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Every Moment of Frustration as a Parent is a Teaching Opportunity

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I know some single parents with the patience of Buddhist monks. They never get angry or yell. They never even raise their voice! They’re calm, cool and collected at all times. It’s a skill I wish I had.

I’m not an angry person and I very rarely yell at my daughter—or even in her presence—but there are times when I’m just frustrated beyond belief. It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a single parent and when you do, it’s hard to stop an outburst. It’s even worse if your kid is going through a phase where they like to wind you up!

It’s during these times of building frustration that I’m reminded of something I read a few years ago, while researching the concept of stoicism. It was a passage in a book (I don’t remember which one) that basically said, “every time you’re pushed to the brink of frustration, recognize the cliff you’re standing on.” It’s something that’s really stuck with me, and I try to reflect on it when I’m at my wits end.

Turning frustration into communication

The stoic quote I just mentioned has some significance to every single parent. Basically, it encourages you to think about where you stand before you fly off the handle. I picture myself standing on a cliff, with my daughter in front of me and a steep drop behind me. If I yell at her, I’m going to fall off the edge and plummet to my doom; if I calmly talk to her, I can walk away from the edge safely.

It’s a literal way of thinking about the quote, but it works for me. It reminds me that yelling at my daughter is really the equivalent of jumping off a cliff. Nothing good can come of it, and someone is going to be hurt. Instead, I need to talk to her. I need to help her help me walk back from the edge. I need to turn my frustrations into better communication.

An opportunity for peaceable resolution

I’ve said it before—I’m lucky to have a kid that’s well-behaved. It’s not often I need to practice walking back from the proverbial cliff. But my daughter is still a kid. She does things that irritate me, and she can be a terror when she wants to! I see these instances as teachable moments, for both her and myself.

Instead of yelling, I communicate with her. I ask her to please stop doing what she’s doing, and I tell her why I’m asking her to do that. I ask her why she’s doing it. I stop and take the time to consider the situation, and I try to do whatever’s in my power to satiate her. I don’t bargain or barter, or use ultimatums. Often, the result is pretty swift! She usually has a need that’s not being met—she’s bored or hungry or overtired—and I’m able to find a resolution because I understand that need. We go from her being annoying and me yelling, to talking out the situation and both getting what we want.

I’m not saying every moment will be that easy. But I do think it’s important to visualize the cliff in these moments and see if there’s an opportunity to communicate better. If we do a better job teaching our kids to communicate, it only makes sense that we’ll be less inclined to jump off a cliff when they start pushing our buttons!

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