3 Reasons Parents get Frustrated with Children

mushroom shaped cloudLast week I shared the story about me getting angry with the older boys and taking a time out by leaving the house for a while. It wasn’t a fun day, but things worked out better than I would have predicted.

John’s comment under the post really got me thinking. Here’s part of it: Walking away definitely makes sense sometimes. It is surprising how challenging it is for families to get along without getting really frustrated.

Boy, that really got me thinking. Why do families get so frustrated with each other?

Let’s split this into two questions: Why do parents get frustrated with children? and Why do children get frustrated with parents?

Today we can talk about the first question, and we’ll dig into the other one soon. So. Why do parents get frustrated with children? I see 3 different reasons. Entitlement, ineffective discipline, and challenging behavior problems on the part of the child.


Many times in life people will say “I have a right to (insert benefit here)”. For example, I may say “I have a right to a clean house.” The truth is, a clean house is neither a constitutional nor a fundamental right in any sense of the word. What I’m really saying is “I believe I’m entitled to a clean house.”

Now, feeling entitled to something isn’t wrong in many cases. But when I start to believe that a benefit is rightfully mine AND I get angry when I don’t receive that benefit, then I’m straying from the straight and narrow. If I believe that I am entitled to well-behaved children, it’s easy to get angry when they’re not well-behaved. No child can be perfect. Acting as though they can and should be is wrong on my part and will lead to frustration when they fail to attain expectations that are too high.

I am right to believe that my children should be honoring and obeying their parents, and that they should behave themselves at all times. But I’m not entitled to that obedience, and I should not get upset with them when they prove their humanity by being imperfect.

When I left the house last week, I called a friend who is tremendously wise. One of the things she reminded me was that God wants me to do my best as a parent but He never promised that my children would turn out as I want. They are separate individuals and I don’t get to control their destiny. This? A hard pill to swallow. I’m working on it.

Ineffective Discipline

My friend also reminded me that as human beings we all resist change until a situation becomes painful enough. We don’t go on a diet until we dislike the way we look or feel. In the same way, a child isn’t going to change annoying behavior unless there’s a pretty good reason. All of us behave in ways to get payoffs. Until you remove the payoff or add in painful consequences, the behavior will stay the same.

Case in point: TechnoBoy and Captain Earthquake are experts at pushing one another’s buttons. Drives me crazy! And of course they routinely dragged me into it. “Mooo-ommmmmm! Will you tell him to stop making that noise?” Ugh. I couldn’t stand it! And they wouldn’t quit. It took a lot of careful thinking, but I finally figured out that the most painful thing is for them to spend extra time together. After all, THEY should be solving this problem, not me. So! I explained that the next time they fight, I would handcuff them together for 30 minutes. If that doesn’t help them get along, then the next time they fight we’d try it for 60 minutes, and the time would double every argument.

Wouldn’t you know it? Not one argument since I made that announcement. Not one.


Challenging Behavior Problems

Thus far I’ve given reasons that hold parents responsible for the frustration. That’s because parents are the adults, children have brains that are not yet fully developed, and as such, the parents are the ones who should be acting like grown-ups.

However, it’s true that some children are strong-willed and have more serious problems with which to deal. In those cases, seeking professional help and parenting classes can often help.

Coming soon: reasons why children get frustrated with parents.

Earnest Parenting: Help for parents who care about being the best.

photo courtesy of de rigueur, via Creative Commons license

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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    { 25 comments… add one }

    • Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny
      April 4, 2011, 10:07 am

      Hi Amy,
      I’m glad that you took a time out – for yourself – rather than just stay in the situation boiling mad. Whether it’s kids or adults, we seem to get more frustrated when we think we have the right to have control over how others behave. The RIGHT! When I forget that being in other people’s lives is a privilege, not a right, then I’m able to take a deep breath, leave the situation (very important to take this break) and then sort out why I’m feeling so frustrated. There’s usually something else going on that is bothering me.

      If all else fails, I like your clap them in irons solution :)

    • April 8, 2011, 11:21 pm

      I can imagine that as a parent, it’s not always easy and it can get quite frustrating.

    • May 17, 2013, 6:38 am

      Just wondered if you had a chance to see the photo of the 2 kids wearing a large t shirt (with another hole for 2 heads). On the shirt it read “Get along shirt”. They looked pretty unhappy. Just a thought.

      • Amy LeForge
        May 17, 2013, 2:37 pm

        Antonia, yes I’d seen something like that. It’s very funny!

    • Alice
      July 30, 2013, 8:02 pm

      I just stumbled on this article, and it has some good advice. I feel frustrated, mostly, because I put all of my time, energy, heart, and soul into parenting, but I feel like I’m failing at it. I can see elements of all three of the points you listed: my children have extra issues (special needs, etc.), I feel entitled that they should reach certain milestones (especially potty training, at 5 and 3.5 we haven”t gotten anywhere and it’s wearing on me), one of my kids is afraid of eating solid food which makes every meal a battle. My discipline techniques are not effective, partially because I’m at a lost as to when something is a discipline issue, and when its a sensory issue or the like. I also have a hard time with consistency because I’m more of a creative than organized person, and I can’t follow a schedule to save my life!

      Anyway, we are getting professional help on several fronts, and hopefully it will get better when they mature a bit. I just thought there would be more good parts to having kids. Every week we try to do something fun (kids’ museums, etc.), but it’s always awful. They yell at us the whole care ride, they both have an accident, and have to be cleaned up, I forget something important causing my husband or I to have to leave in the middle to go get it, the kids won’t obey the rules of wherever they are at and I feel like a broken record trying to stop them while everybody stares at me…

      Ever since I became a parent, I just feel like crying all the time. I think maybe I feel entitled that we should have fun as a family.

      • Amy LeForge
        July 30, 2013, 11:09 pm

        Alice, my heart goes out to you.

        I wrote that post over 2 years ago, and it was very interesting to go back and read it now that so much time has passed. I don’t see anything wrong with saying, “this is hard and I don’t feel great right now”. That’s certainly been true for me a lot in life.

        There are good parts to parenting. Really. Mostly it’s just moments. You grab them when they come and hold on tight, because they’re sure to be followed by hours of difficulty.

        I have found that when I accept and even embrace my limitations, life gets easier. There is freedom in not trying to run to the latest and greatest activity when I know that my kids won’t like it or for some other reason it’ll be a disaster. Finding success in the small things gave us strength to try bigger things. Your kids are little. They’re not going to remember if they went to a museum at this age. They will, however, remember the sensation of a peaceful and happy life. Go for that. Don’t worry about being SuperMom.

        The older the boys have gotten, the more I have seen the wisdom in taking my time to figure things out, and in not reacting with any emotion to the situations put before me. The calmer I am, the calmer they are. Just yesterday 2 of them woke me up from a sound sleep having a huge argument. So I sent them both to their rooms and took a few minutes to wake up. We took our time to figure things out from there.

        We had a minor issue with foods with The Manager. I instituted the “No Thank You Helping” that my mom invented for my sister. The child is given a very small bite of whatever the objectionable food is. They only have to eat that one tiny bite. If they don’t like the food at that point, they can be excused from eating it. It did take a lot of insisting, but eventually he got with the program and will try new things now. You know. Some of the time.

        The truth is, you’re not going to get everything right as a parent. None of us will. Forgive yourself, and do your best again next time. Pick one battle to deal with and deal with it. Ignore the rest. Once that is under control, move on to a new one.

        I hope that you’re able to look back at this in 2 years and realize that you’re a different person in a better place.