able to stay calm. Other times you just can’t find your patience! Or you lose it half way through when the crying goes on and on and on.
I feel my patience wearing thin on this day. It’s been 25 minutes and she’s still crying and yelling just as much. I’m acknowledging her needs, ‘it’s so hard to wait, you really wish it was your turn now’. I’m empathising, ‘I can hear that you’re very angry and upset’. I’m blocking any hits and protecting my personal boundaries, ‘I won’t let you hurt me’. I’m physically comforting her. But nothing seems to be working.
After 30 minutes she falls asleep in my arms, which is just as well as her baby sister is starting to get grumpy and wanting me to pick her up too. I go to put her in bed…and she wakes. The crying starts again. I pick her up in a huff. This is the moment things could go one of two ways. I can resume what I was doing before, or I can let my frustration get the better of me. Even as an adult it’s hard to deal with our frustration and anger, especially when we’re expending all of our mental energy helping someone else deal with their feelings. What I really need is someone to empathise with me! To acknowledge my feelings!
So that’s what I do. I be that person for myself. Instead of reacting to my frustration without thought, I acknowledge it. Yeah, that’s right, I talk to myself, in my mind.
‘This is really frustrating’
‘This isn’t going how I expected. I feel frustrated when things don’t go to plan. I thought she would stay asleep’
I’m holding both my 2-year-old and 7-month-old now. Both of them are crying.
‘This feels really hard’
Somehow, just being mindful of these feelings takes the power out of them. They don’t suddenly burst from me without warning. I can acknowledge them without acting on them. I recognise that I feel frustrated and that this situation is hard for me, I know that I need to calm myself. Instead of automatically reacting, simply acknowledging how I feel helps me slow things down and I’m more likely to be able to stay calm.
My 7-year-old comes into the bedroom where we are sitting and I am cuddling my two youngest. She asks if I need some help and offers to play with her baby sister while I hold my 2-year-old. She comments ‘She is really having a hard day today isn’t she Mum? Poor girl. It’s ok to cry‘ and I am reminded of the benefits of being mindful of my emotions and reactions. When I can stay calm, I can show them empathy and understanding. They, in turn, grow up to pass on that gift to others.
Eventually the crying stops, and her body relaxes. She gets up and wanders off to do some drawing with her sisters. That was hard, but it was worth it. She knows her feelings are important to me and that I will always be here to help her. And I feel good that I was able to remain patient.
Today I needed to stay calm, and I did.
Thank you! Needed this this evening, it’s Sunday here and I’m already a little dreading tomorrow, my kids seem to get so hyped up with the fun on the weekends that Monday’s are challenging, im getting to a point in my pregnancy that it’s hard to physically lift my little 2yr old chunk of emotion, and she cries harder if I try to sit and comfort her…..
Oh I remember that! Thinking of you tomorrow xx
Thanks Sara –
my four year old struggles with intense emotions daily.
I think this technique would be useful for me but I’m wondering how you remind yourself, initially, to slow down and acknowledge your feelings in the intensity and stress of the moment when your instinct is to react?
I think it’s just practice. And trying to do it at the beginning instead of starting by the time you’re way too frustrated! 🙂 You could also try having something to remind you… a note on the fridge, a piece of string around your wrist or something.
I’m going to write some post-it notes and give it a go.
Thanks for a lovely post!
I have a related question, about setting limits during a child’s melt-down. I totally agree with “I won’t let you hurt anybody,” but hitting isn’t usually the problem with us. What my seven-year-old resorts to when she’s in the middle of a tantrum is unkind words, usually directed at her five-year-old sister. I can’t physically prevent her from saying them. I could try to take her away from the scene of the conflict with me, so that her sister would be out of earshot, but that isn’t often practical, especially because my 5-year-old and 2-year-old get nervous when their sister is upset, and want to be closer to mama rather than farther away.
The problem is slowwwwwly, slowly getting better as my eldest gets older and gains more self-control, but we’re clearly not at the end of this road yet, and I don’t like my middle child having to listen to the unkindness in the meantime… I would so appreciate any advice! In any case, your post will help me not to lose my patience with her while it’s happening.
