I don’t know why I remember this so clearly, but I do. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was sitting on a bench at Ikea. The line for the Merchandise Pickup desk was growing rapidly, there were people banging into each other with their carts filled with too many boxes, and some customers were making it known that the staff was just taking too damn long to bring out their Billy bookcases and Ektorp sofas.
I was sitting on that bench, waiting for my turn and trying my best to ignore the mayhem, when an older man struck up a conversation with me. These were his exact words that were permanently branded in my brain: “You are so patient. You would make a great parent.”
And guess what? I fully agreed with him. Yes! I saw myself as a VERY patient person. I was always in it for the long haul. I trained for marathons. I pushed a long distance relationship all the way to marriage. And there I was – the one reasonable person, the model of patience, amidst the Ikea irates.
Guess what else? When I finally did become a parent, many years after the Ikea incident, I started out full of patience. The first year or two with one happy baby, I was killing it. I rarely if ever lost my cool. I didn’t see why all those other parents were struggling so much…
Until I became one of them.
All it took was a set of twins thrown into the mix. I’m not sure at what point exactly the shift happened, but I think I just gradually became more and more worn down with the reality of parenting three young kids. And now I lose my cool on a regular basis. As in ALL. THE. TIME. So much that I want to do something about it.
Raising my voice. Stomping out of the room. Huffing and puffing.
I’m SO much a work in progress in this area that I’m writing this article as much for myself as for all of you guys, to help me think through how to get back to the parent I used to be. Closer to the parent I want really badly to be.
Here are seven tips that will help you (and me!) have more patience with kids.
1. Get Your Own Physical Needs Met (Sleep!)
Let’s think for a moment about the phrases we use when we talk about patience.
“I ran out of patience.”
“I have lost all of my patience.”
I believe we use these exact phrases for a reason. Patience is a finite resource. You only have so many units of patience, and when they are all used up, you have no patience left.
I know I’m not the only one who wakes up full of patience in the morning. I have at least a thousand units to start out with. 😉 As the day goes on, my patience reserve gets used up, one small kid infraction at a time. 5 patience units for the spilled milk. 10 patience units for stepping on legos. 7 patience units for listening to the screaming. 6 for the whining. 12 for coming up with several potential compromises for who gets the Little People House and who gets the Farm. And so it goes.
Until some point toward the evening when there is nothing left. Nada. Empty. No more patience units left.
And then the smallest of kid infractions can result in a big blow-up. An impatient reaction from me. Because I have no patience left.
The only way to prevent these kinds of blow-ups is to restore your patience reserves before you run out. And how do you restore your patience reserves? By taking care of yourself and by taking a break from whatever it is that depletes your patience. Here are a few specific ways to do just that:
- Try to get a good night’s sleep. The reason many of us have more patience in the morning is because we feel better physically and have more energy to “deal with it”.
- If your kids are still young and interrupt your sleep at night, make naps for yourself a priority. If you are chronically sleep-deprived, sleep becomes more important than having a clean house, eating a home-cooked meal every night, and saying yes to every social invite.
- Build in breaks to tend to your own needs throughout the day, such as nap time, quiet time, or TV hour.
- Something to be mindful of is that your kids are not the only ones depleting your patience reserves. For example, your work or some fellow grown-ups in your life could be depleting your reserves as well.
2. Make Time For Your Grown-Up Interests
I believe that when our own needs are not met, it’s harder to give to others. And when I say needs, I don’t mean just physical needs, like sleep, but mental needs as well.
Sometimes I feel bad about not enjoying playing with my kids more. But if I think about it objectively, I would say my bad feelings are kind of silly. I’m 40 years old. Wouldn’t it be weird if all I wanted to do was play with rubber dinosaurs and build duplo towers? I find that the more deprived I feel of grown-up brain food, the harder it is for me to show interest in the kid stuff. My brain wants to go somewhere else. But if the grown-up side of myself is satisfied, it’s a lot easier to operate in the kid realm.
It’s perfectly normal for a grown-up to have interests beyond the domestic sphere with kids. If you set aside time for your grown-up interests, it will be easier to have patience for the kids’ needs.
