Category Archives: Parenting

The Importance Of Getting Your Kids To Cry

How to handle frustration

mindful parenting; handling difficult emotions, how to have more connection with your kids.

If you are a parent, you’re probably familiar with your children’s expression of frustration. Children often get to their frustration point rather easily and let it be known in big out loud ways. Parents often get to their own frustration point in return rather easily when their kids express those super frustrating signs of frustration. Pretty soon the family squabble has erupted, with both, parent and child feeling locked into a power struggle over who’s the most frustrated (or frustrating).

You know – all of that whining, complaining, arguing when they can’t have what they want. Or raising their voice, begging, pleading, negotiating for a certain toy or item to be purchased at the store. Having a meltdown when they can’t go to their friend’s house because they have school work to finish, or a family gathering to attend instead.

Getting angry when you impose a time limit on their screen time. Or when they’re actually off of their screens per your order, but are restless and bored and complain obnoxiously that “There’s nothing to do!!“

Every day frustrations can derail the day, several times a day.

Refusing to do homework and throwing it across the room or hiding it under the bed and not turning it in when it’s too hard. Not getting a good grade and being sarcastic with you, or with the teacher about it, accusing her of hating them. Calling you names or saying that they hate you or that you’re the worst parent ever when you’ve said no to their request (or more likely, to their demand). Rolling their eyes or ignoring you when you make a perfectly reasonable request of them (like to clean up their room, or help with getting dinner on the table) or when you have interrupted their social time.

Often a child’s/tweens‘/Teen’s frustration looks like they are purposefully doing the opposite of what we ask, or defying us; trying to make us mad or manipulate us into losing control. Or needling us, trying to push our buttons.

Kids’ frustration can trigger parents’ frustration

With all the daily eruptions of frustration happening all around us (at work, on the road, in our communities, in the world) it’s easy to see how our own sense of frustration gets triggered when we come home and experience our kids’ (immature) ways of expressing their frustration. We may react in an equally immature way.

…And it’s hard to see that there might actually be a gift present in those frustration outbursts that we work very hard to avoid. Hard to believe that in those moments of our own frustration (anger, overwhelm, irritation) with our kids’ behavior, that the thing most called for is actually crying… No, not you sitting and crying in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor because the situation is so difficult and you don’t know what else to do (though that is definitely called for in other moments), but actually helping our children get to the cry that’s underneath their accumulation of frustration.

… WHAT? Help my kids get to the cry when they’re already frustrated and acting a fool with all of their crying and screaming and moaning and basically temper tantrumming?!? WHAAT? How can that be useful? That will just teach them that it’s OK to have a hissy fit for everything… No, I’m not gonna do that…

No, no negative emotions on my watch

Naturally, as busy parents with a million and one stressors and frustrations already on our plate, we make our best effort to block the negative and often unpleasantly emotional reactions from erupting or taking place in our already-not-optimally-functioning homes.

We may give in to our children’s rudeness in order to avoid the big meltdown that we know will occur if we don’t do what they say. Or we try to bury our head in the sand and hope their frustrations go away or work themselves out on their own.

We are tired, stressed, feeling under-appreciated ourselves. We certainly don’t want them to feel hurt from some mean interaction with a school mate; or upset with us when we haven’t been able to be available. We don’t want them to feel damaged in any way, especially by us. We also don’t want them to feel any other “negative“ emotion.

We are overwhelmed that they seem to especially show their less-than-stellar ways of expressing frustration at the most inopportune times  – the end of the day when everyone is exhausted, or when making the transition home or off of screen time, or doing chores; before homework; or in the morning when we have an important meeting to get out the door in a hurry for, or late at night before bed when all we can think of is going to sleep.

No good time for stress to hit

Or it seems that the frustrations erupt whenever we have other deadlines and demands to pay attention to. Often we’re in a transition time of our own too, so by definition we’re a little more vulnerable, a little more unsteady and reactionary, and we react in ways that aren’t so helpful and may, in fact, make things worse.

We react not as our best selves. We might start to lecture (that same lecture that we’ve already given 1 billion times); we get critical; we raise our voice; we have that terrible tone in our voice of irritation, escalation, disapproval, intolerance. We feel out of control and start to plead, whine, threaten, be sarcastic, demand or dictate that they don’t show their feelings that way, or disrespect us like that.

