Lessons for Everyday Parenting
The Connective Parenting Newsletter, September 2014
Do you yell more often than you like?
Does yelling fall short of getting the result you intend?
Do you find yourself yelling when you don’t realize you’re doing it?
Do your kids say you yell all the time?
Is yelling easy for you? Is it harder to stay calm than to yell?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be addicted. We can get addicted to patterns of behavior, especially when we experienced those patterns growing up. And what’s scary is that, like addictions, we often don’t realize we’re yelling and will actually deny it when we are.
Ideas and assumptions about our children and about ourselves get triggered when our children don’t do what we ask, don’t behave in the way we expect, and when we don’t know how to handle it. Those ideas—He’s so violent, She’s out to get me, He’s doing this on purpose, Why won’t she ever learn, I’m a pathetic parent—happen at lightening speed, too quick to stop the yelling that results. The key is to change your perceptions and think differently in the moment (this is what When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is all about) but I want to give you some ideas to start.
If you feel more in control of your yelling and are aware of how easily you yell:
- Wait before you say or do anything. If you take just a minute or two, even a few seconds, you will allow the adrenaline rush to slow down in your body and rational thought can return.
- Think about what you want to say or do. Immediate reacting will never get you where you want to be as a parent.
If you try the first two steps and say to yourself , “I just can’t help it” continue with:
- Admit that you yell more than you want and that you are perhaps a “yell-aholic”.
- Acknowledge that right now it feels out of your control but that it is up to you to bring it in your control. The pattern likely is rooted in a deep, old place. Yelling can happen unconsciously when the pattern was set long ago, often when you were the victim of yelling.
- Know that the pattern set from your past is not your fault. You learned it because you were a child.
- Commit to doing the personal inventory that is needed to find the root of the pattern of yelling. (When Your Kids Push Your Buttons can help with this)
- Become mindful of the times you yell and are tempted to yell. Become aware of the triggers. Write them down. Bringing it into your consciousness is a huge step.
- Get help—whether a partner, a trusted friend and good listener, or a professional. Meditation can be extremely helpful.
- Admit to your children and/or partner that you have a problem with yelling. Let them know you are committed to stopping and that you would like their help (if children are six or older). You might give them permission to say something agreed on with you when you do yell.
- Create some kind of a written chart or documentation that will help you stay with the task.
When yelling comes from your past, it’s as if you are under a spell. We cast spells on people when we are reacting in an unconscious way. Think about what spell you are under from your past (I’m the stupid one, the accident, the smart one, the one who ruins everything, never good enough) cast by a parent, a teacher, a sibling. Ask yourself what spell you were under that you have broken from.
Then ask yourself what spells you are casting on your children with your yeling. Be as specific as you can. When you yell, you may have all good intentions of teaching your children something. But what they hear could be something you would never intend.
When your children behave (or don’t) in a way that pushes your button, the emotional memories stored in the amygdala in your brain get triggered, and you react in ways you might have back when the memories were made.
This work is not about blaming anyone. This is about taking responsibility for the patterns you have bought into, discovering why, and committing to breaking the cycle so your children don’t carry it forward. And it’s about being in charge of your relationship with your children.
You might get started by taking the Orange Rhino Challenge for a week, a month, or a year.
Questions and Answers
I want your questions. Here’s how it works: You email me a question to email@example.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.
Safety Issues for a Runner
Q. I am having a tough time with my 2 ½ year old son. He has so much energy and is very strong willed. He does not understand when he is putting himself in dangerous situations. When playing outside, he would run toward the road and not stop when I yelled “stop!” – or even slow down. I would have to run after him and catch him. He would laugh, thinking it was a game even though I was trying to firmly teach him to stop when I say stop. There have been two incidents where he has walked out the front door when my husband and I were distracted. He ran away from me at daycare, and I didn’t catch him until he was in the road. I’m pretty frustrated and not sure what to do because I can’t always hold his hand or carry him. It’s those few times that I don’t that he books it. It’s only because we have been lucky that he’s still alive and I’m really scared for his safety. Once I was so freaked out that I smacked him telling him never to do that again. I know that’s not what you recommend, but nothing is working. When he gets told no or put in time-out, he rips his own hair out or smashes his head on the floor. My husband and I are now trying to be much better about always holding his hand and bending down to talk to him. We have another baby on the way, due in June, and I want to get on the right track before our attention is split even more. Please let me know if you have any advice for my wonderful, willful boy.
A. You and your husband are moving in the right direction by holding his hand and getting down to his level to talk. The best thing for you to do is change your expectation of him and be vigilant. You have a runner—nothing wrong with that except that it will be exhausting for you until he grows out of this developmental stage. This is who your child is and trying to teach him to be different is futile. He is too young to expect him to understand danger. He does not run to be defiant, he runs because it is in his body chemistry to do so—so of course it is a game for him. I believe it will get easier when you don’t add to it your worry and frustration that he has got to learn. He’s having fun, exploring, seeing what’s over there. He is the opposite of shy and cautious. He is fearless, which means you have to watch him and be extra vigilant to set an environment that is safe—only somewhat possible. Make sure your doors are always locked, fence in an area he can safely play in, and do not get distracted by anyone else when you are out and about with him. Dr. Harvey Karp’s method of “ape talk” (talking to him like a little ape) might be effective. “Joel run! Mama scared! Joel listen mama! No run away!” Children usually listen to “ape talk” because it’s different and listening is the first step to making a better choice down the line. The most important thing to keep in mind is that this too will end—but it will when it does. You can’t push it but you can make it worse with your anger or punishment for something he doesn’t understand.
