Tag Archives: discipline

Tug-of-War

The_Tug_of_War_-_JM_StaniforthMe:  I think arguing is like tug-of-war.  One person pulls one way and the other pulls the other way, and you try not to get pulled across the line.  But what if someone just drops the rope?  Then you are not tugging anymore and you don’t get pulled across the line, either.  It just ends.

Husband:  Yeah, but if you let go, the other person falls down.

Me:  You just have to be the one to let go first.

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Confessions of an Angry Mom

If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Dosso Dossi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I couldn’t stop myself from losing my temper with my son, even though I love him to the ends of the earth.  I would yank him away from a fight with his sister, and yell a lecture into his face.  When he responded by hitting and kicking me, I would hold his wild limbs way too tightly, pinning him to me until his rage finally turned to tears.  At that point, I would lecture him in a more calm way until I thought I had said enough for him to get the point.  Then I would go to my room and cry into my pillow.

I knew my explosiveness wasn’t solving anything.  It was undoubtedly making things worse.  But I didn’t know how to stop.  If a mother’s love wasn’t motivation enough for me to hold it in, nothing could be.  I had to go beyond motivation, beyond counting to ten.  I needed to change myself at a fundamental level.

Reasons for Anger

First, I had to understand why I was getting angry.  I realized over time that I lose my temper when:

  • I want to scare my kids into doing what I want
  • I am afraid I might not be a good enough mom
  • I am afraid of not being in control of my kids
  • I am afraid my kids might be controlling me
  • I snap from hearing too much of an annoying noise from my son
  • I am afraid of what other people think of my kids’ behavior
  • I am cranky from hunger, thirst, or having to use the bathroom
  • I am overwhelmed by other stress in my like
  • I am more comfortable with the emotion of anger than I am with fear, anxiety or sadness
  • I magnify a temporary behavior problem by fearing it will be a long-term problem
  • I suffer from too much caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal
  • I feel defensive about someone’s anger directed at me
  • It feels good to vent my anger
  • I have too-high expectations for what I — and my kids — should be able to accomplish
  • I don’t know what else to do.

Managing Triggers

Once I understood the reasons for my anger, I could recognize and manage the triggers.  I recently read something that angered me.  I went into the kitchen to cook dinner and started snapping at the kids about messes they had left on the table.  I realized the true source of my anger, and apologized to my kids.  Then I concentrated on prioritizing my family and letting go of my anger over something less important.

New Skills

The next big step was to learn new ways to discipline my kids.  According to psychologist Ross Greene in his excellent online videos, “Maladaptive behavior occurs when cognitive demands being placed on the individual exceed that person’s capacity to respond adaptively.”  The same was true for me.  I behaved badly in situations that exceeded my capabilities.  I had the faulty authoritarian skill set of trying to enforce obedience with fear and manipulation.

I started developing new skills of connection parenting.  These included listening, empathizing, and coaching.  I felt less panicky when I understood my kids better and knew better what to do.  The more confident I was, the less I worried about what other people thought.

More often nowadays, when my son starts trouble with his sister, I focus on defusing the situation.  I calmly suggest why I think he might be angry, instead of escalating the anger in the situation.  I lead him to separate himself from her and find a more appropriate method to resolve the dispute.  In turn, he is becoming more capable in these situations.

Peaceful Home

I still lose my temper.  But my outbursts are shorter and less intense.  I am less frustrated and volatile.  My husband has noticed that the mood in our home has become much more peaceful in the past few years.  He is no longer the victim of my barrages of desperate and unfair complaints about our children’s impossible behavior.  With perseverance, it really was possible to loosen the grip that anger had on our household.

I love feedback.  What do you think?  What are your triggers for anger?

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Fear is Different From Respect

Photo By D Sharon Pruitt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Whom do you respect and admire?  What do you respect about that person?  Courage? Wisdom? Mental, physical or emotional strength? Kindness? Or, do you respect that person for their power to scare and humiliate you?

Shine from Yahoo ran an article about a 13-year old girl whose parents made her stand for 90 minutes at a roadside with a sign that said, “I’m a Self-entitled teenager w/NO Respect for authority. I’m also super smart, yet I have 3 ‘D”s because I DON’T CARE!”

This might be a kick in the pants to scare her into bringing up her grades.  But in the long run, is this the kind of tactic that will bring out the best in her?  Do decent people humiliate each other?

Who are the best supervisors and coaches?  Back in my previous life as a career woman, I had a great boss.  She had high expectations, and I did not want to let her down.  I wanted to do well in that job.  Why?  Because she set a fine example.  She had a strong work ethic, was knowledgeable about her field, was a great team-builder, and encouraged me.  These are the things that make a great boss.  As I develop my parenting skills, I look to her example.  I want my kids to feel encouraged to do their best.

