A common phrase I often hear while teaching parenting classes or in parent coaching sessions is, “My kids are driving me crazy!” It doesn’t matter if the child is a toddler or a teen; this level of exasperation is more common than you may think. No matter the age of children, this is a plea for help. Unfortunately, as parents, we can often feel alone, like we’re the only ones who feel this way. And then guilt rises. After all, what’s wrong with us that we don’t like spending time with our children. Or worse, we jump to the conclusion that we’re failing as parents. We might even wonder what’s wrong with our children that they can’t behave. No matter which one you pick—they're all discouraging!
As a mother who raised three children and does behavioral consulting regularly, I certainly understand the challenges and demands that parenting brings. I’ve found that parents who blurt out this phrase are frustrated and often exhausted. And the situation usually boils down to a few common parenting missteps. (Did you notice that I didn't say "mistakes"?) Our responses simply need redirection and to gain the know-how of redirecting children's behavior. The good news is that by making a few small changes, it’s remarkable how quickly the joy of parenting returns.
Psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs often said that the most important job of a parent is staying encouraged. As it turns out, he was right; encouragement is one of the most vital keys to enjoy your role as a parent.
Just like in archery, aiming and shooting an arrow at a target requires you to face the target. No matter how much you practice, if you’re facing away from the target or to the side, you will never hit it! Even a slight jerk can cause an arrow to miss the mark altogether. We frequently set ourselves up to fail as parents without even knowing it! When discouraged, simply not pulling the string back far enough can result in poor results. Parenting requires direction, vigor, and focus. The secret to hitting a bullseye as a parent is a combination of encouragement, direction, focus, and skill.
Related reading: “Visionary Parenting Is the Key to Capable and Happy Children.”
Below are some common missteps many parents make that make the job of parenting difficult, which drains the fun right out of family life.
Common Parenting Missteps with Parenting Tips that Work
Misstep #1: Over-Scheduling Yourself and Your Children
It’s natural for parents to desire to give their children the best possible advantages. There are so many great opportunities for learning social skills, assisting physical development, and academic achievement. A child can choose between countless sports, drama, science club, band, language arts, dance, and many more! But how much is too much?
The majority of power struggles with children and teens stems from over-scheduling. The more we rush here and there juggling a multitude of schedules, the more stressed we become. And often, the less enjoyment we derive from the activities. A key to a pleasant family life is ease and creating meaningful memories. We can't create this experience if we're resenting our role and feeling like a taxi service for our kids without benefits.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Be selective in choosing children’s activities.
A child usually has leanings or a passion in a particular area that we certainly want to nurture and develop. However, once you add a sport and an additional school activity, you must realize that these are also on top of homework, chores, and family time. Maintaining a work-life balance is strategic (school is a child's work) and requires saying no.
In an excellent blog, "Three Things Over-Scheduled Kids Need More of in Their Lives," the author outlines the mindset of Dr. Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She recommends three critical activities for children daily: playtime, downtime, and family time. (Does your lifestyle allow for all three every day?) She says that these sacred three are vital to children’s mental health. I agree wholehearted, yet, I also think they are equally crucial for parents. We must replenish ourselves to be present to our children’s needs and to love unconditionally. We must have downtime to recharge. We need playtime to equalize hard work. And parents crave family time just as much as children.
So select your child's activities with mindfulness. If you have multiple children, keep this complexity in mind when planning and scheduling. As the saying goes: less is more. It is far better in a family to do less and enjoy more; to do less and create more fun; to do less and allow time for teaching moments and meaningful dialogue with our children and teens; to do less and show up as a parent with joy and appreciation.
Misstep #2: Parents don't make self-care a priority in their lives.
Think for a moment what you feel like when you haven’t cared for yourself. What do you look like and sound like when you haven’t taken care of yourself? And what do you look like and sound like when you HAVE taken care of yourself?
When we don’t take care of ourselves, we are much less resilient, much more reactive, and many times overwhelmed by challenges both at work and at home. (Seeing a connection here?) As a young and stressed-out parent, I transformed into a harsh General Patton ordering everyone around, or I melted down into tears of frustration and exhaustion. I understand how impossible it may seem to carve time for you.
