I am not the kind of guy that enjoys working on cars or fixing things around the house. To be honest a good portion of that kind of stuff I outsource to my father in-law that lives down the road from my family because, well, he is that kind of guy. However, there are times that I can’t get around it, and I find myself under a sink somewhere or under the hood of my car fixing things that I would rather not fix. These are my least impressive personal moments. If you would like to see Dr. Jeckl and Mr. Hyde played out, simply put a tool in my hand and tell me to fix something. I become easily frustrated, annoyed and often angry. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but it is something I am aware of. It’s funny because I can work with people that treat me disrespectfully all day long without frustration, but put a wrench in my hand and ask me to loosen a stubborn bolt and I seriously struggle.
I recently had a Facebook message from a friend, who has had a similar reaction, but toward her children rather than tools. She said…
“I’m really struggling with my son. He’s 8 this next month and frankly most days I’m struggling just to not lose my cool with him. He’s very aggressive. He does not handle change well, and even when he’s the one that causes a problem, he doesn’t see his fault in the situation. He loves to pick on his sister, which I know is normal, but he ends up kicking her or hitting her or squeezing her as tight as he can. At this point, it’s beyond me and I’m extremely frustrated.”
Most parents have been in this same position at one point or another. My friend is not alone, but the fact that you are not alone is no consolation for your frustration.
Why we get frustrated?
Frustration is a precursor to anger, but it is not the same as anger. Regardless of the source of our frustration, I feel that there are three primary causes of frustration and they all grow from within rather than coming from what is happening outside of us.
1. Unmet expectations
2. Real or perceived inability to control
3. Limiting beliefs
The great irony of our frustration is that our very frustration and subsequent meltdown reactions actually contribute to perpetuating the frustrating behavior. For example, if I start working on my car and struggle to get a bolt loose and get frustrated and angry, I generally become more careless, make more mistakes and get more frustrated. The cycle just builds on itself. Likewise, when we ask our kids to clean their room and they say “NO” and we become frustrated and lose our cool, we often say and do things that further encourage defiance and the cycle continues.
If we know what to look for and how to address them ahead of time, we can cut frustration off at the pass.
How to manage the 3 contributors to parental frustration:
1. Evaluate Expectations
Parents can evaluate their expectations for their child and the tasks at hand. Are your expectations developmentally unrealistic? Sometimes, it is our impatience that frustrates us and gets a child in trouble, more than the child’s defiance. If you expect a six-year-old to complete a chore independently, in the same time-frame and manner as you do, you will usually be disappointed and frustrated. If we have reasonable, positive, and child-specific expectations, there is greater likelihood of our children meeting our positive expectations.
Set your child up for success rather than challenging him/her to fail. For younger children, that often means expecting that they will need assistance from you to complete tasks or follow certain directions. It also means that you manage things that trigger common behavioral problems.
A common point of frustration for parents is “power struggle” behaviors. It can be valuable to consider that when we make unrealistic or demanding expectations on our children that our children are just as frustrated as we are. We both think, “Why can’t they see this my way?” So take a step back from the preconceived expectations that we dream up and make a realistic evaluation of positive, healthy expectations that we can work with our children to achieve.
When we have unmet expectations, there are really only 2 things we can do to relieve distress and frustration. First we can lower the standard or expectation, or second, raise our performance. This concept is the perfect bridge from the principle of expectations to the principle of control because the things that we often obsess about that are not within our control are often better served by adjusting our expectation. When it is something that we can control, we can plan ways to adjust and improve our performance.
2. Evaluate What You Can Control
Focus on the things you can control rather than the things you cannot control. It is no secret that we, as parents, cannot control our children’s behavior or attitudes; but we can control the triggers and consequences, as well as how we respond and behave.
When parents start to get frustrated with their children’s behavior, they need to step back and evaluate what needs to change. Ask yourself, “What can I control in this situation? What can I do?” rather than asking, “What does my child need to change? How can I make him/her comply?”
Identify what you can do or change in order to influence the situation in a positive way first rather than seeking ways to change others. When we take personal responsibility, others often follow.
3. Challenge Limiting Beliefs
In the example at the beginning of this article I discussed a limiting belief that I have fostered over many years that affects my performance and my predisposition and level of frustration when I play the handyman role. I have told myself for years that I am not good at fixing things or working with tools and this affects how I perceive minor bumps in the road. Instead of seeing them as the normal challenges that everyone faces, I blow them out of proportion.
In the same way, we can cultivate distorted, limiting beliefs about our parenting and our children. We label ourselves as “hot tempered” and our child as “aggressive.” We let these labels be all encompassing and defining. We use words like “always” and “never” that lead us to feelings of hopelessness and then to frustration and anger. We throw our arms in the air and proclaim, “It’s too much.”
Usually, parents become frustrated when several behaviors or problems have piled up over the course of a day, week, month, or year, which we have not wanted to deal with or have felt unsuccessful in dealing with. It’s important to remember to deal with the behaviors individually, rather than allowing them to define our child’s character.
It’s important to remember that you have always made it through before. You have done hard things and can continue to do hard things and so can your children. After all, they carry your DNA and you are awesome!
It can be helpful to identify our distorted, limiting beliefs and identify specific words and phrases to actively challenge them with positive statements or affirmations that you can believe. Simple statements like, “It’s okay,” “I can do this,” “I have awesome kids,” can often be enough to challenge and change our limiting beliefs in the moment.
Life continually throws us curve balls that we aren’t always ready for but we can prepare for those curve balls with an understanding of the underlying processes that frustrate us and throw us off so quickly. When we are aware of our expectations and evaluate them realistically we see the world for what it truly is and our children for who they truly are instead of seeing them as failed, frustrating versions of what we would like them to be. When we focus on what we can control and let go of the things we cannot, we increase personal contentment. Finally, When we challenge distorted, limiting beliefs, we never fail. We just grow and learn. Some conscious effort in these 3 areas can help to melt away the common frustrations we experience and replace them with peace.
What unmet expectations frustrate you? What do you know is out of your control but you really wish it was in your control? What is one of your limiting beliefs?