3 Questions That Reduce My Frustration as a Parent

posted by Andrea | 05/2/2018

3 questions

One comment I have gotten over and over throughout the years, is the readers appreciate the fact that I rarely give demanding advice or make bold statements like “you should always do _______” or “you should never do _______”.

I share my experiences, what works for me, what doesn’t work for me, what products I love (and don’t love), and life lessons I’m learning as a mom — and today’s post is another one of those “this is what works for me” type of posts.

I think it has the potential to improve almost any “adult-child relationship” — whether it’s your child, your grandchild, a niece or nephew, a neighbor child, a friend’s child, or whomever.

It’s not necessarily “easy” to do (it has taken me a lot of practice and I still forget so often) but it’s a very simple concept that has worked extremely well for me over the years — helping to reduce my frustration when interacting with our children.

It is especially good with stubborn or strong willed children… not that I have any experience with that 🙂

Basically, whenever my children are crying, whining, complaining, being stubborn, acting out, or being difficult, I try to ask myself THREE simple questions…

1. How would I feel if I were in their situation?

Although it is extremely difficult at times, I try to take a deep breath, pause for just a moment, and consider how I would feel in their situation.

  • What if I were really hot, cold, or just wanted to wear something different?
  • What if I were hungry, or full, or thirsty, or a particular food just didn’t taste good to me anymore?
  • What if I were tired, or not tired, needed some company, or just needed a little alone time?
  • What if I wasn’t feeling good, had a headache, a muscle ache, an itchy rash, or an upset stomach?
  • What if I just needed to vent and cry and complain about something?
  • What if I got out of my normal routine and was having a bad day?
  • What if I was trying to explain something to someone and they just couldn’t understand me?
  • What if I was so tired of being micromanaged all day and just wanted to make my own decisions?

Usually, when I think of how I would feel in their situation, I instantly have a different frame of mind and can empathize with the child SO much better.

My frustrations and aggravations lessen, and my goal is now to “help” them find a suitable solution instead of “force” them to do it a certain way.

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2. Is there a deeper reason for their behavior?

More often than not, when my kids are super whiny and difficult, it’s because there is something wrong that they don’t know how to express with words. This is especially true before their language skills are developed enough — however, I know it can be common with older children who simply don’t know how to explain or express themselves.

If they keep getting out of bed or are unable to fall asleep, it usually means they are worried or nervous about something the next day.

If they are having random meltdowns or crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason, it usually means they are hungry or thirsty.

If they are constantly fighting with a sibling or extremely disagreeable, it usually means they are overly tired.

Stopping to ask myself this question is especially difficult for me because I usually need to suffer through the meltdown and then make serveral “educated guesses” before I get to the root of the problem; but once I do, life is SO much better for me and for them.

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3. Does this really matter in the grand scheme of life?

Does their outfit choice or hairstyle really matter long-term? Nope… and if it’s going to cause a huge argument and create tension every morning, then I’m just going to take a step back and let them pick out their own clothing and do their own hair. I will still reserve the right to choose clothing and hairstyles on certain occasions, but for the most part, they can do their own thing.

Does the fact that they just hit someone or yelled at me matter long-term? Yes! They cannot get away with being mean and rude to others without some sort of consequence and an apology.

This one gets trickier as the child gets older — and it can also circle around right back to question #2 above because there is often a deeper reason for the child’s bad behavior. However, as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, harming themselves, harming someone else, or blatantly breaking my rules or a law, I try to just take a deep breath and move on, knowing that it’s most likely not worth the fight.

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I could give hundreds of examples for all 3 of these questions, but I think you get the idea.

Like I said above, it’s a very simple concept, but not nearly as easy to implement — especially in the heat of the moment. It takes lots and lots of repetition and practice (and even then, you might forget more often than not!)

I do feel strongly that children need to respect authority, listen to their parents, and get along with their peers. However, since I really don’t get excited about living 18 years with arguments and fights about small petty issues ALL DAY LONG, I try really hard to pick and choose my battles and to ask myself these 3 questions over and over and over again.

