Cope better with stressful parent-child interactions
- Exhibiting ‘big feelings’ is a normal part of early childhood development. Often the only way a young child can communicate their needs and wants is by showing you their feelings.
- Most parents experience negative emotions, frustrations or exhaustion from time to time.
- Because children learn by example, it is important that parents act as role models for how they want their children to behave.
- Managing feelings that lead to frustration or anger between you, your partner and your child is sometimes challenging. Learning how will enable you to enjoy parenting and maintain a comfortable, happy and safe home for your child.
Parenting is one of the most important tasks we undertake. It doesn’t always come naturally though. Parenting generally takes practice and patience.
Being a parent brings out a range of powerful and intense emotions from exhilaration to despair. Feelings of love, happiness and pride may quickly turn to frustration, anger, hate or guilt, depending on the situation and the availability of assistance on hand. These feelings are completely normal, but can at times feel overwhelming or become challenging to manage.
Children thrive when they know what is expected of them and their day has a similar pattern to it. Children feel safe when they can predict the routine and our reactions to their behaviour and emotions. A child needs to know what the adults’ reaction will be and that it will be reasonable for their age, fair and consistent. Most parents experience a rollercoaster of feelings and experiences during early parenthood. It is essential to learn how to handle distress and feelings like anger and frustration so that you can enjoy parenting and maintain a healthy experience for your child. If you don’t feel confident to manage the daily challenges of parenting it may be helpful to talk to other parents or a professional to learn more effective ways of coping.
Big feelings or tantrums and child development
Young children act out their feelings through their behaviour until they are confident to communicate verbally. They do not yet have the thinking abilities to express themselves in a rational way. While their brain is still developing during infancy, young children are unable to calm themselves on their own.
Young children need adults to support and help them through their big feeling episodes and to regain a sense of calm and dignity. When a young child is being emotional, it is important that the adults caring for them respond calmly and rationally.
Expressions of big feelings or tantrums tend to occur at the age when young children do not have the ability to handle their feelings without adult help and
need co-regulation. This often occurs between the ages of 18 months and 4 years, but each child is different.
Some children won’t express themselves with big feelings at all, while others act them out frequently. As children get older, they gradually learn how to reduce their own heightened emotional state and rely less on adult help to feel calm. This occurs as the cognitive part of their brain becomes more developed.
Building a trusting, loving and respectful relationship
The type of relationship you build with your child is what guides them throughout their life. Some parents may become overwhelmed with their own emotions, lash out at their child or become angry when frustrated, tired or stressed. Children learn by following the examples set by adults around them and from their experience of their own relationship with their parents. An important part of learning to control emotions and manage negative feelings in a peaceful way, to trust and respect others, and behave with care and compassion is through experiencing and seeing these behaviours.
Young children, such as those less than 12 months of age, don’t have the intellectual maturity to understand discipline of any kind. Becoming angry or physical will only frighten a young child or may even cause serious and permanent injuries. If you resort to physical discipline with your child, you are teaching them that the most acceptable way to resolve conflict is by using violence.
Experiencing negative feelings is normal
Parents can feel tired, unwell, stressed, frustrated and angry and so can children. Children often cannot tell us how they are feeling but instead ‘act out’ by showing their feelings through their behaviours — this is normal. When parents are under pressure themselves, it is more difficult to take the time to work out what your child is trying to tell you. Parents may often just react to the behaviour.
Most children experience challenging feelings and behaviours. Try to remember that these times can be normal phases of growing up and will probably pass.
Suggestions for handling your child’s big emotions include:
- Ask for support, remember that ‘it takes a village to bring up a child’, so don’t try to parent on your own.
- Take time out from the care of your child. Leave your child with a responsible adult and have a break to catch up on some sleep, go for a walk or talk to a friend.
- Seek out like-minded people who will encourage your parenting efforts and build your confidence to parent.
- Reach out for professional help and support.
Managing in the long term
It is important to take care of your own needs and feelings too. No matter how loving and selfless, a parent can’t continue to give to their children if they receive little or no emotional nourishment themselves.
Reaching out for professional support is the best option when problems are too complex to solve on your own. We can work with you to:
- Cope with stressful parent-child interactions.
- Learn about child development, in order to better understand and anticipate your child’s behaviour.
- Recognise and attend to underlying stressors e.g. financial stresses, marital difficulties or workplace stress, which may impact on your parenting relationship.
- Consider stress management strategies.
- Learn to look after yourself in little simple ways every day.
- Find support from family, friends or your local community.