Take a breath. Now take a moment and scan this quick inventory below to see how you score on self-care. The purpose of this inventory is for you to evaluate how well you take care of yourself. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge yourself for ways you do take care of yourself and determine whether you would like to make some changes in your lifestyle. (It’s not intended to make you feel guilty!) Check every symptom that applies to you.
SYMPTOMS OF NOT TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
- You feel frustrated frequently.
- You feel anger daily or get angry easily.
- You complain habitually.
- You have power struggles with your children (or teenagers) and tend to overpower them and get mad.
- You never feel like you have enough time.
- You’re always rushing and rarely stop to take breaks.
- You feel stressed the majority of the week.
- Your resentment is building and spills over into your communications.
- You eat too much or too little. You often work through lunch or skip breakfast.
- You don’t get enough exercise.
- You eat on the run or whenever you’re anxious.
- You react to your co-workers, spouse, or children unnecessarily.
- You blow little things out of proportion.
- You grind my teeth at night or when tense.
- You have negative self-talk and often feel discouraged.
- You wanted to say no today but didn’t.
- You were nice but felt like you wanted to explode.
- You worry a lot, sometimes staying awake at night fearful for the future.
- The last time you had fun with your friends has been way too long!
How’d you do? If you checked a half dozen or more, it’s time for a change!
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Develop a plan for self-care TODAY.
When we take care of ourselves and do what is important to us personally and professionally, our creativity, energy, and patience flourish. Every parent’s sense of well-being (or lack thereof) flows to our children and influences our interactions with them. This simple key of caring for ourselves FIRST is a secret weapon when it comes to the all-consuming, 24/7 job of parenting!
One of the hardest, yet simplest, investments that any parent can make is in their self-care. When you make self-care a priority, you won’t be saying that your children are driving you crazy because you’ll be having too much fun with them!
I admit, it takes perseverance to carve a regular self-care schedule, but it’s worth it! Our first responsibility is to care for ourselves. After all, when we’re at our best, we can accomplish more with ease.
- Get regular exercise. There is enormous research supporting the benefits of exercise, including mood inducement and increased energy.
- Add extra time into your schedule for downtime and relaxation.
- Plan a weekly family night when phones are turned off or put away. It’s an opportunity to spend quality time together. Play games that encourage meaningful conversation. Or go for a hike, watch a movie, and play games together.
Don't postpone your critical need to take care of yourself!
Related reading: "Parents Need Self-Care to Be Their Best Self"
Misstep #3: Parents overreact to children's or teen's behavior because they're stressed.
A common mistake that we make as parents is to be too kind for too long and then react. In an attempt to be “nice,” sometimes we wait way too long before responding to a child’s behavior. The result is that we react instead respond in a way that our children can’t understand and our teens find disrespectful and hypocritical. We bark “Sit still!” or “Go to time-out until you can behave.” Or we shout at our teen that they're grounded or say, "Don't you dare speak to me that way!"
These kind of responses give children the message that the adult is in control of the child, not that the child can control himself or herself. (Read that statement again and let it sink in!) It also does not teach the child how to self-calm or take responsibility for their emotions or behavior. Instead, they're thinking about how mean their parent is.
“Do you want to control your children or do you want them to learn self-control?”
You can’t have both.
Related reading: “Drowning in Parent Stress? Here’s What to Do About It”
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Self-regulate your knee-jerk reactions and emotions to respond instead of react. Self-calm as needed.
The most effective way to teach children self-control is to model it. The only way we can model it is if we are modulating our emotions and responding with love and curiosity to our children's behaviors. Redirecting children's behavior effectively is as much an art and as it is a science. Begin with self-care—it's the foundation of everything else!
Create a strategy for stressful times. Learn to make self-care a priority so your patience is present. Take time to relax and spend time in nature to soothe yourself. Go out to lunch with your friends or schedule a weekend yoga retreat. Whatever renews your spirit, act now.
Parenting is the most difficult and complex job there is! Be good to yourself. And just like an expert archer, aim for your target with direction, focus, and mindfulness.
For more parenting tips and parenting classes, reach out to Heartmanity for parent support. Also, be sure and check out our skill card to learn a step-by-step process to calm yourself based on brain science.