Patience is a virtue I didn’t get much of… but perseverance is one of my strong suits.

Needless to say, if I can do this, you can too!

I guess for me, it all comes down to treating my children how I would want to be treated and giving them the benefit of the doubt (until they break my trust too often). So basically, the same way we should treat all other human beings!

To be perfectly honest, I feel like these 3 questions could help us when interacting with older children, teens, and even other adults.

What do you think?

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47 comments

  1. Barb

    05/10/2018

    Andrea this is an excellent post!! I try hard to do the same thing with my children, but sometimes I forget. Thank you for the reminder!

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  2. Nicky

    05/03/2018

    Hi,

    Good questions to ask. It fits in with reflective practise techniques be they post event ie writing out all the frustrations then thinking through actions or decisions from a different perspective or ‘in action’ as you are doing. We have to do this for work (teacher), but it is actually a great life skill and certainly turns what can feel like a fail and broken self esteem towards opportunities to learn and grow. I never realised it was an official technique until I started training for my job but it has so helped me in my life. Second point is being too controlling simply leads to kids lying as a way of re-gaining control, as a mum of 4 teenage+ letting go was/is the hardest thing but everyone has free will and needs to be able to express that. As long as the core morals of kindness and care are in place there is a framework that we need to trust will balance their decisions.

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  3. leslie

    05/02/2018

    Andrea,

    What a great post!! 🙂 Well said!!

    Thanks,
    Leslie

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  4. Lynn

    05/02/2018

    These are great Andrea! I don’t have kids, but these are great things to ask yourself when you are dealing with a difficult person (whether it is a family member or friend)!

    Thanks again!

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    Andrea Reply:

    exactly!

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  5. Alison

    05/02/2018

    Yes, these are great questions for dealing with neurotypical kids. We found out last summer that my 13 year old has autism. None of these questions would have helped with the previous 12 years with him because sometimes there isn’t an explanation (or if there was, there wasn’t a way to fix it). It always frustrated me to get advice from friends with how to deal with him, because none of it would work. Now that we have the diagnosis, it explains why, of course, it hasn’t gotten easier.

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    Andrea Reply:

    definitely — there are always ‘exceptions to the rule’, kids and families these questions won’t work for, situations that require different techniques, etc.

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  6. Ruth

    05/02/2018

    An invaluable piece of advice that I received as a young mom and still use on my teenagers is gently asking the simple question, “Did you hear me?” when I have asked them to do something and I don’t see any response. Sometimes they honestly didn’t hear what I said, and I can repeat my request. If they did hear me, the question was/is a reminder to them to get going :-). It has saved a lot of frustration for all of us!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I do that often! And make them repeat it back to me so we both know they “heard correctly”!

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  7. Kerri

    05/02/2018

    When my kids are like this (or the kids I take care of) I ask them if they are having an issue. They will say yes and I will.ask what is your issue. They tell me and problem solved. I also wgole heartedly agree with the pick your battles mindset. But you have to have a thick skin and not care what others think when you are in public and your kids are dressed crazy!

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  8. Cathy E

    05/02/2018

    Love this! I have a thirteen years old and it is so applicable. You’ll have a gap where they manage their emotions and communication fairly well and it is so lovely! Then you have to bring out all the patience again; these tips will serve you well again in the future.

    One I’d like to add that I’d ask myself when she was little-“why not?”

    They can ask to do so many things or make so many crafts that you find yourself automatically saying no without even thinking because it doesn’t fit into what you had planned or what you want to do. I realized I was saying no very quickly and started asking myself why not? They’re only little for so long why not take that extra walk or go outside or go get ice cream on the spur of the moment? I ended up putting aside what I wanted and making a lot of fun memories with my daughter because I asked myself that question. One that I remember in particular is when she asked to play in the rain when she was about 4 and I didn’t really feel like going outside, but I did (we lived on a busy road at that time and I wasn’t comfortable with her being out there alone so young). I stood in the rain with my umbrella while she jumped and puddles and ran around to her heart’s content and I ended up loving watching her.

