I have noticed a tendency amongst parents practising gentle discipline (or loving guidance, as it’s otherwise known) – a tendency to try to be calm and collected all of the time, and to feel as though we have failed if we shout, lose our temper or snap at our kids.
Yes, parents who practice gentle discipline veer away from punitive methods of parenting – shouting, shaming and time-outs are not on the agenda – but sometimes we all lose our cool.
Shouting is something I, personally, really struggle with. I am by nature a loud, intense, fairly highly-strung person so it takes a lot of effort to dial down the decibels and attempt to exude an aura of calm. On top of this, my previously angelic Monkey has entered That Fateful Stage in which he has turned into somewhat of a monster, often leaving me unable to react in any other way than “WHAT THE HELL?!”
I’m not saying that it’s OK to shout at our kids. It’s not OK. When I lose my temper and shout, it doesn’t solve anything. It either makes the behaviour worse (therefore adding to the negativity), or it stops it – at the expense of seeing my spunky Monkey hunch over, broken, with fear in his eyes, and knowing that I made that happen. Ouch. Cue the shame spiral (I’m such a crappy mum, what’s the point, I don’t deserve them, etc) and what could have been an insignificant happening from which we escaped unscathed is now suddenly the exact opposite.
So no, shouting at your kids in order to discipline them is not a great idea. Having said that, it’s important to remember that we are only human. Do we really want our children to grow up with a fake role model? Do we not want them to know that being angry is OK and normal, and that we need to express it healthily rather than hold it in and allow it to explode?
On that note, lets think about some healthy ways to express anger and frustration – before it reaches the point of no return.
#1 – Direct the shouting away from the child
Something that I find to be very helpful is shouting around the kids rather than shouting at them. Instead of “What did you do that for, for goodness’ sake, what are you thinking?” I’ll turn away from the child and shout “Oh, I am so cross! I feel like I could pop! I’m going to go into the hallway and take a breather, please give me a few minutes to chill out.” This way, the anger is expressed wholeheartedly, without being directed at anybody – there’s a big difference. Now when Monkey gets angry, he will take himself off “to chill down” for a minute, just like his mama does.
#2 – Reconnect
When you feel the red mist start to rise: stop doing whatever you are doing, grab that small person and hug them like you’ve never hugged before. This, for me, is one of *the* hardest things to do – when they are behaving like little brats, the last thing you want to do is hug them – but by god, it works. Feeling them in your arms reminds you just how small they really are. I’m sad to say though, this doesn’t work every time for us – simply because my Monkey is pretty stingey with hugs these days, especially if he is cross.
#3 – Hit the deck
Something that is sometimes recommended for families with older children especially is the Hit the Deck technique. If a situation begins to escalate, any one of the involved family members can say “Hit the deck!” Signalling to everyone to, literally, hit the deck. Everyone should quickly lie down on the floor in order to put a rapid stop to the confrontation. The action of laying on the floor and taking a few deep breaths is very grounding and it brings everybody down to the same level.
#4 – Go outside
Often, for us, the only thing that calms us all down if we’re having a particularly stressful day is getting out of the house. Even if it’s just to walk into town and get the bus home again. It totally hits our reset button.
#5 – Breathe the anger down
The old “breathe and count to ten” routine just doesn’t work for me. Never has, probably never will. I find that breathing the anger down is more effective. Here’s how I do it:
- Take a deep breath in through your nose
- Breathe out through your mouth whilst visualising the negative energy travelling down through your feet into the ground, and dissipating out of your fingertips. Whilst doing this, shake out your hands and arms
- Rinse and repeat
I’ve come to accept that I am who I am. I am a loud, shouty person with a short fuse. I do my best to rein it in, but sometimes that just ain’t possible. Sometimes I am just SO ANGRY that I do end up shouting at one of my kids. We all do it, so how can we lessen the impact? How can we turn a negative experience into an opportunity for connecting with our kids?
#1 – Apologise
It doesn’t matter how small your child is, always apologise. Get down to their level and say you’re sorry.
#2 – Explain why you shouted
Obviously you’ll tailor this part to the age of your child. With Monkey, I say something like “Mummy got very cross, and because I was so cross I forgot how to use my words properly. Next time, I will try my best to remember to have a breather before I get too cross.”
#3 – Invite them to share their feelings
Again, this one depends on how verbal your child is. When a parent shouts, it can stir up some very confusing and uncomfortable feelings for the little one. I will often say something like “I can see that you’re feeling sad because mummy shouted. Would you like to show me how sad you feel?” at which he will usually release the tension through crying whilst having a cuddle. Other times, he will ask for me to help him to draw sad faces on a piece of paper – this usually has the effect of lightening the mood, as he will inevitably ask me to draw silly faces, animal faces, random shapes and the like after I’ve done a couple rows of sad faces.
Reading this post back makes it sound so simple. It’s not, and even if you do all of the above you will still feel like shit when you shout at your kids. Just remember this – we can’t be perfect parents. And what the hell is a perfect parent, anyway? One who has no emotions? One that’s switched to ‘happy’ all of the time? That’s not authentic, and it’s not a good example to set for your kids. Balance, again, is paramount.
Are you, like me, guilty of being a little yell-happy? How do you deal with impending outbursts? How do you maintain connection through the challenging times?
image: mdanys @ flickr