Vulnerability lurks underneath the outward expression of frustration

However, underneath all of that external expression of frustration, we feel overwhelmed, sad about the state of affairs; hurt and reminded of times early in our life where we felt ignored, unloved, bad somehow. We feel vulnerable and inadequate and at a loss about what to do. We feel weary; like things have been so hard for so long, or we can never do anything right. So disappointed in them, and then, of course, in ourselves. We feel tender or little ourselves. We do want to sit and cry…

Certainly, our kids don’t have any idea that that’s how we’re feeling on the inside… Just like it’s hard for us to imagine that our kids are feeling something tender and wounded underneath their eruptions of anger or rage or frustration.

What’s the outcome of all of this frustration?

Kids, when they’re frustrated, have a tendency to become aggressive somehow – either toward others (siblings, parents, teachers, classmates) or toward themselves. Parents, like kids, do the same. We are all vulnerable human beings that have less-than-stellar ways of showing our frustration and distress when we are pushed.

So all of this provides a clue about why, when our kids are acting out their frustrations, our job as parents is to help them GET TO THE CRY.

If we can sustain ourselves through their emotional outbursts (and not give in, or run and hide, or engage in some nasty power struggle with them), we can be present to their frustration with kindness, and increase the chances of helping them move through it.

If they get stuck in their frustration, (which can happen when as parents we engage in a battle or power struggle with them) they’ll become aggressive somehow. If they move through it instead, they’ll manage some adaptation and acceptance and be able to make peace with what’s lost.

They need our presence, and acceptance of the disappointment they feel about whatever loss they’ve experienced (independence, connection, affiliation, fun, things not being the way they want, etc.).

Why it’s important to Get to the Cry

When they can GET TO THE CRY, they go through a mini cycle of the stages of grief and this makes them more resilient, more knowing of how to handle difficult experiences, more confident about their own capacity to move through hard things. Getting to the Cry involves connecting with one’s true feelings – which is part of what being emotionally intelligent means.

Haven’t you had the experience of having a good cry about something that you’ve been really upset about or frustrated by and felt so much better afterward? Getting to the Cry allows for release and relief of those feelings that are built up.

Making deeper connections with your kids

Letting your children get to the cry and staying as steady as you can with it actually increases the connection you have with them – which is the singular most important condition that they need, to be able to face all the challenges they will have in life. Getting to the cry keeps frustration from turning into hurtful aggression toward a child herself, or toward others.

So how exactly to do it?

How to help your child Get to the Cry in the middle of their frustration outburst,  and keep your own cool at the same time?

  1. First, take a deep breath. Try to find some space to breathe slowly and bring some calm to your heart. Hard to steady them when you’re unsteady yourself.
  2. Notice how you’re feeling and give a name to it (irritated, annoyed, angry, exhausted… Frustrated…). Sometimes just naming it gives you some space around the feeling, a little more room to breathe. Practicing naming your own feelings helps to be able to name your kids’ feelings as well.
  3. Try not to personalize their bad behavior. Realize they are letting off some steam, and right now this is the best tool they’ve got. Plus, if their meltdowns have “worked“ in the past, they won’t just stop doing it now because you’re ready to help them get to the cry. When you don’t take personally all of the negative stuff they’re saying or acting, you actually empower them to be more resourceful, and aware of how they can impact others. When you don’t take things personally you free yourself and give them freedom as well.
  4. Come alongside your child rather than AT him. Be curious rather than furious about what she feels. Help them talk about what’s underneath their frustration rather than just ineffectively vent and complain.
  5. Be OK with seeing them be sad or mad. Don’t tell them how they should or should not feel. Remember, if you want them to be connected to you, your job is to be compassionate about whatever they feel, not selective about which feelings are acceptable to present. Try to hear all feelings with equanimity and not try to talk them out of their feelings.
  6. Listen. Hear them out. You don’t have to say too much. (In fact, it’s best if you hear yourself debating, bargaining, negotiating, giving advice, lecturing, moralizing, etc., that you try to get quiet instead). See if you can identify their feeling (aggravation, annoyance, pissed, upset, sad, scared, etc.). “I hear how pissed you are that you can’t go to the movies tonight. That must feel pretty rotten. I’d be pretty mad too if I couldn’t do something that was important to me.“
  7. Gently but firmly move to a deeper layer of emotion: “It’s really disappointing, isn’t it, to miss out on something you know will be fun.“ “It hurts when it feels like we are so unfair and like you’re the only kid who can’t go.“ “You probably wish you had different parents right now, huh?“ “You’re so mad right now that you’re afraid you’re going to cry.“

