The Day I Realized I Was Bullying My Kids
Coming to the realization that I was bullying my kids was NOT easy. We don’t always realize how powerful our words and actions are.
I had just watched a video from Playful Learning called Power of Words, which is no longer available, with my kids. I remember thinking it would be helpful for them, hoping it would decrease sibling squabbles. I didn’t realize I would get an emotional 2×4 to the head as I listened to the description of Put Downs.
Identifying an Angry Rut and Bullying
For most of the summer I had been doing great on not yelling, on enjoying my kids and having a good handle on my anger triggers, but after some emotional upsets and long days alone with the kids I was operating on a short fuse.
In the video, kids describe both verbal and non-verbal Put Downs. They talk about how Put Downs make us feel. It’s not like information I don’t know, but suddenly I had an “Oh $#!+” moment as I watched the kids demonstrating Put Downs. I had been in a foul mood for a couple days – really snapping a lot at the kids, speaking harshly and doing more yelling than I care to admit.
I suddenly saw my own yelling at my kids as a bunch of Put Downs. It struck me hard.
Yelling wasn’t effective teaching. Yelling didn’t get my point across, nor did it even make me feel better – it made me feel worse.
The Power of Angry Words
I had heard my son describe yelling like “being hit” before. Here was another analogy for me to reflect on. My yelling and annoyed/angry voice was a big Put Down on my kids, and like most put downs they came from a place of not feeling great myself. I’d been tired, lonely and a little sad – those were MY emotions, but instead of taking care of myself, I had been taking out my emotions on my kids, bullying them because I felt bad.
The tough part is that sometimes kids are….well, really annoying. The button pushing. The limit testing. And sometimes life happens – you don’t get a break, family tragedies unfold, the dryer breaks, the dog pees on the carpet, you lose sleep. Sometimes you get into a dark parenting rut, and that’s where I was. I didn’t really even want to connect with my kids. I just wanted a break, but one wasn’t coming soon and my kids still needed me.
They didn’t need my Put Downs.
Instead of Yelling – Put Ups for My Kids
I had been putting down my kids with my body, my voice, my face. It made me feel bad, which added to the bad feelings – you know. I needed out of this horrible cycle. I decided in those moments when I wanted to snap I would find a way to remind us of who we all wanted to be instead of harping on the bad behavior – Put Ups instead of yelling.
I was really stressed and needed a visual cue to cut out this Put Down behavior in myself, so I cut out a bunch of bright pink hearts and explained to my kids that I was feeling sad lately and having a hard time being nice and I wanted that to change. I told them I would give them a heart when I wanted to remind us all that we were kind people and we could treat each other with love. I gave them a couple hearts in case they wanted to give them out too.
Using Put Ups to Reset
I got a chance to try this out right away. At the grocery store my six year old tried to shove me aside to get onto the cart. I bristled wanting to bark a ‘hey! that Was RUDE! You need to SLOW DOWN!!’ type response, but, that’s what he’s been seeing and it hasn’t been working. He’s simply been imitating the rude voice.
I took a breath remembering the hearts and stopped to kneel beside him.
In a calm voice I said “Hey, that was rude, you just pushed me. I need you to treat me kindly.” I handed him a pink heart (visual cue!) “I know you are kind. Can you tell me a kind thing you do?”
He thought I wanted to hear something kind about me and said, “Mama, it’s kind when you take us to lunch at the grocery store.”
“Oh, thank you. And what kind things do you do?”
“I help my sister get out of her car seat.”
“Yes, that’s kind. I love you. Are we ready to shop now?”
And with that we were reset and I had not added more fuel to my anger, nor had I added shame to my six year old. He remembered that he was capable of being kind.
At home I started to flip out about…uhhhh….something I can’t even remember (must have been super important 😉 )….and my oldest waved a pink heart at me, “Mama….remember!!” he said warningly. Ah, yes, trying to be loving…
Later I interrupted an angry pre-dinner outburst between the boys by giving them both hearts. They didn’t want to stop their argument/play and it took a while for me to get them each to say something kind, (“Nope, when you have said something kind about yourself and your brother THEN you can go play again…”) By the time they were done, they were happy to head away from the crazy mama giving out hearts and play a bit more peacefully in their rooms until dinner was made.
Out of the Anger Rut
The pink hearts only lasted a couple days, but it was enough to get us out of that grumpy resentful space. The physical reminder of how we wanted to be acting helped me break that yelling cycle and begin a new positive cycle of imitating kindness rather than yelling. It’s not the perfect be-all-end-all solution to yelling, but it’s a good way to break the cycle.
If you want to stop yelling see these related resources:
- Resources – How to Deal with Anger
- Learning to Use a Kind Voice Even When You Have to Fake It
- What to do when being Mom makes you feel Mean – Tips from 10 Moms
64 Positive Things to Say to Kids
Subscribe to the Bounceback Field Notes to Download your FREE printable of 64 Positive Things to Say to Kids
Mom of three
How do you when you feel like your child doesn’t understand you. He’s three and he speech isn’t that great but he’s been denied three times to get threapy for that. He’s the middle child and i don’t want him to feel the odd one out. I can speak to my oldest and he understand but my 3yo i feel like I’m not getting through even on my patient days
Thank you for this article! It’s very helpful. It’s hard not to raise the voice, but I know from my own childhood experience how it could affect kids in a future!
