Patience. It’s something many of us in the Empowering Parents community wish we had more of. In my coaching sessions, I often ask parents how they respond when their children act out. Most express the desire to develop more patience with their kids.
But what exactly is patience? For many people, including me, patience means remaining calm, even in the face of a child’s extreme acting out behavior.
It means keeping your emotions in check so you can respond appropriately and effectively, rather than yelling, cursing, or saying things you will regret later.
Honestly, though, is being that patient even possible? I mean, it’s possible some of the time, but is it an achievable goal?
We all have limits to how much we can tolerate. This doesn’t make us “bad” parents. It makes us normal parents.
Let’s look at some typical situations when parents often wish they could be more patient:
Parenting is hard, and the situations above are inevitable. There will always be stresses with parenting. With that in mind, here are four steps you can take towards increasing your ability to be patient.
As specifically as possible, try to identify when you are most likely to lose your patience. Where is it most likely to happen? With whom? For example, I tend to lose my patience early in the morning, late at night, or whenever there’s a time constraint.
Being tired or hungry can also shorten my fuse considerably. I remember when my kids were younger, I would say as a pre-emptive warning: “Mom’s getting tired and hungry, which means Mom’s getting crabby. Remember what happens when Mom gets crabby.”
Once you have a clear understanding of your triggers, you can move on to Step Two.
Take some time to observe what goes on with you when you are triggered. What happens in your body? Increased heart rate? Sweaty palms? Hard time breathing? Do you feel yourself getting hot?
What thoughts do you have?
And how do you respond when this happens? All of this information is like the pieces of a puzzle, and the picture it forms helps you determine your tipping point.
For me, my breathing gets shallow when I’m being triggered. And I start to feel my pulse racing as my anxiety level increases. My thoughts veer towards all-or-nothing thinking, a thought pattern where you think in extremes and exaggerate how good or bad things are. As an example, I may say something like this:
All-or-nothing thinking is just one of the many ways we can drive ourselves crazy with our own thoughts. These are the signs that my patience is starting to wear thin. It’s important to identify when we become impatient, and we can do that by recognizing our habits.
Now that you know your triggers, you can develop a game plan for when they occur. This plan can include:
Don’t underestimate the power of an apology. Contrary to popular wisdom, it doesn’t lessen your authority with your child. It does role model how to take accountability when your response is less than stellar.
It took me a long time to be able to apologize because it can feel as if you’re admitting fault, and your kid will somehow use it against you. There is always a chance this could happen, but, in my experience, it has made it much easier for my daughter and me to move past disputes.
Another important piece to maintaining patience is making sure you’re taking care of yourself as much as you are taking care of everybody else.
We tend to put ourselves on the back burner far too often, to the detriment of ourselves and our children. It can be almost impossible to stay on an even keel when you’re frazzled and running on empty.
Taking time to do things you enjoy—activities outside the home, a night out with friends or your significant other, or just taking time to put your feet up and relax—not only recharges your batteries, but also role models self-care for your kids.
I will admit that this one is still a struggle for me. I find it so difficult to put time aside for me to do the things I enjoy. I’ve gotten better, but it’s still a work in progress.
As odd as it may seem, losing your patience can be a positive experience. It can help you recognize when you’re stretching your resources too far. If you think about times in the past when your patience has worn thin, you would probably recognize that it usually happens when you’re feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and possibly underappreciated. We all have limits to how much we can tolerate—we are only human after all! This doesn’t make us bad parents—it makes us normal parents.
I came across a definition for patience the other day that I believe is much more suitable to what a parent does, day in and day out: steady perseverance. Coming back, time and again, trying to be more effective, trying to do our best to help our kids grow and develop into successful adults, that’s steady perseverance. It’s a different, more significant kind of patience: hanging in and doing the hard stuff, even when we feel like giving up.
Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.