'I just lost it!': what to do after frustration gets the better of you

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We've all experienced it. We make a simple and reasonable request of our children. We ask in a calm and clear way. But they don't listen. They ignore us. We ask again, and again, and then again. Until, we're so frustrated that we lose it!

This is what happened to a mum I was chatting to recently. She had repeatedly told her daughter to be careful with her drink but her daughter hadn't listened. So when her daughter spilled the drink, the mum yelled.

Her daughter then started to cry and, of course, the mum felt terrible. How could she have handled it differently? By tapping into the head, heart and soul of parenting.

I told you so!

This is probably what is running through our heads just as our child spills the drink and just before we lose it: "I told her to be careful!", "She didn't listen to me!","Why doesn't she ever listen to me?"

These thoughts might be true. You did ask your child to be careful, more than once, and your child didn't listen. But these thoughts aren't necessarily helpful.

They are the kinds of thoughts that encourage an over-reaction. They can trigger the anger and then the yelling. And that's not how we want to behave so we feel guilty.

Instead, we can be aware when these stories are forming in our heads, and we can tap into another perspective.

I'm feeling like this

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How can you prevent yourself from losing it and over-reacting? Notice how you're feeling.

In this case, the mum was feeling like she wasn't being heard or listened to or respected. That was leading to a sense of anger, annoyance and frustration. Those feelings were building up each time that she asked her daughter to be careful with her drink and her daughter didn't change her behaviour.

Notice the feeling. Acknowledge it. Say to yourself, "Oh I'm getting angry here. This is really annoying me." 

Don't judge whether the emotion is right or wrong. Simply be curious and interested. Then take a deep breath.

Find the better response

Once you're aware of how you are feeling and the stories running through your head, you've moved beyond reacting. You are now able to respond with more awareness and intention.

You've opened up a space to find a better response. That response might be:

  • Stopping what you are doing, going over to your child, explaining why you don't want them to run around the house with a drink and suggesting that they put it down on the table.
  • Or realising that mistakes happen and a spilt drink doesn't really matter even though you asked your child several times to be careful.
  • Or focusing on your child helping to clean up the mess. Not as a punishment for their behaviour, but as a natural consequence. If you're not careful with your drink and you spill it, you have to clean it up.

All of the above three options are better than over-reacting and yelling. They are a way to guide your child's behaviour and support their learning.

But it's difficult to take this loving, guiding action if we don't first acknowledge what we're thinking and feeling. That's why a deep breath and a bit of self-awareness can make all the difference.

Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, author and creator of the Intuitive Parenting App - an online space for parents who want to raise their children with head, heart and soul. You can begin a free trial at: www.intuitiveparentingapp.com.