What to Do When Your Kids Really “Bug” You

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Have you ever said to a friend or even to yourself, “My children are always in my way and their voices are constantly in my ear. I don’t know how long I can take the incessant whining. I think I’m going to go crazy.”

If you have, don’t feel too bad. I think that all of us have felt this way, if we are really honest about it. Even if it’s never come out of our mouths, it’s probably entered our thoughts. There are a million things our kids’ do that can irritate us. Sometimes it’s because they are teasing their brother or sister again, even after they have been told “a million times” to stop. Other times it’s due to the sheer decibel level of their voices, the repetitive asking, or the constant running. A lot of the time the things that bug us the most are not necessarily “morally or principally wrong,” nor are they defiant or aggressive, they are just outside our “annoyance threshold.”

Now THAT could drive you crazy!

My family and I recently spent 4 days in the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho. When we first arrived at our mountain lake destination we quickly set up camp and decided to go exploring along the lake and through the forest. As we went tromping through the woods I heard and saw something I had never seen before; my wife was yelling, crying and doing some kind of rain dance. She called out to me, “Andy, a bug flew in my ear!” I ran to her side and tried to look in her ear and do what I could to coax the bug out of her ear canal, but there was nothing I could do. It didn’t help that she couldn’t stay still. She was jumping up and down, yelling, “Get out! Get out!” We tried to shine a light in her ear to get the little bug out. It didn’t work. I tried to blow in her ear. It didn’t work. We were 20 miles from anywhere that even had cell service, let alone medical care for removing bugs from your ear. I couldn’t even look up an article or youtube video on how to get a bug out of your ear. I couldn’t even call my mom or mother in law for moral support. We were on our own. We finally decided we would try to drown the bug by pouring water in her ear. That calmed the constant buzz and thumping of the little bug’s wings for a while, but it came back. The bug was so far in her ear that the flapping of his tiny wings sounded like hyper-speed tribal ceremonial drums and she could feel and hear every move it made to the point that it hurt. She didn’t want to leave our camp so she decided to wait it out.

When I asked her how she coped with it she said,…”It helped me to realize and accept that there was nothing I could do about it. I breathed, said ‘it’s okay’ and repeated positive statements of affirmation and reassurance that I was fine. I reminded myself of the power of mind over body and finally, I decided it was not going to control me or drive me crazy.”

If you want to talk about something annoying, I think that having a bug in your ear, flapping its wings constantly might top almost anything our kids could do to irritate us. This bug was literally in her ear for days, and was almost constant for that entire time. I’m pretty sure there are secret agents that use this technique to perform mental torture to break people for military intelligence purposes. I know I would have lost my sanity if it had happened to me. I was so impressed by my wife’s ability to calm herself and manage the irritation and annoyance so gracefully. There are many important practices we can take away from the “bug in your ear” story that might help us deal with the things that bug us about our kids.

7 ways to respond when things start to “bug” you

Some of these are directly related to my wife’s response in how to deal with something that is a constant and regular irritation. Some are a slight expansion of her response that I have found to help with my own irritations and methods that have helped clients with their irritations.

1. Have a positive attitude: Look for the positive, find it and repeat it. Have a mantra or encouraging phrase that you can focus on and remind yourself of when the irritation arises.

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2. Learn to relax and calm your irritation: Remind yourself that “it’s okay.” Take deliberate, slow, deep breathes and consciously relax your body.

3. Decide: Make a conscious decision that you will not let the irritation dictate your mood or reactions. It can be helpful to actually say this to yourself, say it out loud or write it down.

4. See other perspectives: Take a step back and see the big picture. See your whole child rather than just the one annoying act that seems to be consuming your attention at the instant. Remember when you did the same thing or something similar when you were a child. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

5. Join in: Embrace it. Join the activity or source of irritation. Start running around with them, make a silly song to go along with theirs, or let out a war cry that pierces through their noise. My second son is one of the cuddliest little boys I have ever met. His bubble is much smaller than mine. When he starts to cuddle up to me by putting his feet on or under my legs and begins crawling all over me, I can sometimes become irritable. I find that I am far less agitated when I stop turning away from my son’s cuddling and start to embrace it. My willful participation in the cuddling changes it from obnoxious to endearing in a moment.

6. Set limits and boundaries: Some things that kids do are not “wrong” nor do they require disciplinary action, but they still overstep boundaries of others. In these instances, it is appropriate for us to define those boundaries for our kids. For instance, if your kids are running through the house and yelling and you do not want them to do so, set that boundary. We can say, “You guys look like you are having fun. Running and yelling are outside activities. You are welcome to continue this game outside.” Then accompany them out the door. An alternative is to draw the boundary by explaining their choices, “You can either play quietly inside or continue running and playing loudly outside, which would you like?”

7. Create a diversion or distraction: Redirect the behavior. Use your creativity. Be clever and think of a question or activity that will engage your child and distract them from the activity that causes you irritation.

It’s important to keep in mind that when we are irritated and annoyed, we are responsible for that emotion. We have power to change that irritation and annoyance, or to change the boundaries and environment. When we recognize this, we can start to see even annoyances as opportunities to grow personally or to grow in our relationship with our kids.

Our kids are far less relentless than the bug that flew into my wife’s ear and yet she was able to manage her irritation and continue with a fun and happy experience on our camping trip. Each of us can improve our reactions to the things that bug us and make every day in our homes a little happier and more enjoyable for everyone!

Question: What things have your kids done that really get on your nerves? How might you deal more effectively with them?

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