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    Jo Reply:

    Cathy I love your “why not?” comment, and agree completely. I have a very creative toddler and often find myself saying no, but have recently learned to be more silly and flexible and we are both the happier and less frustrated for it.

    Also, Andrea, I can very much relate to your phrase about patience being in short supply, but perseverance being a strong suit!

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  9. Annette Silveira

    05/02/2018

    Oh my gosh! How fortunate you and your babies are that you’ve figured this out. I’m a grandma now and we spend a lot of time with our granddaughter. We get this as older people, but I did not understand it when her mommy and uncle were kids! Great job.

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    Andrea Reply:

    well not sure if I’ve “figured it out” but we’re learning every day 🙂

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  10. Weekend reading: May 21, 2016

    05/21/2016

    […] 3 Questions That Reduce My Frustration as a Parent | Andrea Dekker […]

  11. Romi

    05/20/2016

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experience. I read all of your posts and I really enjoy them. I have a two year old daughter and whenever you decribe Nora, I think about my little girl. So I really appreciate it when you share your stories and experiences with us. They’ve been really helpful to me. THANK YOU!!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Romi — so glad to help! Nora is still our biggest handful, so I can empathize with you!

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  12. Abbie

    05/20/2016

    You are a wise mother. I like your #3. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of life? As teenagers, my siblings and I were allowed to dress and wear our hair in the outlandish styles of our time. When I asked my mother about this after I became an adult. Her reasoning was that if we were allowed to conform to our peer group in things that don’t matter (hair and dress) that we would have the courage to say NO in the things that do matter such a drugs and keeping our moral code. I will say that in the case of our family, it worked!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Abbie! Hopefully your mom’s theory works in our house too!

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  13. Cristina

    05/19/2016

    What about terrible thus 3 year old in June and start
    about two months a go 🙂 what easy snack can have
    before bed time?

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    Andrea Reply:

    We always do bananas as their bedtime snack — they are easy for them to eat and don’t make a huge mess 🙂

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  14. Becky S

    05/19/2016

    I am the mom of teens (14 yo daughter and 16 yo son), and some things do not change.

    Clothes and hair…never a big deal unless it is showing too much skin or not appropriate for the venue (i.e. church or funeral or such). Hair…I have always let them do whatever they want in this area. It is just hair!

    Feeding and watering always makes for better attitudes. Hungry teens are not fun!

    I often have to stop and remind myself that the things that seems insignificant to me are HUGE to them at this point in their life.

    You seem to be wise beyond your years, and I love reading your posts. Keep it up, and you will enjoy the teen years too. They are my favorite yet!

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  15. Jennifer

    05/19/2016

    Yes, yes, yes, and no to petty arguments for 18 years all day long!

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    Andrea Reply:

    amen! I can’t do 18 years of nagging!

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    Jennifer Reply:

    I heard it from my own mom for 18 years!! Heck, I still hear it. Not for me!

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  16. Erin

    05/19/2016

    I love this…thank you. It was just what I needed to read today :-).

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Erin! Glad to write “what you needed to read”!

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  17. Leanne

    05/19/2016

    our oldest child, 11yo, did something recently so OUT of his character…. and kept lying about it… and when I made it safe for him to confess what he had done (he was trying to covering it up)… a LOT of other stuff came pouring out… I had just heard that day on a show that we spend too much time telling our children what not to do… instead of listening to what they can do an helping them to get there…
    I think everything you wrote shows a mama who is learning GRACE…. offering them grace will be something they will learn to offer others… what more can we ask for if they are good at that?! loved this post…

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Leanne — isn’t it SO interesting how little minds work? Nora has been blatantly lying about weird things too — dumb things. She says she’s just “fooling” but I’m trying to explain that it really is just a lie.
    Cheers to LOTS more grace!

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  18. Olga

    05/19/2016

    To be honest, just yesterday I was thinking to write you and ask how do you keep life ordered with 3 small and different little humans, how you deal with blue moments of all of them, or, if it happens for everyone at once…. Just wanted to ask you to share your secrets for endless patience and smart parenting. I am reading a lot in this matter, but as teen age approaching for my oldest one, I get more worried. I want to save and build even stronger relationship with my kids, that will last lifelong. Any books you can suggest on this subject?

