Frustration and powerlessness are normal
Anger, frustration and a sense of powerlessness are normal feelings which affect all parents. If you lose control, it can be unsafe or dangerous for the child, for yourself and for others.
Imagine you have a camera filming you at home. Feelings you display to your baby are going to be seen by other adults, and by the child itself when it gets older. Ask yourself what they would think if they saw the film.
Becoming a parent means a big change in your life. You’re suddenly no longer in charge of your own time or sleep, and lengthy crying can fuel anger, frustration and a sense of powerlessness in parents. Such feelings are completely normal, and so is irritation with a partner in this period. The question is whether we have these feelings under control. Anger, frustration and powerlessness have surprisingly little to do with how the baby behaves, but relate more to how you as a parent think of yourself and the baby. When they have the energy, most people manage to appreciate that their infant is like most children and that they’re good enough as parents. On bad days, it can be easy to get unreasonably critical of yourself and to think that you’re not up to the job. We may then look on crying as something the baby is doing “against” us, and we feel under attack – even though we actually know that crying is quite normal for an infant. A feeling can then arise that tears are something the baby is doing “against” us, and that we’re a poor parent. Such thoughts lead to frustration and powerlessness.
Most people know very well when they get angrier and more frustrated than they should be. It’s when we lose control and become unpredictable and frightening that this can be harmful for the baby. Most of us feel bad when we see that the child has been frightened, while others play down the consequences. Good websites are available to help you handle anger and frustration. See the tips in the box on Get help.
Remember that you always have a choice about what you should think and how you should react – even though it doesn’t always feel as if you do. This is a matter of taking a step back, registering how agitated you are, and reminding yourself that most of your thoughts about why the baby is acting this way are nonsensical ideas and concerns which you can choose to ignore. If you lose control with the child, and see that it becomes frightened, it’s important that you as an adult take responsibility for your actions. When the child gets a bit older, it’ll think there’s something wrong with it when its parents get angry and lose control. They’ll often take responsibility for the incident, and accept the blame for it. Asking for forgiveness is then a good idea. The child feels less violated and thinks more positively about you as its parent.
Breathing exercises can calm you down and reduce your worries. A great variety are available. One is known as “square breathing”, where the aim is to change your breathing rate and get it under control. Imagine a square. You could, for example, concentrate your gaze on a picture, a window or something similar. Breath slowly while you let your eyes follow one side of the square. Take about three seconds. Then hold your breath for three seconds while your eyes move along the next side. Then breath slowly out along the third side and hold your breath for three seconds along the final side.
Breathing exercises can calm you down and subdue negative thoughts and concerns. Are you finding it hard to get your feelings under control? Tell somebody else – a lot of good help is available.
The content on this page is developed by specialist psychologist Steinar Sunde. You can also visit the website littsint.no/en - anger management for parents.