APSGO Parenting Blog

By Sue Kranz

What is frustration? Frustration is the feeling we have when what we’re experiencing isn’t what we want.

Frustration comes from believing we’re helpless, powerless, or have too little control in our lives. And it stems from trying to control what we can’t control – sometimes an event or circumstance, but usually another person.

Over a lifetime, we learn and practice strategies that we hope will help us gain control over others: we criticize, blame, complain, nag, threaten, punish, and bribe. When we try to force others to do what we want, we actually entrench them in doing what we don’t want. Rather than encouraging them to change, we encourage them to make excuses, justify and defend. And even if they do comply, we’re no further ahead, because as soon as our back is turned, they’ll be back to their old ways.

We also learn and practice strategies that we hope will prevent others from controlling us: we avoid, ignore, defend, justify, make excuses, stonewall, cry, lie, humour, and sulk. And when we resist and try to make others stop trying to control us, they become more frustrated and insistent that we will do what they want – thus escalating the conflict.

Both of these strategies have one thing in common: they both damage our relationships.

What happens when our strategies fail to produce the results we want – or make things worse? We become more frustrated. And what do we do when we become more frustrated? We try even harder to control others or prevent them from controlling us. And so the cycle goes.

As a parent, you’ve likely been on both sides of this cycle: trying to control your child or teen and trying to prevent your child or teen from controlling you.

This is not about whether these strategies are good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral. This is all about whether these strategies are effective. And we all have ample evidence that demonstrates they aren’t.

So how can we break the cycle?

To break the cycle of others trying to control you, increase your competence at setting healthy boundaries.

And to break yourself of the habit of trying to control others, ask yourself these questions when you start to feel frustrated:

  • What do I want? (Not what you want someone else to do, but the outcome you want.)
  • What am I doing to get it? (List everything.)
  • Is doing all this getting me what I said I wanted? If not, what could I do instead?

The kitchen’s a mess, and I want a clean kitchen. So I yell at the kids to get off their electronics and clean up the kitchen – to no avail. If what I want is the kids to clean up, my frustration will likely escalate. But if what I want is a clean kitchen, and if yelling at my kids isn’t getting me a clean kitchen, what could I do instead? If I cleaned it, would I have a clean kitchen? Hmm…

Parents have often said, “But I shouldn’t have to!” Fair enough – but that isn’t getting you a clean kitchen.

Then again, do you want compliance or cooperation? They’re two different things – but that’s for another article.

Want to know more about Choice Theory? Email me at sue@sanerparenting.ca and I’ll send you PDFs of the booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and the handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries. And as always, I welcome your questions.

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3 Responses

  1. I think setting boundaries are key and have largely become a lost skill. Personally, it’s been a long hard learning curve and boundary setting has been one of my last hurdles. In hindsight, my relationships could have benefited from that from the start.
    When people aren’t used to boundaries, parents can experience a lot of push back. The key is to remember that boundaries are GOOD. They indicate personal integrity and self worth. Also, good things. Sometimes as parents we get lost in our parenting. Very normal.
    Kids (and anyone we have relationships with) benefit from our respecting boundaries both our own and others.
    In honouring ourselves. We honour the relationship and in turn the other person.

  2. I read what the author is saying and I totally understand that it is the right thing, however, for me, I still have a hard time…I think if I could stop the clock when the addicted daughter asks me for something and I could think and reflect, then I would be okay but that is not the way it works for me, I react and end up doing and saying things that are not okay. I guess I have a long way to go. Thanks for listening.

    • I get that. Being mindful of what you’re doing comes first. And then, with time, you’ll be able to translate that into action. So what’s one SMALL thing you could do differently next time your daughter asks you for something? For me, it was saying, “I need to think about this. I’ll get back to you.” What could yours be? – Sue Kranz

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