5 Strategies for When You Hit a Parenting Wall

A few months ago, out of the blue, my son hit a rough patch. He became impossible in the morning before school. Rather than talking, he would only meow, squeak, or scream in response to us. Any request we made was met with meltdowns, and communication was next to impossible. He could communicate with words when he wanted to, and it seemed to get better later in the day, so we didn’t think it was serious — but it was incredibly frustrating.

After a few weeks of trying to figure it out and/or just survive it, the stress was affecting everyone. We had hit a parenting wall — a larger problem you don’t know how to handle, where existing strategies don’t work — and we needed to figure out what to do. 

What do you do when you hit a parenting wall?  

Here are five strategies that we found helpful:

1. Phone-a-friend with children a stage ahead of yours

When I hit a parenting wall — heck, even just a rough day — my mama text list is my first go-to (for help, see making mom friends). They’re not the all-wise mamas who make you feel like you’re a mess. They’re the ones who don’t roll their eyes when you ask, “Have your kids ever just meowed to communicate?” or “Is it crazy that I’m considering meowing back?” They laugh with you and offer honest advice and perspective when asked. In this instance, they asked clarifying questions, helped me rule some things out, and helped me pay attention to a few physical signals I had missed.

2. Poll the audience and triangulate

Check in with the people who see your child in a different context to see if they are seeing the same behavior mirrored in their space. We often expect teachers will check in with us if our kids are having issues — but don’t forget they can provide valuable insight for your parenting at home as well. When we checked in with my son’s teacher, she pointed out that he was thriving at school. He was right on the verge of turning a corner with reading, and she was noticing that he was really stepping up in his leadership among his peers.  This was reassuring — and reoriented our search for what was really going on.

3. Ask: Is the issue relational? Developmental? Training? Or just disobedience?

One of the parenting books I’m reading (and liking) is “Duct Tape Parenting” by Vicki Hoefle. She postulates that the majority of discipline issues are actually relationship issues (“I feel rushed,” “You’re not hearing me,” “I’m exhausted and you’re not seeing that”) or training issues (“I don’t know how to do that!” “I don’t understand what you want!”). I’d add in developmental (teething or sleep regressions, anyone?) and — the one we often misdiagnose everything as — just plain obstinance (“I just want to see how much chaos I can cause, just because”). 

Seeing discipline issues as having different causes changes the ways I address them. The behavior might look the same, but the solutions are radically different. In this instance, we found that he was eagerly accepting more responsibility in the classroom. He was ready for more ownership of his mornings and was frustrated by the ways he was being micromanaged. He needed more sleep during the developmental leap — and he needed more decision-making responsibility in his mornings.

4. Try something new, but try it consistently for at least three days.

Armed with these pieces of information — monitor constipation, work on more sleep, and entrust more responsibility — we set out to try something new. As the old adage goes, you can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. 

But all too often, we try something once, and when it doesn’t work immediately, we move on. One of my favorite early childhood educators — and mother of seven — always says that to see if something really works, you have to be consistent for at least three days, if not longer. We don’t make changes instantly ourselves, so why would we expect that our children would? Pick a strategy, and, unless it’s very apparently making it worse, stick with it for a few days before trying something else. 

5. Take a (virtual) trip to the local library. 

When all else fails, check out a few different parenting books. There are a million and one opinions and people who have similar experiences to our own. Those who have taken the time to write a book have typically wrestled with these issues and have tried something more than once. Ask your mom-text group for recommendations, ask teachers for resources, and do some good old-fashioned research. Not all books will be helpful, but some will. At the very least, it will offer you another perspective on the issues and perhaps a refresh to your confidence in moving forward.

I’m thankful to report that my son has turned a corner with this issue — and our mornings are (most of the time) running smoother. Hopefully, these strategies will be helpful to you as well.

Kristen is Southern by birth but has called Boston home for more than a decade. Unlike most Boston natives, she still really loves the snow and cold. She and her husband have two energetic and kind sons (2013, 2014) and a sassy, smart baby girl (2016) who doesn't have a volume knob and is the bruiser of the bunch. Now home full time with the kids, Kristen jokes that she has a master's degree in laundry and a PhD in preschool conflict resolution — which she uses far more than her actual physics and politics degrees. In her "spare" time, she runs her own business (Murph&Moose), which helps her retain some semblance of her own identity in the midst of motherhood. Her passion is seeing moms feel comfortable in their own skin and less alone in the chaos that is motherhood. Loves: writing, science, languages, coffee by the vat, distance running, a good Malbec, time with her girlfriends, and the rare moments of silence when all three children are (finally) in bed Dislikes: daylight saving time, non-washable markers, and noisy neighbors who disrupt her rare moments of silence