    [Reply]

    Bonnie'sMama Reply:

    Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk is the most helpful parenting book I’ve read. It’s all about building relationship and trust, and knowing the only person you can control is you. And then you help them take responsibility for their own mess. It is so satisfying to ask your children “Whose problem is this?” after they’ve made a poor choice, and have them admit, “My problem.” Then they get to do what they can to fix it.

    But an awful lot of parenting feels like muddling through, with occasional successes, and praying God will make up for the rest.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing! And yes, “muddling through with occasional successes” is right on!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Olga, I definitely do not keep like ordered ALL the time, and if you ask anyone who knows me, they will assure you I do NOT have endless patience or smart parenting!
    I am getting better at being more patient, but I lose my cool pretty much every day (sometimes more than once a day!)

    I don’t have an personal book recommendations (another reader suggested Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk) but I will say that the fact you are already worried about building a stronger and better relationship with your children shows that you are very invested and intentional. I’m sure you’re doing a great job!

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  19. Dena

    05/19/2016

    Absolutely brilliant!!

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  20. tina

    05/19/2016

    This! It has become second nature to me-almost. The problem I have is constantly having to remind my husband. More often then not he “forgets” or it takes him a while to see that the kids are just tired and need some grace. I feel like he undermines the whole 3 question process whether it be on purpose or by accident. How do you work with husband’s on this?

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    Andrea Reply:

    well… to be perfectly honest, Dave is probably more patient with the kids than I am, so we usually don’t have this “problem”. I guess I’d say just be patient with him as much as possible, and then kindly remind him.

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    tina Reply:

    Andrea- you got a good man there! ☺

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes I do!

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    Tina Reply:

    This is all I ever remind my husband of. Honestly he sucks at it because he knows the protocol but more often than chooses his own way which always backfires. The reason he does it because he is sooo worried what onlookers think more so than what’s best for the child. He is infuriating. Sorry, vent over.

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  21. Karen

    05/19/2016

    Absolutely. Very well put. It reminds me of a book called “Kids Are Worth It” by Barbara Coloroso, written way back when, that I referred to before blogs like this appeared. She also used qualifiers like illegal, immoral or harmful to gauge the overall importance of an issue. Kids are people who face difficulties just like everyone else, but sometimes have trouble articulating what is wrong.

    The bonus is that what you do also helps your kids learn to problem solve and that unpleasant situations can usually be rectified.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Karen, I’ll need to look into that book!

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  22. Ashley

    05/19/2016

    Love this!

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  23. Jennifer

    05/19/2016

    My daughter is only a baby…but it’s still easy to get enraged with her sometimes because babies can be so frustrating! Especially when you’re tired (because of the baby) and the baby is just fussy or you don’t know why they’re crying.

    The “How would I feel if…” question helps me a lot with this frustrating baby behavior as well! If I am kept up late past my bedtime, or get very hungry, or my clothes get wet and I’m uncomfortable, or I’m lonely or life just doesn’t go my way…I get upset! Remembering this helps me to understand that although the crying of a baby is very frustrating at times, it’s just the baby equivalent of my adult frustrations and happens for the same kinds of reasons. This usually makes me a lot more sympathetic.

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  24. Evie

    05/19/2016

    Spot on, Andrea! The only thing I would add is the reminder that every day is a new day, every hour a new hour, so anybody forgetting these three questions in the heat of the moment can just get it together the next time around. Struggling to do this? Write Andrea’s three questions on a post it note and keep reading them. I promise you, Andrea’s three questions truly work.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes! Everyday is a new day!Thanks for sharing that!

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  25. Christine @ The Mostly Simple Life

    05/19/2016

    I really like your mindset. Choosing your battles probably simplifies your life as well as theirs and your kids know you care about what’s really going on.

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  26. Paulette

    05/19/2016

    BRAVO! Wish I had practiced these techniques a little more!

    [Reply]