I found myself punching a door this morning and decided to read anything to find a mom that can relate to the frustration and annoyance that motherhood can bring on. I can’t lie and say I feel all the way better (I’m sure my child will do something else outrageous) but I have calmed down after reading this. I hate the feeling that everyone feels (my child and I) after I unravel because I’m the captain of this ship and only I can turn this around to calmer water. Thanks
Hello there. I cried when I read this because this is my story. I got so frustrated lastnight, I punched a bathroom door. I’ve been feeling horrible every sense. I am relieved to have come across your comment. It’s a relief to know that I am not alone. I am working hard to work on my triggers. Praying for all the mommies.
I loved your article and just wondering if we can access the video link you mention at the start – it says it’s private
I just found this on Pinterest and it couldn’t have come at a better time… Six weeks of no school just started last monday and I’m already struggeling with keeping my cool. Thank you so much for your honesty and of all the moms leaving a comment before me. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one having a hard time with being a (not yelling) nice mom. You gave me inspiration to do my best and start over. It’s never too late to change.
Hi! I just saw this on Pinterest. I am the yeller, the bad cop, the mean mom… 🙁 I hate it! I will say my kids listen to me, but I’m due with our third in July and I’d like this one to grow up without my “noise”. It’s probably in the womb already like, Geez Lady! Lol.
So my question is, do you have a follow-up? The hearts stopped, but did you make the change for good? Is it possible? Have you found that ultimately it’s worth it?
What a great question. Do I have a follow up? Well – yes, and while it isn’t simple it IS worth it. The work you do to communicate and connect with your kids will benefit all of your relationships, as well as the relationships your kids develop in the future.
The post above, about the hearts, is something I wrote 5 years ago. In that time I have gone from frequently having out of control feeling times like this, to almost never having them. In fact at this point, if I feel myself having a hard time not yelling, I can immediately tell I have something going on such as being sleep deprived or not taking care of myself in other ways.
A few things have happened – for one, I don’t have really young children any more. The truth is that toddlers are demanding for me to care for. So now with kids being 7, 10 and 13, I have more energy reserves. (This might not be much help, but it’s one part of the puzzle.)
Here are a few of the most important things that I’ve done in these past years; I’ll give you a link for each. Any of these are good starting places. Remember we’re all works in progress, it’s totally possible to be a growing and learning and flawed human being while also being an awesome mom. Mistakes mean you’re learning 🙂
1. I’ve worked bit by bit to increase my ability to pause before reacting. Here is a post that is a simple way to work on this: https://bouncebackparenting.com/the-difference-of-17-seconds/
2. I’ve really worked on self acceptance. It is far easier to take care of myself if I don’t feel ashamed of having needs. This has involved a lot of learning how to link my emotions to what I need. Here’s a post on that: https://bouncebackparenting.com/feel-better-faster-best-self-care/
3. And I’ve really worked on taking my kids behaviors less personally so that instead of getting all caught up in them, I’m better able to be a guide. https://bouncebackparenting.com/child-gets-nerves-5-strategies-take-kids-behavior-less-personally/
Congrats on your third baby! I love having three kids, they’re my crew, I think you’ll love it too.
All my best,
Thank you so much whoever posted this online. I’ve been dreading waking up anytime I fall asleep. I’m angry, depressed, sad, lonely, & God knows so much more. I’m tired, I am sick and tired. I feel sick just saying the word sick. I wake up feeling I’ll every day. I’ve lost 50 lbs from not eating. & I hate that I am the reason my children aren’t happy. How could they be? I am a mess. This article is really helping me realise that there may be hope after all. I really want to end it all sometimes. I feel if I’m not here, my kids will be happy. GOD knows that is all I want in life. I love them so much it aches just thinking what I have done to them just by not taking care of my own depression and PTSD. I’m stuck. It’s scary. I find myself hating my children’s father. 4th time locked up since we started a family. I’m tired of being a single parent that struggles constantly. It’s exhausting. Most times idk how I make it through to the next minute. It’s so hard. & I know nobody is probably even seeing this but honestly, just pretending someone is hearing me is keeping me from self harm thoughts.
Somebody is hearing you, and there is hope. You’re doing this mama! It’s freakin’ hard, and here you are, showing up and doing the hard and messy work of emotional growth. That kind of growth is rarely comfortable or straightforward. Luckily parenting isn’t about getting everything right, it’s about having the courage to keep learning and growing. Your kids don’t want perfect, they want you.
A few resources for you –
First off if you are currently considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Parenting Reminder for the Hardest Days (You can even download the image on this page and save it to your phone to use as a backdrop) https://bouncebackparenting.com/parenting-reminder-for-the-hardest-days-printable/
Banishing the Should Mama – finding your way out of “shoulding on yourself’ all the time: https://bouncebackparenting.com/you-know-what-will-ruin-my-kids/
All my best, glad you stopped by!
Thank you for being, not only honest but, creative and helpful. I saved this quite some time ago, just knowing by the title it was something I wanted…ok NEEDED … to read. Not sure what brought me to it today, but grateful for whatever, or whoever, it was. Your honesty is impressive and your solution is brilliant! Grabbing construction paper already!!!
Thank you so much for this – I just had a ‘yelling’ fit myself and I feel so bad. It doesn’t help anything at all but sometimes it’s so easy to fly off the handle. I’m fed up of the guilt and I;m fed up of being like this. Your idea is so good I know it ill help. I’ve just made some cards (hearts) with useful and lovely messages on and am going to leave them round the house and when me or my son get upset or angry – the other one needs to find a heart and give it to the other one. I think it will help. I’m so grateful. This page just might save my sanity too 🙂 Grateful. x