Try This the Next Time You are Frustrated with Your Children!


We all have them. They may be different for each of us. Yours might be rudeness, whining, bossiness, or shyness. Mine are none of your business. The point is that we all have buttons our children push – a behavior they exhibit that drives us crazy. You know what I mean. Crazy. We didn’t even know we had them. But then our kids found them, and pushed them, again, and again. Man, they’re good at it.

Well, I think I can get us back on the right track. You see, I’ve discovered a solution that I know will alleviate your button pushing afflictions once and for all – no matter what your button is! I didn’t learn it in my master’s program. I didn’t learn it at Stanford. I learned it where we all learn the most: at home.

Little Monsters

You see, my niece was over playing with some babushka nesting dolls (great toy for a two-year-old btw). She decided to ordain her Russian village with one of my son’s little toy trees that go with his train set. She didn’t ask him. She’s two. He came downstairs, saw this and proceeded to freak out. I mean le freak, c’est chic. He’s six. That’s his “thing” he struggles with: emotional resiliency. We all have “things” we need to work on.

Nothing pushes my buttons more than when he unravels over something I determine to be unworthy of unravelization for his age. When he breaks down like that, it frustrates me to no end. It’s like kryptonite to all the superhero parenting ideals I have learned. I get so emotional. There. You know my button. Happy?

Well, he wasn’t, and I wasn’t either. Drives me nuts. Nuts I say. My wife appropriately swooped in (what?!? I was getting dinner ready!), took him aside, gently listened to his feelings and clearly explained that his reaction wasn’t OK. Like it or not, much of being a parent is listening, encouraging, making judgments and re-directing. It’s a delicate balance.

When he came back downstairs, he was still crying a bit. I instinctively wanted to pour on more stern “daddy” lecture colored with disappointment and frustration. Fortunately, I had been reading tons of parenting books – including my second-favorite by Jane Nelsen , which reminded me that what young children need the most at these times is positive, support, understanding and love. I asked him about it, listened to him, and re-iterated my wife’s sentiments that we share with family and friends. I assured him he was going to be OK.


But he wasn’t OK yet. The room was tense. I could feel my own buttons being pushed. I was about to go to the dark side of the force and give into my anger and fear. Then, I did it. I offered him a hug. Mind you, the tree remained in the Russian village. But my son and I felt better. I would venture to guess everyone in the room felt better.

I’m telling you, it works for everyone. Here’s your blueprint:

Remember, this is about your buttons. Like my buttons, they may very well be related to your child’s current, and most frustrating challenges. The next time you feel them being pushed, i.e., you begin to feel your anger and frustration boiling over – that’s your cue! Talk to your child about what is happening (just narrate a bit), what you are both feeling, and say that you want to give him a hug. Administer hug.

Then, talk about how you can fix the dilemma together. Perhaps offer some choices. If you were setting a limit that needs to be upheld, explain why it needs to be upheld and uphold it.  Please note, there may very well be more tears to come followed by more hugs. Offer warmth and encouragement to get your child over the hump, but know that ultimately it is his or her choice and responsibility to do so.

Perhaps the egocentric goal of making yourself feel better isn’t enough to motivate you to try a hug, or maybe you think you will be “giving in” to your child. Then think of a hug as a form of discipline. In Applied Behavior Analysis terms, a hug can (physically) “block” behaviors (and, I contend, emotionally as well). It can make the challenging behavior less likely in the future. Ironically, in this light, a hug is a form of punishment in that a hug will decrease the probability of subsequent occurrence of the behavior it follows. Hugs are versatile. They can be used as positive reinforcement as well.

Just Do It.

Try a hug. I know it seems simplistic and even cheesy. On that note, at the risk of sounding like George Zimmer, I will add that you’re going to like the way you look and feel. I guarantee it.

Written By: Tom Limbert