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How can I stop reacting with frustration to my child?

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This month we have a guest blog written by Madeleine Woolgar, a parent coach and neurodiversity consultant, specialising in supporting parents with children who are suspected or confirmed to be neurodivergent.

You know those days when you wake up and promise yourself that today is the day when you’ll stop being the shouty mum? Ten minutes later, it’s not even 7am yet and your child is demanding ice cream for breakfast. After another ten minutes of your child screaming about the injustice of cereal for breakfast instead, you find yourself snapping and shouting at them. Filled with guilt, you feel utterly frustrated as this is not the parent you want to be.  

You’re not alone.

Here are the first steps to help you start responding to your child in a calmer way. The key is to understand yourself before you try to understand your child.

1.Know you’re not alone

When you’ve shouted at your child before 7am you don’t tend to tell your friends about it. This means that parents keep thinking that it’s only them that’s having these battles with their child and reacting with frustration. This feeling of isolation adds to your frustration and the cycle continues. But please, if you take anything from this blog, take this: You’re not alone. Shouting at your child doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a tired one who is need of some support.

2. Pausing is a weak muscle

Learning to pause before you respond to your child is a weak muscle for so many parents. But it is vital to learn to do in order to create some space between what your child is doing and how you respond.

I call it a weak muscle because it is an underdeveloped response that is going to take time to learn.

You wouldn’t be mad at yourself for not having sculpted abs if you’d never done a sit up, would you?

I hope you can invite a little bit more kindness towards yourself because the reality is that no one taught you how to do this yet. In fact, for many parents, you’re programmed to behave this way! For example, if you find yourself reacting with frustration, it is most likely you were parented in a reactionary style. When under pressure, our brain offers us the old way of doing it, which very often is how we were parented.

The good news is our brains are elastic and we can rewire the way we think and respond.

3. Understand the reasons behind YOUR behaviour before you try and work out your child’s

It is easy to think the first place to start if you want to stop shouting is to change your child’s behaviour, but I know from years of experience that the reverse is actually true. If we can change your behaviour first, helping your child and reducing morning battles is so much easier.

Getting frustrated with your child is a sign that your engine light is on.

It’s important to understand that getting frustrated comes from a lot of things happening inside of YOU. This will include things like the way you’re thinking, how your nervous system is, whether you got enough sleep last night etc.

Understanding what inside of you is fuelling the frustration will empower you to start to rewire your thinking and help support yourself to have a different reaction.

Lots of parents come to work with me having tried many strategies they’ve read about online that just didn’t work with their child. Not only is this because very often these strategies aren’t suited to a child is who suspected or confirmed to be neurodivergent, but also these steps completely skip the bit that addresses how the parents are feeling.

Your emotional state changes how you can behave. For example, have you tried parking when there’s a line of traffic watching you? Reallllly hard to do, right? Stress and frustration fogs our brain and makes it hard to think straight.

I meet lots of parents who know they want to be calmer and that would be most helpful, but very often there is a gap between what you know to do and what feels actually possible in the moment with your child. Understanding your own reactions is the key to bridging that gap, and that’s what I help parents do.

4. Understand the reason behind your child’s behaviour

Very often a key source of frustration is the parent doesn’t understand their child’s behaviour. With no other available explanation, a parent’s go-to can be to blame themselves (which adds to the frustration cycle).

Learning the reasons behind your child’s behaviour is going to empower you to know it’s not your fault (phew!) and help you understand the underlying need that needs addressing. Once we understand your child’s reason, we can help you with knowing what to do.

Without doing step 3 it is really hard to see your child clearly and take your best guess as to what their behaviour is trying to communicate. That’s why, in my work, the parent’s wellbeing and emotional regulation is central. Not only is that going to help you to actually implement the strategies I teach, but you’ll also be able to help your child calm down through something called ‘co-regulation’ (but that’s for another blog…)

Madeleine is a parent coach and neurodiversity consultant supporting parents with children who are suspected or confirmed to be neurodivergent. Download Madeleine’s FREE guide The Secret to Reducing Battles with your Strong-willed child here.

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