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Tolerance With Children


to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference, to accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with patience.

One of the things I have learnt as a parent and that has stood out in my work as a therapist is the negative impact it has when we are unable to tolerate our children as they are and in their negative moods. It has been said that children ask for love in the most unloving of ways and if their own parent/s/carer/s cannot tolerate them in that state of being they find it hard to tolerate themselves, they may begin to feel that they have to be a certain way or do certain things for others in order to gain attention, be liked or loved; they believe there are conditions to their worth as human being.

Not being tolerated can feel isolating and lonely for a child or young person.

As parents, we want the best for our children, we want them to be happy. When children in our care are not happy it can feel like a rejection and our sense of value as a parent/carer is affected. It is only natural for parents to want to ease their children’s distress after all, when they are babies we change their nappy, feed them, wind them, sing and rock to soothe them, for most it is instinctual, there may be times when we feel frustrated and doubt ourselves, but we keep going. So what changes when they are out of baby stage and are growing and learning to be more independent? At what point do we lose tolerance for their discomfort and find it irritating or intolerable if they are upset or sad? Yes, children test boundaries, that is part of growing and learning but if there is no tolerance, no patience, the boundaries get blurred

Think of a time you've arranged a surprise for your child, a time you planned an activity to do together, a time you’ve have been apart for a while, that something that may have taken lots of planning, something you believed they would like, that would make them happy, there may have been times you have missed them and have been excited to see them; you may have imagined the moment in your head, you have looked forward to it yet, the moment arrives and you are met with a long face, disappointment, perhaps even tears or dislike, how did you feel? How did you react in that moment?

It is easy to take things personally as a parent, we often put huge pressure on ourselves to do the right thing by our child, to have everything covered, it is easy to judge ourselves as parents by how our child is, and it's easy to feel rejected and disappointed at their reaction when you may have imagined something different. Most parents know the feeling of your child having a meltdown in public, the judgmental looks and unhelpful comments from other people that in times of heightened stress may make us feel out of control and like a bad parent.

Let me ask you, are you always happy? Do you always know what you want, exactly how you feel and why you feel how you feel? Have there been times someone has surprised you and you just haven’t been impressed? Have there been times you go to do something you usually enjoy but today you are just not feeling it? I guess the answer is yes and the reason is because you are human.

You have had many years to become self-aware, get to know yourself and to practice communicating your feelings and it may still be hard so imagine how it could be for a little person who is only just learning about the world. For a child to not be not feeling their best, to be upset or confused about something that’s happened in school or just because to then be given a surprise, offered an activity or greeted with an excited parent who has expectations it may be overwhelming; why? Because they too are human.

Children look to adults to begin to understand themselves, decipher their feelings and emotions and learn how to be, they are looking to their parent/s/carer/s for support to help regulate their moods and to learn to self-regulate.

As much as we love our little people it can be so difficult to tolerate your child when they are upset, when they are moody, when they are depressed or when they are not how you imagined or want them to be. We want them to be happy and we may take it personally when they are not. Many children present in therapy with low self-worth, a poor sense of self, they believe that they the problem because they are always upset or unhappy then as a result instead of seeking help to explore and understand themselves they shut down, internalise the feelings and the pressure cooker starts bubbling.

When children are in a negative state parents instinctively try to fix them, make them feel better, they may get frustrated because they can’t explain why they feel/behave the way they do, parents often take their children to therapy to get them fixed, they may say “they are always crying and I don’t know why”, “they get so angry and aggressive and they don’t talk to me”. What I often pick up from these children is that their parents tell them to stop crying, are impatient with them, tell them they need to grow up, they push them away when they are upset or sad and this leaves them feeling confused like they should be different, that there is something wrong with them. Children often get sent them away when they get angry or aggressive so they have nobody to support them, to help them understand themselves or their behaviour, nobody to help them regulate their emotions; anger and aggression often occurs as a result of the ‘pressure cooker’ bubbling over, the unresolved sadness and confusion building up and spilling out.

So, what is the answer? What does your child need?

How can parents learn to tolerate their children when they are sad or upset?

As a therapist I provide containment for my clients, a safe space where they can just be, it doesn’t matter how they are in that moment they are given the opportunity to express and explore how they are feeling in a way that suits them; they may just want to sit quietly, they may want to draw, play or even cry, shout and curse, the important thing is I am by their side, I am able to tolerate them. Sometimes it may take many sessions of going over the same thing as they struggle to come to terms with or understand something.

As a parent as difficult as it is, in the long run it will benefit both of you if you can tolerate your child.

Yes, it may be hard and test your patience especially when you are busy or not feeling your best to listen to them moaning, crying, stomping around over and over about the same thing, yet, the more you try to fix them, try to distract them with a joke or a treat or a reward, shut them down, send them away or dismiss their feelings as unimportant the more the feelings will bubble up and the longer they will last.

In previous blogs I wrote about the power of noticing, wondering and reading with your child, these may be tools to help you to tolerate them and allow them to explore and process their feelings; you may in time just begin to see a happier more communicative child. If nothing else it will help you feel more connected, help your child feel more valued, help them understand and begin to regulate their emotions.

“What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size” Carl Jung, psychologist

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