But Sometimes They Just Push My Buttons!
Patience is an elusive concept for parents. It can either be something we have (or don’t – as in, “I don’t have a lot of patience for that behaviour”), something we are (or aren’t – as in, “I’m not very patient with my kids”), or something that describes our personality (as in, “I’m not a very patient person”) . But, whatever it is, for most parents, it’s a lot like money: there’s just never enough to go around.
Is it possible to increase our patience? Absolutely. Our impatience springs from a series of thoughts and feelings that we have about a situation; if we change our thoughts and feelings, we can change our level of patience.
When something happens, we instantaneously judge it as being either good or bad. We decide that it’s a bad thing that milk was spilled on the floor or a good thing that our child brought home a report called filled with B’s, but these things are actually neutral in themselves. How we view them is what gives them their emotional charge. Once we’ve reached a conclusion about an event, we then have a feeling that is in line with our thought. If we decide that it’s good to earn B’s on a report card, we’ll feel happy/proud/ecstatic/celebratory or another positive emotion. But the opposite is also true; if we decide that it’s bad to spill milk, we’re more likely to feel impatient/angry/resentful or another negative emotion. Our impatience doesn’t come from nowhere, so the first thing we need to do in order to increase our patience is to become aware of how we assess these situations. The second thing is to not let our negative thoughts control how we respond.
Sometimes it’s our expectations, not our children, that lead us astray. At different times in their lives, it is developmentally appropriate, for example, for our children to refuse to cooperate, throw their food on the floor, insist on doing everything (or nothing) for themselves, and act out many other behaviours that range from annoying to obnoxious. The key to increasing our patience is to remind ourselves that this is a developmentally appropriate behaviour and not an attempt to drive us around the bend. If we can keep in mind that our children are not purposely pushing our buttons, it becomes easier to take a deep breath and ask ourselves, what do I want my child to learn from this situation? Because that’s what every interaction with our children is: an opportunity for them to learn. If we let our impatience get the best of us, we may, perhaps, inadvertently teach our children that we are likely to yell when they ask what to them seems to be a perfectly reasonable question. And if that’s the lesson, how quickly do you think they’ll decide just to stop asking questions altogether?
But what about those times when they really are pushing your buttons on purpose? These are still opportunities to teach and learn. How you handle these situations teaches your children more than just how to make your face turn purple. It also models for them how to handle frustration, disappointment, and anger. In these situations, look behind the behaviour for what is motivating it, and address that aspect first. If misbehaviour can be viewed as a misplaced attempt to fill a need your child has, remaining patient will be a key part of getting to its root, meeting the need in a healthy way, and avoiding the misbehaviour in the future.
When you start to see red, take a breath and ask yourself, how can I turn this situation into a positive opportunity for my child to learn? If we look at those experiences in our lives that cause us grief not as hassles or obstacles, but instead as tasks to be completed and lessons to be learned, it becomes easier and easier to increase our patience and become a more patient person. It’s all in the way we look at it.