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When every day is a bad day

No parent ‘does it well’ all of the time. All parents have bad days, and most go through times when one bad day seems to follow another. Since you can’t hand in your notice, or take a week off, you have to find some way of making life work.

When you’re tired or in a bad mood, or when your child is tired or in a bad mood, it can be hard to get on together and get through the day. You can end up arguing non-stop. Even the smallest thing can make you angry. If you go out to work, it’s especially disappointing if the short time you’ve got to spend with your child is spoilt by arguments.

Most children also go through patches of being difficult or awkward over certain things – dressing, or eating, or going to bed at night.

Knowing that it makes you cross or upset probably makes them still more difficult. And you become more and more tense, and less and less able to cope.

Stop! and start again

When you’re in a bad patch, a change in routine or a change in the way in which you’re dealing with a problem can be all that’s needed to stop an endless cycle of difficult behaviour. Here are some ideas.

  • Do things at different times. An argument that always happens at one time of day may not happen at another. And do the difficult things when your child is least tired or most co-operative. For example, try dressing your child after breakfast rather than before; have lunch earlier, or later. And so on.

  • Find things to do (however ordinary) that your child enjoys, and do them together. Let your child know that you’re happy when he or she is happy. Every time he or she does something that pleases you, make sure you say so. We all prefer praise to blame and, if you give your child lots of opportunities to see you smile, the chances are that he or she will learn that a happy mother is more fun than a cross one.
  • Ask yourself whether the thing you’re going to tell your child off about really matters. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Having arguments about certain things can get to be a habit.
  • When you lose your temper because you’re tired or upset, say you’re sorry. It’ll help you both feel better.
  • Don’t expect too much. You may think that sitting still and being quiet is good behaviour. Some children can manage this for a while. Others find it torture because they want to be learning and exploring every waking minute. If your child never keeps still and is ‘into’ everything, you’ll be happier giving him or her as much opportunity as possible to run off steam and explore safely.
  • Don’t expect a child under the age of three to understand and remember what they are allowed to do. Even after the age of three it’s hard for a child to remember instructions.
  • Don’t expect perfect behaviour. If you don’t expect perfect behaviour then you won’t feel so disappointed and angry if you don’t get it. After all, if it’s all right for you to be a less than perfect parent, then it’s all right for your child to be less than perfect too. It’s just hard to live with sometimes.
  • Talk about it. It does help to talk and be with other people, especially other parents. It’s often true that ‘only parents understand’. A lot look very calm and capable from the outside (and you may too), but alone at home most get frustrated and angry at times.
  • If you don’t already know other parents living nearby. Groups don’t suit everybody, but at the very least they’re a way of making friends. And a group that is run by parents can often give more than friends who haven’t got children the same age. If one doesn’t seem right for you it’s worth trying a different one.
  • Sometimes it isn’t your child whose mood is a problem. It’s you. If you’re miserable, trying to be happy for your child’s sake may seem impossible.

When you can’t cope

If every day is a bad day, and you feel that things are getting out of control, get help. Talk to your health visitor and/or phone a helpline (see box). Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through may be the first – and biggest – step towards making things better.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.