There are days when this parenting gig is the best one on the planet. Giggles come easily, hugs are plentiful, and cooperation abounds. All seems right in our world and in our family, and our confidence soars.

And then, there are those days – the days when every situation devolves into a meltdown, and it seems like there is a new battle to be waged around every corner. On those days when our confidence in our parenting plummets, we have to reach deep into our parenting toolboxes to find the resources we need to survive.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often struggle with a positive, healthy response to bad days. I make a lot of mistakes, but in correcting those mistakes, I’ve found a few things that seem to work for the season of parenting in which I find myself.

These are four positive parenting strategies I rely on to help me through those difficult days.

1. Understand ages and stages.

One of the most helpful resources I’ve come across in the past year is a series of books written in the 1970s by Louise Bates Ames

and Frances L. Ilg

. In each book in the series, the authors shed insight on every aspect of development a child experiences at each age. Knowing the why behind my children’s actions provides incredible support in choosing the how of responding to them.

For example, in Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender, Ames and Ilg explain why it is that ritual and routine are so important to two year olds.

Because of this understanding that ritual and sameness allow my two-year-old to feel safe and in control, I can respond with empathy when her routines are disrupted and she feels off-track.

It’s a stage – these words of advice are often heard from the lips of more experienced parents. Knowing that a challenging behavior won’t last forever provides me with the perspective I need to make it through difficult days.

2. Connect feelings to actions.

Photo by lepiaf.geo

One of the most profound insights I’ve learned since becoming a parent is a simple phrase I’ve heard from several different, very wise sources: people who feel badly act badly.

When I push the pause button on my own frustration in the midst of an intense moment, I remember that this truth applies to myself as well as to my children. If I am snippy, short-tempered, or terse with others, it is a reflection of emotions churning beneath the surface.

Children lack the emotional and developmental maturity to express their inner turmoil. It is up to us, as the adult in these situations, to sleuth out what the internal triggers are that are causing the external conflict. Is my child hungry? Tired? Over-stimulated? Jealous? Hurting?

When I bear in mind that her actions are not a personal assault on me, but rather an overflow of what is going on inside her, it brings the peace of mind that I need to navigate the rapids until we finally float into smoother waters.

3. Catch them in the act (of being good).

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I read The One-Minute Manager for a graduate level education class. I didn’t realize at the time that the principles of this book would be applicable to parenting, but there is one concept from this business management book that is extremely helpful in family life:  catch them in the act – of doing something good.

On miserably bad days, it is all too easy to micro-focus on all of the wrong. Yet even on the worst of days, there is always something that can be praised.

The switch in my mind flips from negative to positive when I make the conscious effort to catch one of my daughters doing something good . My children can’t help but pick up on my shift in energy and outlook, evident by the way they respond to me.

4. Sneak in some fun.

Photo by Ha-Wee

Last week, we found ourselves trapped inside for three days by an ice storm. By the end of the third day, we were grouchy, cranky, and frustrated. My older daughter and I sat on her bed while she worked through some of her big feelings. She picked up a pillow and threw it on the floor.

I seized the moment and said, “Oh, you wanna have a pillow fight, do you?” Her cranky countenance broke into a grin as she said, “Sure!” We then had a great time bopping each other with pillows while we laughed and played.

This approach doesn’t work in every situation, but I have found that if I can muster a playful or silly response, the distraction and fun dissolves the tense situation. If you watch carefully, you’ll find fun where you least expect it.

Other resources for dealing with difficult days with your children are:

What resources or strategies would you add? What have you found to be the most helpful in navigating those difficult days?