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What to do when your child is pushing your buttons

Simple tactics can help you deal with a child's challenging behaviors.

There will be many times as a parent when you'll look at your child and feel nothing but pride and joy. But there are also likely to be times when the only feeling you'll have is frustration.

Kids may disobey, throw tantrums or generally be hard to handle. And some days, it might get the best of you. The important thing is that you deal with your feelings in a healthy way. If you don't, your response could be physically or emotionally hurtful to your child.

Keep frustration in check

Here are some ideas for helping you handle frustrating situations.

Focus on prevention. Having consistent rules helps kids learn how they should act. If that's clear to them, it may help prevent bad behavior.

Let your child know what you expect. Use simple statements that spell out what to do. These help more than telling kids what not to do, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For example, saying, "Please use your quiet voice" is better than "Don't yell!"

Praise your child for following rules. Also, make it clear that there will be consequences for not following them.

Preventing frustrating behavior can be a matter of timing. For example, if you know your child often acts up when he or she is tired or hungry, it might be best not to take the child out to a late dinner on a day when he or she didn't nap.

If possible, try to keep a regular schedule for meals and sleep times.

Be prepared. Even if you do all you can to keep your child from behaving poorly, there might be times when it's impossible to avoid becoming frustrated with how he or she acts. So take some time to make a plan for how you'll react when frustration sets in.

There are better choices than spanking or responding physically, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. For example, you might put your child in a time-out and calmly explain why his or her behavior is out of line.

You might want to give yourself a time-out as well. Prevent Child Abuse America recommends calming yourself by taking some deep breaths, pressing your lips together and counting to 10. Or, try closing your eyes and imagining what you are about to say to your child. You should criticize the behavior, not the child. Also, you should not yell or be disrespectful.

When you're really upset, it may help to step away. Ask a friend or relative to help you or watch your child so that you can get out for a while.

Manage your stress. Parenting is a stressful job. And you'll need ways to deal with that stress. These might include exercising or talking to others about your feelings and frustrations. Or you might need to make time to enjoy something relaxing, such as a hot bath.

As much as you love your child, it may help to have some time apart, when you can do something by yourself, for yourself. Consider getting regular breaks by having someone help you with parenting duties from time to time. Or maybe your child could attend a quality day care program some days so that you have some time for yourself.

If you need more help

Parenting groups can be a good resource if you'd like the advice of people in similar situations. Other places to turn for help dealing with frustration include:

  • Your doctor.
  • Mental health organizations.
  • Family service agencies.
  • Your place of worship.

Remember, no parent is perfect. But how you react to your child can have lasting consequences. When your child is frustrating you, always be sure you respond with care and love.

Reviewed 12/8/2022

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