The Day I Realized I Was Bullying My Kids
I was being a bully…
I had just watched a video from Playful Learning called Power of Words with my kids, thinking it would be helpful for them, hopefully help us 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.
In an Angry Parenting Rut
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.
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. and button pushing. and 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
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