I don’t know about you, but I often feel like being patient is not my strong suit. My impatience always kicks in first thing in the morning as I’m frantically trying to get myself ready and get a 5-year-old (who is never in any sort of hurry) to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush her teeth, find her shoes, get on her coat, and grab her backpack. I am not proud to say that I lose my temper more than I’d like during any given week. (And in fact, from my research and in talking to the experts, I learned that by losing my temper in the morning, I’m definitely not speeding up the process—according to Dr. Rosina McAlpine, “with a distressed child, everything can take even longer.”)
Though we tend to lump being an impatient parent with having young children, this 2019 article notes that many parents of adult children find themselves equally frustrated with their children. I have struggled with being impatient with my daughter for a while. She is a wonderful child, but she has no sense of urgency, and she often lives in her own little world. I get angry with myself when I feel like I have to pull her out of her creative zone to snap back to reality—which is often the urgency of getting in the car and driving to school.
In order to help break this cycle and to share more information with you, I reached out to experts to get some tips to be a more patient parent. The things that I’ve learned have been so helpful. I can’t wait to put them into practice this week with the goal of a smoother and calmer routine!
What Causes Parents to Lose Their Patience with Their Children?
I asked Dr. Anne Brodzinsky, a clinical psychologist who wrote one of my favorite adoption books, The Mulberry Bird, why parents lose their patience, and she noted that this isn’t a common question. Though we know children can be frustrating, I was curious about what leads this change in our demeanor from nurturing parents to those who are at their wit’s end, snapping at their children.
Dr. Brodzinsky notes that in her experience as not only a child psychologist, but also as a parent, that children’s frustrating behaviors are often a result of their feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy.
“A child’s developmental level may leave him or her unable to comprehend what a parent is saying or wanting. Parents can be prone to forgetting this as they move through a busy day that involves hundreds of decisions to be made in the home with the child’s school and at work,” she says. “A lapse in parental patience is likely to occur at the juncture of these two realities…that is the child’s developmental inability to meet a parent’s need and a parent’s inability to comprehend where the child is. “
Since parents and children are also at different emotional states and levels of understanding, Brodzinsky says that patience itself is a complex issue.
Dr. Rosina McAlpine is a parenting expert and CEO of Win Win Parenting. She notes some interesting causes of impatience in parents that I know I’m going to be more aware of moving forward. These include being tired, stressed, or in a hurry.
“In today’s busy life when trying to juggle career and family, often parents drop self-care, including getting too little sleep due to taking on too much at work or at home and not taking time to relax and rejuvenate mentally,” she says.
All of this makes sense. Many parents are under-rested and under immense pressure to perform well at work while also keeping up with the demands of parenting and running a household. I, myself, lost my patience with my child as I was frantically stuffing gift bags for a class event and trying to keep up with a conference call. She just wanted to help me, but because I was harried and felt pulled in numerous directions at once, I was quick to be impatient with her.
Though there are many causes of losing your patience with your child, you still might not think it’s that big of a deal, particularly because we know it is a common occurrence, but there are ramifications to losing your patience, and they may have a negative impact on your children
What Impact Does a Lack of Parental Patience Have on a Child?
We are all going to lose our patience from time to time—that’s a given, but if you don’t keep it in check, there are some real consequences your family may suffer in the aftermath.
“When a parent lacks patience with a child, there is a considerable risk that the child will become frightened, saddened, disappointed, and/or self-deprecating,” says Dr. Brodzinsky. “Children are prone to blame themselves for trouble in a family, so if Mom or Dad show anger/impatience with them, the disapproval inherent in the emotions and behaviors of the parent send strong messages to the child.”
These messages can range to a child feeling in danger, not understood, that they have done something bad, and in some instances, that they aren’t good.
Dr. McAlpine notes that this impatience can further impact both parents and children by causing stress. “Children can’t be their best mentally or physically when they are in fight or flight, and often, an impatient parent escalates an already stressful situation.”
Understanding that your emotional outbursts don’t just affect you, but the little people you love may help you to stay calmer. Easier said than done, right?
So, How Can You Calm Down?
As Dr. Brodzinsky states, it’s a parent’s job and responsibility to become more calm (though she also notes that this is no small feat) then the process can start.
We all hear over and over again that as parents, we need to do better with self-care, and Dr. McAlpine emphasizes this as well. “Self-care and not taking on ‘too much in life’ both at work and at home are keys to calm and loving parenting.”
Everyone acknowledges that parenting is hard, children can be uncooperative, and that there’s no way you can be 100% perfect and never lose your temper, but you can learn to work on being more patient.
