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When you are Having an Off Day

Stressed mumHave you ever noticed how much easier it is to be a ‘good’ parent when you are feeling well rested, but how everything feels ten times harder when you are feeling tired. Part of you knows what you ‘should’ be saying and doing, but when you are tired it all seems to come out wrong and you end up with a short fuse. At times like this, when you most need your children to behave so that you can get through the day, you can often find that these are the times when you children will fight, act out or behave in the most challenging ways imaginable. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there! And what can happen then is a downward spiral, where the more they act out, the more you might snap or respond inappropriately* (because you’re tired) and then the more you respond inappropriately, the more of a disconnection forms between you and your children. When children act out, try to remember that they are not out to make life difficult for you, they are trying to show you how difficult life is for them. Their behaviour may be a signal that they are feeling disconnected from you, and are crying out for your loving attention.

Here are seven ideas for helping you to cope through the difficult days:

  1. Be gentle with yourself– forgive yourself for not being at your best. Slow down your movement, slow down your breathing and bring your awareness into your body. Do this as often as you remember. Find things which soothe your senses. Light candles, play music, create nice fragrances in your house with essential oils (personally I like Lavender and Ylang Ylang when I want to feel calm and relaxed, and Clary Sage when my mood needs a lift). This will help to calm you (and your kids) down and become more present to yourself, which in turn will help you to become more present to your children.

  2. Acknowledge your feelings and be authentic – tune in to how you feel, and allow that feeling to inform you as to what you need. All too often we try to push down and avoid uncomfortable feelings, but they are there for a reason to guide us to take action for ourselves. It’s ok to let your children know how you feel, even when you are not feeling your best. Up to 70% of communication is non verbal, and children are far more tuned in to non verbal signals (such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice) than adults. So if you pretend you are feeling fine when you are not, your children will believe your non verbal communication over your words. Being authentic and telling them you are feeling tired or low will model to them authentic communication. Make sure to tell them that it is ok to feel like this, that it will pass, and you are doing what you need to take care of yourself. Children should not be made to feel responsible for your feelings or well-being.

  3. Acknowledge your children’s feelings, too. -You could say something like, “ You’re feeling fed up, you wish I could play with you. I’m feeling very tired right now, and don’t feel like playing. Would you like to snuggle with me on the couch or would you like to play outside with your brother?” Acknowledging how they feel helps them to feel understood, and to know that although you cant always give them what they want you are still on their side.

  4. Be conscious of your tone of voice – This is a big one! Tone of voice is even more important than what you say. If you are requesting that your children behave in a calm way, but your voice sounds angry, then your children will feel disconnected from you and are less likely to be able to meet your request. Because it is harder to stay calm and centred when tired, it is important to make a conscious effort to pause, breathe and then respond in a calm manner.

  5. Pare back to the absolute basics Allow yourself to be less than perfect. Think about what is absolute priority and cut back on the rest. The kids can have a simple dinner, the house wont fall down if it is not as clean as you would like it to be. Think about meeting the basic needs of keeping the children fed and warm then after that, the next priority could be connecting with yourself and your children.

  6. Have a special toys or games box – This is something I used to do with my children when they were young. Keep a few special toys or games hidden away, and only get them out when you really need them to be absorbed. The novelty of reuniting with this special object can keep them occupied and engaged, with minimal input from you.

  7. Connections can be simple – Even when you are tired or feeling low, you can manage short bursts of attention. Look for good behaviour, however short-lived, and acknowledge those, rather than only tuning in when they exhibit unwanted behaviour. Every so often, pause what you are doing and give your child a ’30 second blast of attention’. Just notice what they are doing, and make a brief commentary like, “ I see you are feeding your dolly” or “you are driving your car under the table”. Avoid questions which interrupt the flow of their play, and just observe and acknowledge. This can really help them to feel valued and accepted.

    (these methods will be described in more detail in my next blog on how to play with your child)

Jennie Clarke


* When you snap or lose your temper, you can repair the damage by apologising for your mistake, acknowledging how it made your child feel and taking time to calm down and reconnect. However, serious aggressive outbursts, violence or emotional abuse are damaging to your child’s well-being, and are never acceptable. If you have found yourself losing it to this extent then it is a sign that you need extra support to find out what is causing you to behave this way. Counselling, psychotherapy or parent mentoring may be necessary in order for you to find peace within yourself. Your children may also need play therapy, to feel better within themselves, but they can only begin to recover when the abuse has stopped. This is no judgement on you- just a recognition that you are struggling.

7 Parenting Survival Tips