I get caught out with this not knowing what to do either! You’re right, we can’t MAKE anyone do anything. I tend to say something like ‘I can tell you are feeling really angry. It’s ok to feel angry. Please try to speak kindly/respectfully. Let’s take a minute to calm down before we work this out’ Then ask what would help them calm down…a hug, breathing, jumping up and down, some space etc
I might also point out (or, even better, encourage the five year old to express) if possible, that she doesn’t like hearing unkind words. It might be best to wait until later, when the 7yo is calm, and reflect on ‘the time earlier today, when your sister was cross, how was that for you?’. There’s something about hearing the consequences of our words or actions on other people that can sometimes help us develop the resolve to change the way we react. If my 5yo was able to express her negative feelings (with or without help) then it might be her time to get some hugs and attention. I always think it must be hard to watch a child displaying behaviour you don’t like still getting hugs from a parent. When I’ve tried this in the past I have seen some genuine remorse on the part of my 7yo…for me a genuine ‘sorry’ which emerges in a situation like this is worth a thousand ‘forced’ sorrys….xxx
I think – much as I wish it weren’t the case – that my 7-year-old knows exactly how she’s making her sister feel. As far as I can see, she’s venting her frustration by deliberately looking for words that will make her sister feel as upset as she does 🙁
My 5-year-old is pretty good at vocalizing her feelings, and the 7-year-old does regret what she said once she calms down… but apparently not enough to prevent the same thing happening the next time she gets upset.
I know exactly what you mean, though, about it not seeming “fair” that the child doing the hurting gets the calm-down and feel-better hugs from the parent. I’m hoping that if I can just catch things early enough – BEFORE she loses her temper – then I might get the hugs in as a preventative measure 🙂
I ran this past my 7-year-old, suggesting that we put the actual issue on hold while we focus on making her feel better, and only THEN think about how best to solve the problem she’s upset about. She really liked the idea, so we’re going to give it a try! Fingers crossed. Thanks so much!
It’s working!! Things are still far from perfect, but we’ve made so much progress! When she starts losing her temper, I’ve (usually) been remembering to ask her she needs a hug, or if there’s anything we can do to make her feel more settled, before we deal with whatever she’s getting upset about. A hug usually makes a huge difference – I can feel her tension unwinding, and she can manage to get hold of herself. She has even started catching herself a few sentences into a tirade, flinging herself at me for a hug. Yesterday she whispered, “Mama, I really like this new system, even though it doesn’t make any sense.” I asked what she meant, and she said, ” Well, I come to you for a hug, even though you’re the one I was upset with!” I’m SO glad she’s learning to see that people having differences of opinions, or conflicting priorities, makes no difference to how much they actually love each other. Thank you so much.
Oh this is the best comment! I’m so happy! What a great result. Well done xx
Love this, Sara. I’m having similar issues with my little bubba. People often try to distract her or shush her when she screams in frustration (she’s 13 months, just starting to get super opinionated haha) and I wonder why we can’t just let her feel her feelings and work through them with our support. I often worry what the neighbours think but remind myself my kids are more important. It isn’t easy though! x
Absolutely! I try not to distract and yes it can be noisy haha
Sara, thank you so much for this. My middle son is 4, but still has big emotions that I find it hard to remain calm during. I can totally relate to having read so much about peaceful parenting and being on board, but then finding it so hard in the moment to follow through. The reminder to turn the empathy on myself is so helpful. I hadn’t seen that spelled out so clearly before and I think it will really help me. I’m also sure that I will get a chance to practice before the day is through 🙂
Oh great! I really hope it helps! Wishing you a great day 🙂
Thank you sooo much for this post! Sometimes your blog makes me think you live in this fantasy world where everything is beautiful and perfect. I’ve been wanting a reality post to see how you handle situations like this, but I was starting to believe you never had any!
Ditto! Very grateful for this post – good to know everyone has days like this 🙂
Will keep on trying to be mindful of everyone’s feelings including my own, and keep trying to model patience and understanding. So hard some days though!
Oh LOL yes definitely no fantasy land here! And unfortunately sometimes I don’t have as much patience as this either!
Ah this is just what I needed to read. I feel I failed in being calm for him last night. My 3 year old has the biggest emotions ever. What’s frustrating to me is that he can’t hear me when he’s frantically screaming. He will sometimes bang his head on things and it’s upsetting for me to see. I was at my wit’s end last night and lost my cool. I will try your trick and hopefully it will be enough to remind me to be calm. I have been working on my own emotions for a few years so it’s really hard to not be what I know from my childhood 🙁
Oh it’s so hard isn’t it.. Today is a new day! xx
I so wish I had this patience myself. It would help things tremendously!
I hope this helps xx
You have to grow your patience and read articles like this every day. It takes constant reminders of the tricks that resonate w you, pray for patience every day and practice, practice, practice! You literally have to re-train your brain. You can do it. <3
Tell yourself “this is not an emergency” because your brain goes into fight or flight mode.