If you’re an adoptive parent, you may be overcoming other obstacles and emotions as well. Here are some ways to prepare to be a better parent that might help!
Additionally, some of our impatience could also come from not being fully aware of adopted children’s trauma and how to help them cope.
Strategies to Being a More Patient Parent
You know what you’re supposed to do, but if you’re like me, you’ll want strategies to figure this all out. The first step according to multiple experts is understanding that this is something you need to work on and that you may need help. Whether you’re reading articles, having conversations with other parents, or seeking consultations from a therapist, you’re doing something to better your ability to calm, and overall, your relationship with your child and family. Here are some other strategies to help:
1. Take a step back. This can be difficult, but I find it best if when I’m starting to feel frustration bubble up that I just stop, take a deep breath, and find a different way to communicate.
2. Take part in meditative activities. According to Dr. Brodzinsky, medication can be life-changing for some, but not everyone is comfortable with the term. “If the latter is true for you or your family members, think about using a different word such as quiet time, rest, respite, hobby, music, etc.” The idea is that parents have time in each day to be alone. Dr. Brodzinsky notes that it’s important to “do something that rests your mind and feeds the essence of who you are.” I find that if I can knit a few rows a day, I’m a much calmer person…find the meditative activity that works for you and your schedule.
3. Learn to listen. I’m the first to admit that I don’t always listen well. Dr. Brodzinsky states that we need to be taught the power of listening like our children do. This can help us have a better understanding of each other.
4. Work on reparation. “Repair is a fundamental need of all humans, and it is essential to the good health of all human relationships,” says Dr. Brodzinsky. “What this means is helping parents learn that they can revisit a time when they didn’t handle something very well and say that they’re sorry.” This often means admitting you didn’t understand what your child was trying to communicate and work with her to have a discussion so that you can understand her.
5. Communicate your needs with your partner. If you’re not the only one parenting, you may need to communicate your needs with your co-parent or spouse. I found that I was getting the most frustrated when I hadn’t had a break. It can be hard to come home from work and then throw yourself into household chores like laundry, cleaning, getting dinner ready, helping with homework, finishing your own projects, and having any semblance of downtime before bed. I remember when I first communicated this with my husband when my daughter was little, it was a no-brainer for him to take over bath time. That’s a time where I can wrap-up household projects without interruption to better prepare for a calm evening.
6. The Win Win Parenting Approach. Dr. McAlpine explains that Win Win Parenting offers a 3 step approach: STOP, EMPATHISE, and EDUCATE.
She uses the scenario that I discussed earlier of getting ready in the morning. She suggests that instead of being impatient and raising your voice, you can STOP, and take a deep breath, EMPATHISE with yourself—it’s not easy juggling everything. Also, have empathy for your child because he’s still learning about the world and how it works. Then, you’ll need to EDUCATE by helping your child do what he needs to do. When you’re not in a rush, it’s important to talk about time management and work to get better routines in place.
Resources to Help You Be More Patient and to Take Time for Yourself
Patience can be especially hard if you’re also waiting for an adoption placement. This is a great first-hand account about that time.
Wondering why it’s so hard to be a patient parent? (Even with the right resources and strategies at our fingertips, it’s hard to get a grip on if we don’t know our why!) Read more here.
The Five Love Languages of Children is a great read to better understand your child. Sometimes, we might think a child is acting out, when in all reality, he or she is simply trying to get your affection. (We’ve all heard that negative attention is still attention). Learn about your child’s love languages—this is even something you can learn more about in your other relationships!
Looking for other books about parenting that may help you out? The Cut published it’s list last month of the 21 best parenting books. Check it out here. My favorite on this list is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. This has great practices that will help you be a better listener to take some of the confusion out of conversations that can often lead us to lose our patience.
For other books about adoption that start opening up the conversation, you can read my compilation of favorite adoption books for all ages here as well as some additional books here for both children and their parents.
There isn’t one of us that is a perfect parent that is doing everything right all of the time, but by acknowledging that we have these imperfections and seeking ways to remedy them is a great start!
Julia K. Porter is an educator, writer, and cultural competency consultant. She began her career as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught college courses since 2008 and has done nonprofit work. Currently, she is the project manager for Celebrating Cultural uniqueness at Tiffin University. Julia has a passion for diversity and in educating about the nuances of adoption as that is how she chose to grow her family. Julia holds a Ph.D. in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College, and a BS in English Education from Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI). Her personal interests include reading, writing, traveling and experiencing new cultures, and knitting. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Kyle, daughter, Brooklyn, and Australian Shepherd, Hunter. For more information, visit www.juliakayporter.com.