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When—Not If—You Lose It With Your Child During Coronavirus

The strain of coronavirus can wear down the patience of any parent.

Seth Woodworth/Flickr
Most parents will lose their patience at some point during coronavirus.
Source: Seth Woodworth/Flickr

You see the sweet parent-child pictures on social media. You read the encouragement from friends to be grateful for what you have. You talk to friends and family members who all tell you they’re doing fine, hanging in there.

Of course you love your child, and you’re grateful for your family, your job, your health…but in the midst of all that cheeriness, it’s easy to imagine that you’re the only one who’s struggling.

You’re not.

Managing life during the coronavirus is very, very hard. Even if you’re healthy and in a place where things have started opening up, there’s still a lot of uncertainty, obstacles, and daily hassles. Unfortunately, one of the first places the strain is likely to show is in reduced patience for your children.

We adults value quiet, order, and reason, but children are often noisy, messy, and unreasonable. When we’re under a lot of strain, they can seem like obstacles, rather than the precious and beloved gifts they are.

I worked with a family once that was going through a particularly stressful time. At one point, the dad asked me, “Can’t our kids understand that things are hard right now and just try to make things a little easier on us?”

I answered, “No, they really can’t.” Children tend to pick up on our stress, react to it, and magnify it.

All of this means that it’s probably “when” not “if” you lose your patience with your child. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It means you’re human, and so is your kid.

But what should you do afterward, when you’ve yelled or responded too harshly to your child? While you certainly didn’t intend those imperfect parenting moments, they’re actually an important opportunity to teach your child about relationship repair.

1. Calm yourself

If you’ve responded harshly in the heat of the moment, a crucial first step is to get yourself calmed down. Often this means you need to physically step away from the situation. It helps if you have a partner who can step in to give you some space to regroup. You may need to tell your child, “I need to calm down. We’ll talk about this later.” By doing this, you show your child that it’s possible and sometimes necessary to step away to prevent a conflict from escalating. Once you’ve cooled off, you’ll be better in better shape to deal with what comes next.

2. Apologize

Some parents are reluctant to apologize because they think it means their children will have “won” somehow. I believe the old Dear Abby advice: The person who is least wrong should apologize first. A sincere apology is a good way to ease tension and soothe anger in any relationship. When you apologize sincerely to your child, you also model a willingness to acknowledge and take responsibility for your mistakes. Hearing you apologize helps your child learn that this is the right thing to do when we mess up.

Be careful not to erase your apology by adding a “but,” justifying your actions. Just say straight up, “I’m sorry for…” State what you did that you regret. You might also want to add a comment acknowledging your child’s perspective or good intentions. For instance, you could say, “I’m sorry for yelling at you. I know you didn’t mean to break the glass. You didn’t realize it was so close to the edge.”

On the flip side, don’t overdo the apology. If you keep apologizing multiple times, put yourself down, or beg for forgiveness, you could make your child feel guilty, anxious, or resentful. Overapologizing could make your child worry that your misstep was devastating rather than merely upsetting. It also puts the focus on you and your feelings rather than generously acknowledging your mistake.

3. Make a plan for next time

We can’t erase the past, but we can try to move forward in better ways. Chances are, you’re likely to face again whatever situation got you so mad at your child. When you make a plan, you model learning from mistakes for your child.

Sometimes, making a plan can be something you just think about privately. Consider what led up to your loss of patience and how you might handle it differently. Thinking about this ahead of time makes you better prepared to deal with it effectively.

Sometimes you might want to tell your child your plan to underscore the sincerity of your apology. You could say “From now on, when…, I’ll try to…”

Another option is to brainstorm with your child about how you both can try to handle things differently. Ask your child, “What do you think we can do to prevent this?” or even “Do you have any ideas about how we should handle it when…?” Your child’s first suggestion will probably be, “You shouldn’t…!” Agree. Then ask, “What else could we do?” You may be surprised at the creative solutions your child comes up with.

4. Focus on prevention

Often parenting mistakes happen when we’re running on empty. We’re exhausted, hungry, juggling too many things, and our nerves are frayed. Think carefully about what you need to refuel. This could be exercise, reaching out to friends, getting outdoors, getting something done, or spending time alone. When you do what you need to do to destress, you not only add to your reserve of patience, you also model positive self-care for your child.

5. Find compassion

Living with people is difficult. Living with people under stressful conditions is even more difficult. When those less-than-perfect parenting moments happen, we need to find compassion for our children and ourselves. This means looking with kind eyes at our children and ourselves, accepting that we’re going to mess up but also knowing that we want to do our best by the people we care about.

Love means trying again.

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© Eileen Kennedy-Moore