Try to move to the deeper emotion and let your young person know you understand where he’s coming from and why his frustration is so big. It generally never works to get someone to back down by throwing a heavier harder bigger punch, so don’t battle your kids about their frustration.

When they do cry, or fight back tears, or tell you all the other things that happened today that really hurt them and that’s why they’re so mad, accept and love those feelings.

8. Of course, as the parent, you have to know, own and respect your own frustrations and emotions, with kindness too. Check how you act when you’ve had a really frustrating day. Be willing to examine your own expression of emotions. Try to notice how that comes across to and affects the people around you.

Do your own self-care (yoga, exercise, a walk, meditation or mindfulness practices, BREATHING) so you have the resilience to help your kids with their frustrations. Model positive ways of dealing with difficult emotions. GET TO YOUR OWN CRY.

…Your thoughts about helping your kids get to the cry? Reply back and share.

If you or someone you care about needs help Getting to the Cry in your family, please contact me for parenting therapy and support.

Also, don’t miss a FREE parenting series happening NOW about raising children with challenges – that is chock full of ideas and support to help you get through more gracefully this time of parenting. Susan Stiffelman interviews several experts and the talks are free to listen to for 48 hours. Click here to register.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445

Parents Need Support Too

Parents’ Lives Matter

raising children with challenges; positive parenting; mindful parents

So, I believe in the importance of giving parents as much support as possible, while they are raising their children – you know, while raising those young ones who will be taking care of all of us; or leading us; or will be our policy makers a decade or two in the future… but who right now may be challenging us at our core.

I think the way we support parents directly impacts the way they are then able to support their children; which directly impacts the future and quality of our world. Providing parents with emotional and practical support is a powerful way to make the world a better place – and to make it a little kinder, one family at a time.

Parenting is hard work

Parenting is a challenging, difficult, requiring hard work, demanding and often thankless job. It can be exhausting; at times overwhelming; so confusing, to be responsible for all the decisions and care that need to be made. Each stage presents a multitude of developmental challenges for the child; and for the parents of the child. Parenting can be isolating and can lead to doubts and self-judgments, even among busy urban professionals who are successful in many other areas of life.

It is humbling to be the parent of a child who “falls out“ in the crosswalk as you hold his hand to cross the street; or who hits another child at school; or who maintains poor study habits and doesn’t get her work done; or the tween who is so critical of everything you say or do; or the teenager who feels everything to the nth degree and seems overly dramatic in expressing their feelings. Humbling, and painful to have daily battles over homework, screen time, chores, emotions run amuck.

We cringe as parents when our kids are hurtful, or unappreciative to us, especially after we do so much for them. We feel frustration and sometimes the awful resentment when they don’t listen to us, or they embarrass us and make us look bad in front of our peers.

Stress in the world, in our home and within ourselves can be too much

Of course urban parents have a lot of other stressors going on in their lives at the same time – huge economic pressures if living in places like the Bay Area; work demands that often don’t fit perfectly into a 9-to-5 schedule; illness; marital struggles; exhaustion; your car not starting; or a leak in the roof; relatives who are forever dependent upon your assistance in some way; trying to protect family members from dangers or bullies at work, school or home, or any other pressure that doesn’t go away.

Not to mention the added stress of having had painful struggles with your own parents when you were a kid; or suffering some profound loss or trauma – Then or Now; or generally never feeling quite good enough. We can feel alone in the parenting world, even if we have a partner; or such shame when we see how others only post all of their wonderful family experiences on Facebook; or guilt when we realize we aren’t doing enough, or our work/life balance is out of whack.

We can feel all too often like a Hot Mess of a parent.