My two year old used to have the most horrendous emotional and mental and physical meltdowns. He would scream for hours and once I filmed him for my husband to witness because he never saw it and thought I was being overdramatic. My son had these meltdowns at the same time every day- or at least the day after the afternoon he had certain foods. (I’m an undiagnosed celiac- my sister was diagnosed after she broke her spine lifting her six-month old out of his cot).
Then I realised he was allergic to wheat (I say allergic because it’s the popular and kind term for what is effectively the poisoning of our selves and children with glycophosphate, GMO’s and rBGH etc.) and dairy and seed oils that had gone rancid then heated to dangerous levels.
My husband refused to believe my family’s issues could possibly affect his little golden child and continued to feed him the foods on the weekend when he was home, leaving me with the emotional wreckage on the Monday and Tuesday (or there abouts). It caused fights between us until he started to see the tantrums for himself and he was shocked at how long they went for and how there was NOTHING he could do to help.
When the culprit foods were taken out (we ate ‘well’, no junk, but the culprit was organic wheat wraps melted in a frypan with cheese and olive paste YUM! so it was really hard to remove that last pleasure food as we saw it then), our son became the darling calm centre of the universe, with daily comments in public about what a great character/behaviour he had. He still gets these comments and he’s almost 7. His almost 3yr old sister has had about two meltdowns in her life which last about 30seconds then she forgets or gets over it and does something else. She has never been exposed to wheat/dairy/seed oils/packaged food. Coincidence- nah. I used to feel the same overwhelming sense of outrage and fear and meltdown myself when I was eating certain foods. (Before I had children and decided I wouldn’t have any because of the *crazay gene* (which turned out to be food-related/allergenic for heavens sake.))
Now my diet is clean (AIP paleo) and all is as it should be. No tantrums. Tis good. Just saying.
This brought tears to my eyes. It can be so hard sometimes. Good job, mommy!
Thank you 🙂
Thank you. I struggle with this often. If I do yell or get short with my 2 year old I feel guilt for the rest of the day (or longer!) but it’s so hard when his emotions set off my 9 month old and you’ve got two screaming babies to calm down. An interesting thing happened the other day after a very long time of inconsolable 2 year old, I started to cry and yelled “everybody just stop crying”. The 2yo stopped immediately and said “why are you crying mummy?”. I said (well yelled) “you’re crying, and he’s crying and now I’m crying!!”. He replied “don’t be sad mummy, I’ll wipe your tears”. He came over, gave me a big hug and wiped my tears and that was the end of it. I felt such shame, that he was the bigger person here and showed me what I should have been showing him while he was trying to deal with his big emotions.
Like others have said, thanks for the reality post. It often seems that bloggers like yourself never have these days and it’s so easy for you to be patient. But clearly it’s a skill that you have to practise. I liked how you spelled out what you did and how you thought. I’m going to try the self-empathy and see how that goes next time. And try not to distract (I do that often and have never realised it’s not a good thing). Just be calm, wait it out, be a role model. I must say this to myself every night, but at the time, it’s so much harder than it sounds.
Thank you. Your tips really help.
Oh it’s really hard isn’t it xx You know what? He learned that empathy somewhere didn’t he? Even when it feels like it’s not working you are teaching him to be kind and considerate. It’s ok to have bad days xx
Thank you for your beautiful blogs. I just discovered your instagram account and the last two days all I want to do is reading your beautiful and inspiring words about parenting and unschooling. It touches my heart and makes me so much more wanting to choose a different path for my kids. Again: thank you so much for sharing your journey! xx
Hi, this is what I try to do, but it is hard, thanks for acknowledging that! I find it even harder when we have guests. I get embarrassed and yesterday took my spirited ? Daughter upstairs to carry on screaming and shouting with me in her room. She ended up screaming to get out, it went badly and I lost it and shouted and then smacked her! All with friends downstairs. I am so miserable about it! Please help! Xx
This is really great. I have those moments when I start out really calm and then after a length of time I can see the calm waning. That self acknowledgement is a great technique thank you.
Wow. Way to go, Momma! You should be really proud of yourself for choosing love over and over and over again in those difficult moments. It is really hard to do and you did it!
Thank you for sharing this. Just what a needed to read as I navigate the waters of a newborn and a two year old with very big emotions as he learns our new dynamic. Great blog!
Well done mumma! It’s so hard to be patient and stay calm. Thank you for sharing your experience. I need to do this with my 4 and nearly 2 year old. Thank you!
I absolulty love this! I as well work hard on a daily basis to show my children empathy and understanding. It is a daily struggle as we have a small place(moving soon) and nowhere to really escape each other, nerves get frayed easily. This article was really helpful in keeping me motivated. Knowing other moms struggle too and still cope is helpful!!! Thanks!
how do you think how to properly care for children? thanks