Soiling — A Signal?
Q. If something doesn’t go his way, my 5 yr. old son may say, “It’s because I’m so stupid at X.” Or in general, “I’m so stupid,” or “I want to put myself in the rubbish bin,” and even, “I wish I wasn’t even born.” These statements so uncannily echo what I would have said about myself before I learned how to desist from that kind of self-talk. I believe the “stupid” idea may come from school since it is a not a word we’ve ever used at home. I typically respond with calm rationality or just tell him I don’t know why he’s using that word, because he’s not stupid and nobody else I know is either. How would you interpret this? On a good note, since we battled so often before I learned about Connective Parenting, I said to him, “I used to get so frustrated with you, yet you were just doing your best.” Then I added, “The truth is, most people, most of the time are doing their best.” Right after I proceeded to spill something in the kitchen. I didn’t get angry nor criticise myself, but merely said, “Look what I’ve done! I spilled half of it into the sink!” My son said, “Don’t worry Mamma, you were doing your best.”
A. Typically children speak in a self-deprecating way when they are often blamed and criticized perceiving they are not meeting expectations, but I have a feeling given your history of self-deprecation, battling with him in years past, and then “conversion” to connective parenting that you are being faced with your own mirror. He may be testing to see if you are holding strong or if you really secretly still see him as not good enough (stupid, etc.)—his perception. At five, he is experimenting with who he is, and I’m sure competitiveness at school fuels some of it. Regardless, the best approach is through acknowledgment instead of telling him that he is not stupid—that denies what he is bringing to you. Stupid means something different to children than it does to adults. I suggested to a mother once that she ask her daughter what “stupid” means. Her daughter said, “When somebody’s mad at you it means you’re stupid.” Very revealing. So I suggest responding with things like, “Hmm. So you think you’re stupid. Tell me more about that; about why you think you’re stupid/should never have been born, etc.” In other words, take him seriously rather than tell him he’s not. If you acknowledge his perception then he is more likely to say something that makes more sense to you. Calm rationality is good. Of course it’s hard to hear, especially if he is voicing your old thoughts.
The “I won’t be ignored” Button
Q. I got totally out of control when I let my 7 y.o. and 4 y.o. twins have apples for dessert and then they started jumping around. I told them if they jumped around I would take their apples because it was dangerous. They ignored me so I took their apples. Well, you’d think I’d killed someone. Total freak outs, everyone crying. And I really did want to kill them. So much for my buttons. I just can’t stand it when they ignore me. Everything goes crazy inside me and I want to force them to do what I say.
A. So give them less opportunities to ignore you. Choose your battles. For one thing, it’s great that they are happy with apples for dessert. And for another, kids love to jump, and they were having fun. If you’re worried about them choking, that’s your problem. Own it and don’t expect them to realize it’s dangerous. “Hold it guys. If you take a bite and then jump, a piece could lodge in your throat. Make sure you chew up your piece before you jump.” That will make sense to them. Taking their apples away for jumping makes no sense and it’s asking them to take care of your problem – so naturally they will resist. It’s not that they’re ignoring you (your button and your assumption), it’s that they don’t want to do what sounds illogical and will stop their fun. When you own it and don’t punish them for what they should not be expected to understand, you will get the cooperation you want. But when that “ignore button” goes off, you get triggered by a memory from long ago. Perhaps your parents blamed and punished you for ignoring them, or perhaps they ignored you and left you feeling unimportant and alone. That’s yours, so take responsibility for it and don’t blame it on your kids. Learn how to defuse that button so you can be more reasonable by reframing the assumptions you are making about them.
I was away all weekend and left my 4 y.o. son with my dad and my brother. My son had a blast with them. As soon as I got him in the car, he started berating me because we couldn’t stay to have “smores”. He tore me to shreds as he often does. I was able to stay calm and said, “I will not be spoken to like this, and because it is so upsetting for me to listen to you talk to me like this, I am going to put my headphones on.
We got home and he continued to rant and rave. After a bit, I took off my headphones and got right down to his level and against every victimized cell in my heart, I said—forced: “Wow. You just REALLY, REALLY wanted smores.”
I know you’ve told us to do this a hundred thousand times, and I realized that the reason I don’t is because a lot of time she jumps on it thinking I’m giving in and we’re back to square 1. But it worked.
“Yes! With Henry and Oscar.”
“Yeah, I can tell. Well…Can I give you a hug?”
After a brief hesitation, he submitted and within moments he was in my lap discussing alternatives. We were more connected than ever the rest of the night and still three days later as I write this.