…I just read that becoming a mother is considered a high risk factor for developing depression… or as my colleague said, “a child never needs to have a mommy more than when she becomes a mother”!

All of these conditions (and more) can come together and create a perfect storm of stress for the parents and family, often causing angry outbursts or crying spells, ongoing arguments or conflict, or troubled health – in the parent and/ or the child. No one wants to suffer the family disharmony that can easily be ignited. Yet these family struggles are part of everyday parenting and family life.

How to make it better

But getting parenting support can make an enormous difference in a  family’s life. With support parents can feel like they are not alone. They can internalize the wisdom and care that comes from external support and develop a sense and source of calm from within that helps them learn to maintain their balance, even when the kids act out or are disruptive, or have special challenges. Parenting support can strengthen the connection between partners; and between parents and their children.

Receiving parenting support is like securing your own oxygen mask before you secure your kids’ – it’s a way of getting your own security in place so you can truly be attentive and responsive to your kids’ need for security. It’s a way of healing the hole in your own bucket, so you can not drip your own resources away as you nurture them.

Getting support around parenting can create a stronger foundation, so when the blowups or stressors or daily challenges inevitably happen, both parents and kids can have more stability to stand on.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. We know it also takes a village to support a parent. It’s so much easier to go through hard things when you feel like someone has your back and you are not alone.

So what is supportive to a parent? Here are four things that are helpful to the hard work of parenting:

1) Listening

This is actually the number one tool necessary to develop a good and secure attachment with your kids, which ultimately helps them to succeed in life and become positively contributing human beings. When you as a parent are deeply listened to yourself – allowed to feel what you feel, given a chance to express what’s on your mind or in your heart, and caringly understood, you’re in a much better position to offer that to your kids. Parents can create listening partnerships with partners, or friends to share the experiences of hardship and joy of parenting, and develop a supportive network. Take turns to just listen to each other without having to fix or change anything. Notice how when you feel heard, things seem a little easier and more hopeful.

2)  A Chance to Breathe 

Yes, deep breaths, mindful attention, time to be quiet with your own thoughts, daily mindfulness or meditation can be enormously supportive,  helpful and calming to one’s inner parenting distress, so that it doesn’t seep out (in destructive ways) to your everyday life. Fortunately, daily parenting offers many moments to center oneself, take a few slow deep breaths, notice the sounds, feelings or body sensations that are going on inside and around you. Each moment welcomed as it is, creates a more secure foundation for future moments, however, they present themselves, and builds a deeper sense of ease, with which to respond from.

3) Community

You are not alone in this struggle. Do yourself and your family a favor, by engaging with others; looking for parent support groups; mindful mama groups; parenting classes. We all do better when we don’t feel alone and when we can share our burdens and responsibilities. Maybe your biological family is not one you can count on for support; but you can create “family“ with other parents who are struggling just like you.

4) Parenting Tools, Skills and Education

You can work with a therapist like me. I especially like working with urban professionals, people of color, parents who care about diversity – and sharing tools that are all about healing past and current family relationships. I believe that giving attention to the sacred time of parenting – with all of its joys and frustrations – is the most important thing we can do – and the most fruitful – in creating a better world.

You don’t have to be overwhelmed in this struggle in your family as you do this most courageous and personally challenging job. You can benefit from learning some practical skills and concepts that maybe you never have had exposure to before, like mindful parenting, non-violent communication, purposeful pauses, self-compassion, everyday mindfulness, etc.

An excellent resource I would highly recommend that I know will be extremely useful in learning some new ideas and practical skills about how to be the best parent you can be is an online FREE series coming up next week (March 20-22) called “Raising Children with Challenges”, hosted by my respected colleague, Susan Stiffelman. She writes a parenting column for the Huffington Post and has offered other summits for parents that are hugely valuable and down to earth and REAL about parenting without power struggles, or parenting in the digital age. (If you can’t catch the free live presentations, they’ll be available for purchase so you can keep all the talks in your own parenting toolbox library).

So what comes up for you as you reflect on your own parenting struggles and joys? Are you getting enough support? Share your feedback here.

If you or someone you care about is having a hard time managing the parenting struggle and would like some solid heartfelt support, please contact me for a parenting therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
(510) 482-4445