What does being aggravated by your kids mean to you? According to a new Child Trends research brief, it means three things:
- Feeling frequently bothered by your child
- Feeling your child is more bothersome than other children the same age, and
- Feeling frequently angry with your child.
This sounds like a good definition of aggravation. But here’s the surprise: a comparison of parents’ feelings of aggravation reported between the late 1990s to feelings reported as recently as 2012 found that parents’ aggravation has risen from 20% to as much as 35%.
One-in-three parents these days feel aggravated by their kids, up from one-in-five two decades ago.
Stressful family relationships matter. Researchers in this study note that “on average, children of parents with high levels of aggravation are less well-adjusted and experience more negative outcomes.” This means that feeling aggravated with your children makes your children behave more badly, which means you feel even more aggravated than before. This vicious cycle undermines your happiness, children’s academic success, and everyone’s physical and mental health.
Researchers suggest that the increase in parent aggravation may be linked to inappropriately high expectations for children’s behavior. Kids are not allowed to be kids but are expected to be unquestionably obedient and compliant. The researchers also suggest that these unrealistic expectations are combined with harsh discipline methods that increase family stress without satisfying children’s need to be treated with respect.
Feeling aggravated is not caused by children actually being more aggravating than they used to be. Your kids are not worse than you were at the same ages. It’s caused by parents making less time for their kids and being too rigid and demanding.
So take a quick check: do you often feel aggravated by your children? Are you frequently bothered by your kids’ behavior and frequently angry at them? Do you imagine that your children behave worse than the kids next door? If these feelings are common for the grownups in your household, take these steps to make life go more smoothly:
- Slow down and pay attention to your kids. Notice what they’re good at and what they find difficult to do. (Hint: they may be good at sports but not so good at cleaning up after themselves.) Realize that this is who they are right now. You can’t blame them for being who they are.
- Take the time to teach what you want your kids to do. Once you realize your children are not so skilled at some things as you are, you can teach them the skills they need. Be patient and teach things step by step. Provide chances to practice.
- Avoid harsh punishment. Harsh punishment makes you feel worse and it doesn’t do much for your children either. It upsets everyone and leads to worse behavior, not better behavior. Wise up about discipline.
- Remember that your relationship with your children is lifelong. The respect and support you give your children now will repay itself in strong, positive interactions for years to come. A relationship that is characterized by aggravation isn’t a relationship that builds a foundation for the future.
It may be that you’re more aggravated by your children than your parents were with you. But that’s not because you were so much better as a child. Give your own kids the gift that you received, the gift of reasonable expectations and loving support.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.