The emotional rollercoaster of parenthood has the ability to rock you to your core. You love your kid — like, you really love them — but sometimes you seriously need to lock yourself in the bathroom and hide. I've certainly been there, wondering why I've lost all my patience with my toddler. I mean, they're just a kid and I'm an adult. I should be able to control my emotions, right?
I would venture to guess that there isn't a parent on this literal Earth who has not lost their patience with their child at one point or another. Sure, maybe it wasn't during the baby or toddler years, but by the time those littles were preteens, I can almost guarantee it happened at least once, if not way, way more. When it comes to toddlers, though, losing your cool can happen for a variety of reasons.
Why You Lose Your Cool
"Toddlers and young children need a lot of attention and care, which leaves new parents little time for self-care and friends," neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., tells Romper. "This can sometimes be very isolating, especially for new parents who are going through the experience for the first time. Even when a child is napping, the parent usually has to fall asleep too just to rest a bit before their duties start back up. So there is almost never any time for a wine night or dinner out or sleep for that matter."
Dealing with a toddler specifically also means dealing with big emotions — yours and theirs. "A toddler often doesn’t have all the skills to be able to do what they want and this can also get frustrating to them," Dr. Navya Mysore, a family physician for One Medical, tells Romper. "Additionally, controlling emotions at that age is not something they are able to do, which can lead to the classic and often frustrating meltdown that every parent at one point or another has experienced with their kid."
Mysore recommends acknowledging that this frustration is normal as the first step to understanding what's happening. "It takes a lot of patience to work with a toddler, and the reality is that on some days it will be harder to access all that patience compared to others. I think what’s important is to recognize that you are feeling this way and try to find ways to deal with your own frustration," she says. "Keep in mind that all the frustration that your toddler is experiencing is normal and needed. It’s how they learn new developmental skills. Think about a toddler trying to stack blocks — they get frustrated because they can’t match them up one over another, but eventually that frustration pushes them to keep trying and they learn the skill."
Don't Feel Guilty — This Happens To Everyone
It may not look like the stomping feet temper tantrum that your tot has recently mastered, but I bet that at some point your little one has made your head feel like it's going to explode from frustration. Maybe you snap at them, or yell, or tell them to go to their room and leave you alone for five freaking minutes, but then, after that... guilt. So. Much. Guilt.
Hafeez tells Romper that the guilt that happens after you lose your cool with your kid can be "really hard on a parent," but understanding that this issue is pretty universal can help.
"So much of what we think about becoming a parent is joyful and almost glamorous. From Instagram moms to magazine covers of celebrity babies, it can be jarring to feel like you are frustrated," Hafeez explains. "'Shouldn't I be feeling like the happiest person on Earth?' Well, frustration does not necessarily mean unhappiness. We can be happy to have our child and love them dearly and still be stressed because of our errands list, lack of sleep, and constant hovering over a child that won't stay still. That is a natural response."
Hafeez also says that "snapping happens," when parents are dealing with the everyday frustrations of raising kids, but if that action becomes persistent, parents may need to turn to a therapist to help learn ways to manage their stress. Understanding where your reaction is coming from (and the role your child's development plays in all of this) can also help quell guilt.
"If you feel guilty about your reaction and can see how the compounding of stress got you there, then you need to understand that the child does not have the insight you have," Hafeez tells Romper. "Give yourself and the child time to calm down, then ask them if they want to talk. Apologize and ask them to tell you how they feel. Provide affection and closure within the situation. Then start thinking about how to manage the stress in similar situations in the future so that this doesn't become a pattern."
How To Stop Losing Your Patience With Your Toddler
Working with your toddler to alleviate stressors that frustrate you both can also be an impactful way to make a dent on the frustration front. Mysore says that learning to communicate with your toddler and giving your toddler some choices can help. "Letting them make a decision helps them to feel in control and can help to reduce the emotional outbursts. The key is to keep it to only a few choices, otherwise it’s too overwhelming," she says.
Mysore says that distraction can also help. "If your toddler is really frustrated with one particular thing they are playing with, acknowledge it to them, but then try to engage them in something completely different that you need help with."
When you hold your newborn, you feel like your heart isn't big enough to hold all of the love you have for them. But then, the next thing you know you're exhausted by a cluster feeding baby, then frustrated by your toddler's whining, and then intensely bothered by your preschooler's thousand questions per day. From elementary schoolers to teens, and even adult children — kids frustrate their parents and parents lose their cool. It just happens.
Luckily though, it's possible to handle your frustrations in a way that leaves you feeling less burnt out. "Find a support system," Hafeez says. "It can be difficult for single parents, especially. But we cannot isolate and expect to be well enough to cope with the stress of being a parent. Reach out to loved ones, take your friend's call and rest as much as possible. If you have a partner, then it is important that they contribute to the child's care and help alleviate you when possible."
Above all else, Hafeez has this word of hope for all of us parents who lose our cool: "Rest assured that your child is not being difficult for the sake of being difficult. It will get better."
Dr. Navya Mysore, MD, family physician for One Medical
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist in New York City, faculty member at Columbia University