Managing frustration at home

Parenting is hard. For many parents, the prolonged COVID-19 crisis has made it even harder. Parents have been stretched thin and worrying about finances, their family’s health and their children’s care and development. Children have been impacted too, as the pandemic’s far-reaching effects have disrupted their daily life and development. With all the stress caused by the pandemic and families being cooped up together more often, tension in the household may be a bit higher.

Becoming more frustrated or annoyed with family members is understandable during challenging times. When we start to feel overwhelmed, it can be easy to lose our temper and argue with one another or behave rudely. These conflicts can make tensions even worse if not resolved or managed. So what can we do to create a more supportive environment for the whole family? Here are some recommendations from our early childhood development experts: 

Set boundaries

A child running and screaming in the background of a Zoom work meeting would irritate many parents. Likewise, a parent cutting a child’s playtime short to get to an appointment probably aggravates the child. It’s crucial that family members discuss clear boundaries so that everyone is aware of each other’s wants and needs. Creating structure together is also important for defining boundaries — have time set aside for self-care, play, work, school and other responsibilities.

“Children three and older are increasingly able to understand that the things they want may be at odds with what others want,” says Dr. Alison Steier, director of Mental Health Services and the Harris Institute at Southwest Human Development. “This is an important cognitive and emotional development and gives parents the opportunity to support such skills as waiting, finding a middle ground (collaborating) and going with the program (cooperating)—skills they will need in all relationships.”

Find time to focus on joy

Enjoying positive experiences together helps relieve some of the frustrations or resentment that can build up. Spend time with your child doing interactive activities that you both enjoy. Try reading with them, crafting or making a fort! And be sure to give time and attention to each person in your family so that they feel valued and loved.

“Setting aside worries and work responsibilities to immerse ourselves in play with our children can be very joyful for parents—reminding us of our child selves and giving us insight into how our children are making sense of their experiences,” says Steier.

Perspective-taking

Keeping others’ perspectives in mind can help us be more patient and create solutions to conflict. With the ongoing pandemic, most everyone is stressed and facing their own individual struggles. Parents can step out of parenting into their job or relationship, but children can’t step out of needing care. And remember: just as parents won’t always show up as our best selves, neither will our kids. We see a lot of our imperfections and our kids’ imperfections during challenging times, so a little empathy will go a long way.

Managing anger during conflict 

Conflict can’t always be avoided. But when our child pushes our buttons, allowing our anger to dictate our actions can have negative results. In moments of conflict, you can better manage your anger by practicing mindfulness, using techniques to calm yourself, temporarily removing yourself from the situation or finding support from a partner, friend, or family member. And as parents, we have a responsibility not only to maintain a supportive relationship with our children but also to model effective coping skills. For young children who are developing communication skills, their frustrations, anger or need for attention can sometimes be expressed through tantrums or other challenging behaviors. We may find ourselves wanting to yell or punish our children to put a stop to their behavior, but these harsh tactics can create unhealthy patterns in the long term. Instead, try to stay calm and discuss and validate your child’s feelings while still putting a limit on their behavior. Teaching your child how to express their feelings with words and practice self-regulation can help relieve heightened emotional states.

Maintaining strong relationships after conflict

When we hit “speed bumps” in any relationship, the relationship can be damaged if the conflict is left unaddressed. Ignoring a conflict and any hurt feelings it causes might work temporarily, but it leaves the door open to the conflict returning and builds resentment and mistrust in the relationship. Conflict doesn’t have to be a negative experience, though. Instead, we can view it as an opportunity to communicate our feelings and learn to better support each other. By resolving conflict, we build even stronger relationships. We can repair relationships after conflict by acknowledging the hurt we caused and expressing remorse. And talking with your child about strategies they can use in the future gives them a more concrete understanding of how to prevent or manage conflict. 

If you would like to speak with a specialist about parenting and supporting your family, call or text our free Birth to Five Helpline at 877-705-KIDS (5437). Our team is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.


All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care.  Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article.  You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance.  Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.