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Am I being a bad parent... by losing my temper when my three-year-old acts out?

One mum is wondering if she should be trying harder to stay patient. We asked Irish experts to weigh in.

Image: Shutterstock/Aliaksandr Bukatsich

EACH WEEK, WE hear from a reader who can’t figure out what to do about a tricky parenting situation. To get a balanced take on the dilemma, we ask Irish parenting experts to weigh in.

From choosing whether to push toilet training to allowing a baby to ‘cry it out’, being a parent involves decision after decision – and a whole lot of questioning yourself.

This week, one parent is conflicted over losing her temper with her youngest daughter, who’s prone to throwing tantrums, after never having this issue with her eldest daughter.

Have a parenting dilemma you’re struggling with? Let us know anonymously here and we’ll share it with our panel of experts.

This week’s dilemma

My three-year-old is constantly acting out and I’m finding it very hard. My eldest daughter was very calm and easy-to-please as a toddler, but my youngest is totally different. It’s nearly impossible to bring her anywhere without her having a tantrum or acting out in some way, such as climbing out of the grocery trolley.

As a result, I always end up losing my temper with her – much more than I did with my older daughter. It’s doubly frustrating because her sister is so well behaved. Am I being unreasonable by constantly losing my own temper with my child in return for her tantrums?

What the experts have to say…

It’s not unreasonable to lose your temper with your child now and then. We are all human. The mother that says she doesn’t lose her temper from time to time is more zen than I. It’s unreasonable to continue to compare your daughters, however. As the saying goes, “comparison is thief of all joy.” It’s true; to compare them is to not accept one of them – flaws and all.

The best thing we can do as a parent is to accept our child’s strengths and weaknesses. Then both of you can work on them together; her tantrum behaviour and you finding a way to react differently to it. As a parent, she needs your support to navigate this tricky phase of behaviour, which could well be a communication frustration at this age or perhaps the starting of huge life milestone like playschool. 

- Deirdre Holland Hannon, Behaviour Specialist at @deehollhan.

You’re not being unreasonable. Parenting can be really hard going. Anyone who has more than one child will know that siblings’ personalities and temperaments vary so much. Although it’s hard not to compare, it’s often helpful to look at each child individually and know that we can change our approach depending on the child’s needs and behaviours.

Toddlers can be complex little people, but they really do need us to help them along the way when acting out or pushing the boundaries. Often they don’t even know why they are feeling the way they are and while we want to go straight into disciplining, it’s really important to tune into the triggers. After that, it’s about deciding on the most helpful approach.

There is so much that we can do to change these behaviours, so when I work with families I always focus on catching the positive behaviours and offering children choice while trying not to reflect their emotions. Remember though, when you introduce change, expect resistance. Persevere as best you can and you will see results.

 - Aoife Lee, Parent Coach at parentsupport.ie. 

So what’s the final tally? Is this reader being unreasonable?

Yes – 0

No – 2

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Have a parenting question you want answered? Let us know anonymously in our survey here or email us on family@thejournal.ie and we’ll put it to the experts.

More: Am I being a bad parent… by allowing my five-year-old to play with a friend I’m not sure about?

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