This boss never, ever did anything to humiliate me, even when I really screwed up.  I don’t do my best when I am scared.  I suppose I’d run my fastest if I were chased by a wild animal.  Other than that, does fear bring out the best in any of us?  Maybe it does for some people of a certain temperament, but I doubt it is common.  And even if humiliation was effective, is it the right way for a person to teach another person, whether adult or child?  Would this husband and wife treat each other this way?

I do not think that scaring and humiliating our children into submission brings out the best in them.

I admit there have been times when my children have acted disrespectfully toward me.  But it was not because I didn’t scare or humiliate them enough.  It was because I got flustered, lost my temper, and had mommy-tantrums.  I was being weak, and they could see that I was not in control.  That is how I lost their respect.  As I learn to keep my temper, speak calmly and firmly, and encourage them to do their best, I can see that I gain their respect.

Many people commented with praise for the parents who wrote the embarrassing sign.  I think it is a good thing that the parents wanted to correct their daughter’s behavior.  But I am amazed that so many people think that this is a great method.  I think it was a desperate, thoughtless, maybe even sadistic measure, and not a long-term solution.  I think it is sad that the girl’s behavior stemmed from the tragic death of her uncle, and that her parents responded by hurting her.  What a slap in the face to say the girl doesn’t care.  Obviously she does care, or her uncle’s death wouldn’t have had such a strong effect on her.  And why make a public display of a private matter?  I hope that these parents will empathize with her grief and help her work through it in a constructive way.  I hope that they strengthen their relationship with their daughter and develop true respect.

Because fear is different from respect.

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Mommy and Me Road Rage

How do I get there?  Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-US Government

How do I get there? Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-US Government

I was driving near an urban mall just a few days before Christmas. Traffic was crawling at about one block per half hour. My Pre-K son started making unhappy noises.  I don’t mean crying, I mean random noises, like “AAAAH” and “OOOOH” to relieve boredom or frustration.  I failed to identify the sentiment as bored or frustrated, though.  I interpreted it as uncooperative and annoying.

To escape traffic, I chose a longer route.  No escape.  Now I was on the longer route, traveling at one block per half hour.  My son kept making noise.  Annoyed, I kept asking him to be quiet.  Both of us kept raising our voices, trying to win.  Eventually, I was screaming myself hoarse, hoping that eventually, he would give up or get scared or gain a solemn respect for me.  But instead, he matched me decibel for decibel.  If decibels were drinks, we both would have been under the table.  Oh, and also, I had a pounding headache.

Over the years, we went through many variations on this theme.  Son pulls daughter’s hair while mom screams for him to stop.  Or, father drives, son kicks mom’s seat, mom grabs son’s foot, daughter is crying.

Car troubles are definitely worse when the child’s tantrum triggers a mom-tantrum.  For kids, a tantrum can be a last-ditch effort to control a situation when they don’t know what else to do.  This is the same for moms.  At least for me.  It’s when I’m at my wits’ end that I yell and threaten.  It’s when I feel stuck or overwhelmed and can’t think of anything else to do.

It took years for us to get to the point of consistently good drives (I’m a slow learner).  I used to look for the magic phrase to say, or the magic time-out technique.  Now, I’ve recognized that my demeanor is more important than my technique.  Of course, recognizing is only the first step.  Practicing takes longer.  Years later, my kids still make unhappy noises.  I still yell sometimes.  I even found an effective technique, but it only works when I am calm.  Actually, the technique helps me stay calm, because I have a plan.

The technique is this.  I won’t drive angry.  If I feel like I’m getting angry, I pull over.  Then, I sit quietly while the kids fuss or whatever.  Eventually, one will ask, “Can we go now?”  My answer is that we can go when they have been still and quiet for two minutes.  Early on, it could take up to an hour to achieve two minutes in a row of quiet.  My point is to let them learn to quiet themselves.  If son is hurting daughter, I will let daughter sit up front with me while we wait for calm in our parking space.  After the quiet time, we move on.  We talk about what caused the disagreement, and what each party could have done to de-escalate it.  Sometimes we talk as we drive on, or if it has been a particularly difficult time, we talk before we drive on.  The waits have gotten shorter and less frequent.

