Taming Your Anger Dragon: How to manage your frustration when your kids won’t sleep.
Frustration and annoyance can be challenging to deal with, especially when it comes to putting your little one down for a nap or bedtime. Anger might come roaring up seemingly from nowhere, taking over your usually mild-mannered ways, and turning you into a fire-breathing dragon. But anger is a part of the human condition, and learning how to accept it and find ways to manage it is important, both for your sake, as well as your child’s.
Feeling frustrated that your child is not sleeping can be a big trigger. You so desperately want them to sleep and you know it is important. You do everything you can to help them get the rest they need, just to have them fight you tooth and nail. Being patient can only go for so long, and then usually something snaps and you are at the brink of the anger abyss. Pulling yourself back from that ledge can be challenging.
What triggers the dragon to emerge? Usually it’s a sign of not enough time, not enough sleep and rest, and not enough of what nourishes us, be that food, water, connection to loved ones, a creative outlet, or exercise. It’s a sign that your own needs are not being met. I find I most often feel frustrated and dragon-like when I am stuck in negative thinking. And when I am overextended and exhausted, my expectations don’t match the situation.
I think it’s worth exploring what causes our dragon-like behavior so we can understand our triggers, and find ways to manage them. This will ultimately help us deal with our children’s dragon-like behavior as well. My hope is that it helps bring compassion for ourselves when we lose our patience, and empathy for our kids when they lose theirs.
What are some ways to tame your anger dragon?
1. Say what you feel. Often if you say it you can begin to get a handle on it. Use “I” statements so you own that these are your feelings. You can say something like “I’m feeling so frustrated right now that you are fighting sleep!” You are expressing what is happening for you, which models for your child good communication even in the midst of anger. Even if your baby is too young to understand your words, you are not putting your feelings on them. What you say is important.
2. It’s cliché, but taking slow breaths can help. Not just breaths, but slow ones. Try and slow down your breathing and your movements since anger can often send us into an adrenaline rush which can mean harsher physical actions than we might like to express.
3. It is okay to set your baby/toddler down in a safe place and say “I’m too upset right now. I need a minute. I’ll be back”. Even though your child will likely cry, it really is okay to step away for a minute to calm yourself down.
4. Find a way to release physical tension in a constructive way. Even if you can’t leave the house, running in place, jumping jacks, or push-ups can sometimes help move the anger through your body so you can think clearly.
5. Know that you are modeling how you express anger to your baby or toddler. That’s not to make you feel guilty, but to let you know you have a witness, and to be mindful of what you are teaching. If you lose your temper and yell at your child remember to apologize after. You can say something like “I got really mad about you not sleeping when I know you are tired. I’m sorry I yelled at you. You are safe and I’m feeling better.”
6. Notice what triggers you the most and try and find a way to head it off before it overtakes you. If you know that your baby’s fussing sends you off the deep end, try and put them down for a nap before they become over-tired. If your toddler missed a nap, and you have to get through a long afternoon, put on some music to shift the energy. If your toddler is whining, say something like “I will be able to listen more easily if you use a clear, strong voice”.
7. Going outside can often shift frustration. Taking a walk, looking at the sky or at water can be helpful in releasing the tension that is percolating inside.
8. Lay down on the floor and let yourself rest for a moment. You don’t have to sleep, but resting for a minute by laying down and letting your muscles relax can help you reframe what is going on.
9. And, if you find you are getting angry all the time, and can’t seem to find constructive ways to calm down, then it’s time to reach out for support.
Know that you are doing your best to stay steady and calm, and your kids are doing their best to manage their feelings with the skills that they have. Try and be kind to yourself, and find ways to reconnect to your child if you lose your cool. May we all find the best way to tame our dragons!
Disclaimer: Elizabeth Green's Early Parenting Sleep Consultations and written material are for educational purposes only and are not meant as medical advice. All spoken and written information is to be used at each parent's discretion.