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Parenting is, without question, one of the most challenging experiences an adult can have in this lifetime. We all do the best we can as we navigate the endless dilemmas and parenting issues that parents face every day. How can you tell if you’re burnt out? How can you tell if you’re about to lose it, as they say? There are definite signs and I will show ways to handle each one.

You’re snapping more than usual at your kids.

Hands down, this is the number one sign that a parent has become burnt out and needs a break. Inevitably, a parent will snap or issue a punishment on an occasional basis, but finding yourself snapping throughout the day and watching it last for a few days is a sign that you feel spread too thin and need a break.

What to Do: Call a family meeting with your family and openly share that you noticed that you have been snapping more than usual. Apologize for losing your patience, and then ask your kids, “What are some possible reasons why I might be getting more frustrated lately?” Give them a chance to talk and then tell them what they can do to help. “It would help me if you could try harder to pick up your room and avoid fighting with each other. I am also going to try to keep my frustration under control because I know you guys don’t want to get snapped at, either.”

You find yourself constantly saying “no” to most things your kids ask for.

True, parents shouldn’t say yes to everything, but kids need their parents to say “yes” more than “no” in order for them to feel cared about and noticed. If you go through a stretch where you say no to almost everything, your kid will come to feel disconnected and unappreciated – and then the acting out behavior begins.

What to Do: Make sure to pepper your no’s with yeses if you want to maintain a close, allied relationship with your kid. Remember, the more you work with them and help them meet their goals – whether it’s setting up paint supplies for them, hooking up a movie for them, or playing pass with them with a ball – the more likely they will be to follow your rules.

You haven’t been getting enough sleep for more than a few days.

The reason why sleep is so important is because it is the one thing that balances a person’s mood better than any other. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will get lethargic or irritable, or you may start feeling a little depressed. When you don’t get enough sleep for several days in a row, your mood will be seriously affected. Sleep deprivation means that you are physically burnt out, causing you to feel that things are overwhelming and unmanageable.

What to Do: Start your winding down ritual earlier than usual, including teeth brushing, washing your face, and changing into your bedtime clothing. Force yourself to get into bed one hour earlier than usual and bring a book with you, even if you don’t love to read. Reading before bed is a great step in practicing good sleep hygiene, as focusing on something keeps your brain occupied and away from more stressful or distracting thoughts. If you need extra help relaxing, light a couple candles. Put a note on your door that says something to the following effect: “Trying to get extra sleep, please be extra quiet.”

If you are burnt out, remember that this too shall pass and that things will get better soon. Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or family member for extra help when you reach this point. Having someone babysit for a few hours so you can go out, or having someone do the school pick-up or soccer practice for a day can make an enormous difference in your day. What you really need is more support, so don’t be afraid to ask your partner, kids, and others for a little help!

We all know the feeling. Our child says or does that certain something, we see red and react in ways we regret. We feel out of control, blame the child, and set up our next power struggle. We “go on automatic” and lose our maturity and authority. But we have a choice. We can either punish our child for pushing our buttons or take a look at what our buttons are, why we react the way we do, and take responsibility for our behavior—like an adult.

You know your button has been pushed when:

Our child’s behavior triggers an old wound. Our buttons were planted long ago from messages we took in from our parents’ reactions to us. Those old painful emotions get tapped, it hurts, and we retaliate—but we don’t realize what’s happening. To stop this automatic reaction, first we must recognize that our reactions are caused by our own perceptions.

We believe that our child’s behavior causes our feelings and reactions. “You make me so mad. How many times do I have to yell before you’ll listen?” The unintended message sent is you are responsible for my emotions and my behavior. We leave out a critical piece—the assumptions we make.

The assumptions—perceptions, thoughts, and judgments—we make about ourselves or our children (He never listens, She’s so mean, I’m a terrible mother) are the culprits that provoke our emotions. We feel mad because we have fears and thoughts that hijack our emotions. Reactions inevitably follow.                              

Your behavior makes me THINK you are being mean

and AFRAID I have not taught you how to behave properly.

It is this PERCEPTION that causes me to FEEL angry and then to REACT.

Reframing our Assumptions:

We can’t change our feelings, but we can change our thoughts—the assumptions that provoke our emotions and reactions. No one can “make” us mad. We can reframe our assumption from my child is being a problem, to my child is having a problem. The result is a 180 degree switch in perception, a shift from anger to compassion.

If a child yells, “You’re so stupid”, it’s because the child feels frustrated by something. If it pushes a button, the adult may react with, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that! Who do you think you are?!” The parent feels threatened and has taken it personally. She may have experienced a parent, sibling, or teacher making remarks like, “What are you stupid or something?” or “That’s not a very smart thing to say” enough times that the message sticks—I’m stupid, I’m not good enough. If no button gets pushed, the parent can acknowledge, “You wish I would say something different. You don’t like it when I ask you to do something you don’t want to do” and then redirect the child appropriately. This parent is not taking the child’s remark personally and can remain objective. She sees it as it is—an expression of frustration or powerlessness and deals with it maturely.

When your button gets pushed:

  1. Stop, walk away, do nothing (yet)
  2. Breathe deeply at least 3 times
  3. Wait until both you and your child are calm
  4. Go back over the situation and problem solve (do a “do-over”)

To defuse your button:

  1. Name your feelings
  2. Identify the assumption you made to cause those feelings
  3. Reframe your assumption from a judgment to an observation
  4. Your reframed assumption should prompt compassion instead of anger

There are many layers to the defusing process that can be found in my book, “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons”. When your buttons are defused you will no longer be driven by your emotions and reactions. You can respond instead of react and be the parent you always expected to be.