How to stay calm when your kids won’t listen

mother and son sitting on a sofa

Have you been there? You’ve asked your little one to get their shoes on. The second time you asked, you were still relatively calm. By the third time you’re starting to feel a bit annoyed. And when you had to ask the fourth time, you lost every ounce of patience you had. And shouty mama came out. And then, you felt really bad.

But how do you stay calm when your child won’t listen? One of the most common conundrums of the modern-day parent.

The child’s brain

The human brain isn’t fully matured until a person’s mid to late twenties. The frontal lobe – responsible for judgment, planning, assessing risks, and decision making – is actually the last region to complete development. This means that children are ruled much more by their emotions and don’t have the same ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time, over-ride their urges or regulate their emotions as we do. But what does this mean for parents?

Managing frustrations

We often think our child is ‘so much smarter than your average 3 year old,’. However, no matter how smart they are, they’re still learning how to control, regulate and communicate their emotions. And despite this being something we can still struggle with as adults, it’s down to us to guide them. 

Even when you know the scientific reasoning behind your child ignoring your every request, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you’ve asked them for the hundredth time to put on their coat. They’re still knee deep in lego. And you’re still no closer to leaving home. If you still feel annoyed, lose your cool, and snap at your kids even though you know they’re just being kids, then read on..

Taking responsibility for your own feelings

I often ask my clients ‘is this a you thing, or a them thing?’. What I mean is, is this something you need to help them learn or is this something you need to learn to change your response to. It’s often a combination the two..

It’s often easier to try and change others behaviours (it takes the heat off us so we can avoid looking inwards at our own behaviour). Whilst we can help our children to learn “over time” the point is that it does take time. They just aren’t able to take on the meaning of much of what we try to teach them without that developed frontal lobe. 

So until that happens, it comes down to you to be able to find ways to manage your frustrations. So that life feels less stressful and so that you can model to them the sorts of behaviours you want them to learn. 

The solution

How are you supposed to stay calm when you haven’t had a good night sleep in 8 years? When you can’t remember the last time you had any time to yourself, watched something that wasn’t by Disney and went out nothing more than your credit card in your back pocket?

When you are constantly exhausted or on the brink of a burn out, keeping calm can be a real challenge. But I support parents every week who want to do just that. Mastering these four steps can help you to turn it around and find your inner zen. They really do work. Even when you’re sleep deprived and you’re latest request to “please, just put your shoes on” has just been ignored for the millionth time..

How to stay calm when your kids won’t listen. The 4 P’s

1. Prepare. You’re not going to be able to keep your cool and be the calm parent you want to be if you’re constantly bogged down by feelings of stress, anxiety and overwhelm. If this is the case for you, then learning how to self-soothe and calm your nervous system is the first thing that needs to happen for you to be able to stay calm when your kids can’t.

2. Pause. It’s easy to just slip in to autopilot when life gets busy and stressful; with a constant list of to do’s that start from the moment you get up to the moment you finally get to sleep. Getting everyone out the house on time in the morning, sorting three meals a day, arranging play dates, getting kids to their clubs, drawn out bedtimes and everything in between. It can feel relentless, overwhelming and stressful, and it’s easy to slip into autopilot to get through. However, when we are on autopilot, we are reactive. Remembering to take a pause when your kids behaviour has triggered you, a moment to come off autopilot, register the situation and think about how you want to respond will give you that chance.

3. Parent yourself. Our children’s behaviour triggers us for a reason. Next time you feel wound up, annoyed or angry, a little bit of self-enquiry will help you to understand what it is about their behaviour that makes your blood boil. Perhaps you have biased thoughts, like “all other kids listen, they’re just doing it on purpose” fuelling your feelings of anger. Or perhaps their behaviour brings up old feelings from your past when you didn’t feel listens to or respected.

As a parent, learning to listen to what you need, and how you can support yourself may feel counter-intuitive. But it will help you to manage your own difficult feelings with more ease and grace. And affect how your children feel (and therefore behave) as a result too.

4. Plan for next time. You’re human. And just like every other human, you will inevitably act in ways you don’t like from time to time. There’s no way around this. This means that with the best intentions in the world, there will be times when you slip up, and shout at your kids – and probably feel awful as a result. 

When this happens, rather than beating yourself up and focusing on your flaws as a parent (which we all have), redirect your energy into understanding what triggered you and why. And work through the issues that you need to. This is a much better use of your time and energy and will ultimately help you change the dynamic you have with your kids. 

When you know how to respond to unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that have caused you to take your feelings out on your children and how to process your past experiences, you’ll feel more able to navigate the challenges you have with your kids. And still respond to them the way you want to. Even when they’re not listening.

If you found this blog useful, and would like to learn more about our next Emotional Regulation Programme which starts in October, just drop us an email at  hello@consciousandcalm.com and we can help you get started.

If you’d like to read more about how you can keep your cool when your kids can’t, download our free guide.

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