We even managed a drive from Ohio to Texas.  The kids started arguing before we got through Ohio.  I told them, “No arguing until we get to Arkansas.  Then, you are allowed to have a great big blowout.  But not before then.”  I guess this seemed weird enough to surprise them into behaving — all the way to Arkansas!  We were actually in Arkansas when they started arguing again.  “It’s ok to argue now,” I told them.  “You waited until Arkansas, and now you can have a big fight.”  They paused. “But do you want to fight?” I asked.  Amazingly, they stopped right then and there.  We made it all the way to Texas with no fighting.  Holy sigh of relief, Batman!

The big lesson for me is that when I am more calm, the kids are more calm.  When I am overwhelmed, they are overwhelmed.  The better I learn to handle my own tantrums, the better the kids handle theirs.  Drive on, mom!

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From Control to Compassion: A Mom’s Path in a Nutshell

Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Art (PD-old-100)

When I learn something complicated, I like to see the big picture first, then follow up with the details.  So, I am going to share a whole overview of the stages I went through to find out my recipe for parenting.  Unfortunately, it was more like an aged cheese than a microwave dinner, and took many years to develop.  If you are experiencing some of the same things I did, I hope it goes faster for you!  In future posts, I’ll explain how I got from one point to another.  Is there something you’re curious about now?  Ask, and maybe I can get to that topic first!

Stage 1: Discovering that my authoritarian formula didn’t work

Stage 2: Trying to improve my implementation of the faulty authoritarian formula

Stage 3: Trying to figure out what was wrong with my son, since he didn’t respond how he was supposed to

Stage 4: Abandoning the intimidation-based (authoritarian) discipline formula.  So, I was left with a gap to fill.  I wandered through a parenting desert, with a confused mix of permissiveness and strictness.

Stage 5: Starting to recognize empathy and emotional intelligence as important skills for parenting (for relationships, too!)

Stage 6: Realizing that my children learned more from who I am than from what I did.  Realizing that I needed to change on the inside.  (When I write this stage, I imagine a choir of angels singing out a joyful note.)

Stage 7: Looking inward. Discovering the four horsemen of my parenting apocalypse: Anger, Perfectionism, Stoicism, and Guilt

Stage 8: Learning a better way, which meant combating anger, perfectionism, stoicism and guilt with a balance of empathy and boundaries

Stage 9: Practicing a better way.  Faltering sometimes, but getting back up and trying again.  This is where I am now

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The Perfect Parenting Formula

Large Resistance — isn’t that the truth?! Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-old

Ready for a laugh?  Here is how I thought the perfect parenting formula would work.  I thought I would establish rules, and my kids would mostly follow them.  Naturally, they would do this, because they love and respect me and I am wiser and bigger than they are.  And if they didn’t follow the rules, I would simply give them a disapproving look and speak firmly.  If necessary, I would impose a punishment or revoke a privilege.  Consistency would be the key.  Lots of articles and some books (including New Kid By Friday) reassured me that this formula would work.

On the flip side, I believed that if other people’s children were out of control, it was the parents’ fault.  Wild kids were obviously the result of overindulgence, giving in to whining, and failing to establish boundaries.

Some moms of compliant, “easy” children may be nodding their heads right now.  But moms of “spirited” children are probably thinking that I was the kind of woman who needed to get a serious reality check.  You can smirk now, because I got that reality check.  My second child, a girl, responded well to my formula.  But my first child, a boy, showed no interest in following any rules that did not suit him.  He did not seem to be impressed with my age, wisdom, or size.  If I wanted him to hurry, he would freak out about putting his shoes on.  If I wanted him to be quiet, he would shriek.  If I was stressed out, he dug his heels in on whatever I needed him to do.   He tested things (like toys and his little sister) by seeing what would happen if he whacked them.

I tried timeouts, and I got dents in the wall where he expressed his opinion about those.  I tried giving him a big bear hug and talking gently till he calmed down.  But to this, he just yelled, bit, kicked, and pinched until we were both in tears.  I know there were some parents who thought he was a candidate for a good spanking, and I am sorry to say, I tried that, too.  But I came to realize that all the force and coercion wasn’t working.   It was only proving to him how wrong I was.

And how wrong I was.  Lucky for me, he was a child who did not fear me.  His stubbornness forced me to find alternatives to my intimidation-based discipline strategy.  But that meant that everything I believed about parenting was falling through, and I had a huge gap to fill.  If that was the wrong formula, what was the right formula?  Like a mad scientist, I searched for years, reading everything I could get my hands on.  I’ve slowly discovered that parenting is more like a recipe than a formula.  There are many different ingredients, and you improve the mix over time through trial and error.  Different parents use different variations to suit different tastes.  Sometimes you have to change it up a little just for variety.  I don’t have one perfect recipe, but at least now my parenting doesn’t leave such a bad taste in our mouths anymore.  Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will outline the stages I went through during this process.

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