3. Try To Let Go Of The “Shoulds” In Your Head
This is the hardest thing on this list to do, but whenever I’ve been able to do this just a little bit, it has helped a lot.
The hurdle is that I find myself getting angry when things don’t go the way I think they should. As in:
- I try hard to keep the house clean so that it’s nicer for everyone to live in. I shouldn’t be sabotaged by people making messes on purpose.
- I work hard to provide for my family. After 9pm, I should be able to have some me-time without being interrupted every two seconds.
- I am only one person. I shouldn’t be expected to do 10 things for three different people at the same time.
I think getting frustrated in these types of situations is a reasonable reaction. But the problem is that the “shoulds” are based on unrealistic expectations. I’m placing grown-up expectations on little kids. The reality is that no matter how hard I think that my kids should treat me fairly and no matter how much I try to teach them certain behaviors, they are just not capable of meeting my standards yet.
The more I’m able to accept the reality of what it’s like to be a parent, the less angry I get. As in:
- My house will mostly be a mess, which is understandable and ok, living with three
wild animalschildren. In a few years, I’ll be able to have a pristine house again.
- I will have some me-time from 9pm to 10pm, between dealing with kids winding down. On the weekends, I can start a movie for them at 8pm, so I can have more time for myself then.
- It’s going to take a lot of practice for the kids to learn to wait for their turn. In the meantime, I will focus on one thing at a time and do my best to ignore competing demands.
4. Have A Strategic Game Plan
One thing that happens to me a lot as a parent – and leads to me losing my patience – is getting overwhelmed and not knowing how to handle a situation. Sometimes I simply just don’t know what to do. Other times I’m conflicted between different strategies.
What helps here is to come up with a game plan – not when you are in the middle of the chaos already happening – but when you are calm and by yourself:
- Create a list of the kinds of situations where you tend to lose your patience.
- Brainstorm potential strategies you could use to handle those situations without flipping out. If you could use some advice, try parenting books or parenting bloggers. (I have a Pinterest board called AweSome Parenting where I collect parenting tips from other bloggers.)
- Decide on the specific strategy you will use the next time this situation comes up.
Related: Parenting Books That ACTUALLY Help
5. Do Short Ultra-Focused Play Sessions
Do you ever feel like you are with your kids all the time, but not really? I do. What I mean is, I’m with them – I’m around – but I’m not really focused on them. And what kids really want and crave is their parents’ full and focused attention. When they are not getting enough of it, they won’t hesitate to let you know. 🙂
I believe that kids need to learn to play with other kids. Grown-ups are not their primary entertainers and playmates. But I do want to play with my kids some, because they love the attention and interaction. Even if I have to kind of stretch myself to get through it. 😉
I find that if I do short, very focused play sessions, I’m able to get through them without getting distracted (or impatient!). If I have a half hour, I’ll set the timer for 10 minutes per kid, and if I have an hour, I’ll do 20 minutes per kid. For those 10 or 20 minutes, the kid gets to decide what we play and I go along with pretty much whatever they want, giving them my full and undivided attention without checking my phone or emptying the dishwasher at the same time.
When kids get their need for attention met, they are less likely to do things that deplete your patience.
6. Consider The Big Picture
This is another potentially tough one, but if losing your patience is constantly an issue, maybe something BIG has to change. Maybe your days are currently structured so that your patience is ALWAYS depleted while it’s still needed.
Maybe you are a working parent and your job drains you to the point that you have nothing left for your kids when you get home at night. If that is the case, maybe it’s time to start thinking about a career change.
Or maybe you are a stay-at-home parent who is with the kids SO much that there is no time left for you to take care of your own needs. If that is the case, maybe it would be worth it to consider part-time pre-school or leaving the kids with a baby-sitter a few times a week or swapping child-care duties with another stay-at-home parent in the same situation.
Parenting can be a lonely job. Sometimes it can feel like you are the only one struggling. You are the only who can’t get their kids to behave.
But you are not alone. I have yet to meet a caring parent who didn’t struggle. Sometimes all you need to restore your patience levels is to be reminded that you are not alone, to vent and get support from another parent who has been there.
So seek other parents as friends, vent to your spouse, don’t struggle alone.
Do you lose your patience with your kids more than you would like? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂
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