Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tearing A Child Down Will Not Build Him Up

I'm honored to host today's guest post from Dionna at Code Name: Mama, all about how to get through those tough moments with our children without being hurtful or tearing our children down in the process. Please read to the bottom to learn more about today's lovely guest writer.

I recently saw a quote (from positive discipline enthusiast Jane Nelson) that resonated with me[1]:
Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?
More often than I would like, I find myself using a sharp tone of voice with Kieran to express displeasure. For example one time when Kieran was a toddler, I was on the phone and he started walking on my laptop. I raised my voice yelled at him to stop and sternly told him that walking on the computer could break it.

His face was immediately downcast - literally and figuratively. His eyes dropped, his chin drooped, the corners of his lips turned down in a quiver.

I knew at the time that he simply wanted my attention (he'd been dancing around my legs with his "mama mama" face on in typical toddler fashion). I'd been on the phone for at least 15 minutes, and he wanted me to read him a book. He didn't want to break the laptop, he only wanted to move up my priority list.

Instead of yelling, I could have acknowledged him. I could have excused myself from the phone call for 30 seconds in order to get down on Kieran's level, tell him that I would finish soon, and have him pick out a few books to look at while he waited. I could have put the carrier on and put him up on my back for the remainder of the call. I could have sat down with him next to his train tracks and moved a train back and forth while chatting on the phone. I could have called the person back during Kieran's naptime. (And in the long term, I can respect Kieran while he finishes activities at his own pace in the hopes that he will eventually model that behavior.)

All of those options occurred to me in a calmer moment. At the time, though, I yelled. Yelling is a habit I learned long before Kieran. I am consciously breaking that habit and replacing it with parenting tools that are based on respect and on being responsive to Kieran's needs.

As Naomi Aldort expressed so eloquently:
What leads most often to difficulty are the common parenting techniques of punishment, including threats, deprivations, time-outs, bribes, insults, shouting, scolding, inducement of guilt, and other attempts at controlling the child. The best thing we can do as parents to ensure that our children will grow into compassionate, communicative, responsible, caring and considerate adults is to treat them with those same qualities, and then trust them to model our behavior at their own pace.
Do you ever find yourself (unintentionally) tearing your child down in an effort to "teach" her something?

If you are trying to break old and ineffective parenting habits, what strategies do you have for not falling back on them? (Counting to ten, excusing yourself to the next room, etc.)

If you are trying to stop yelling and/or lecturing, what tips do you have for breaking those specific habits? How do you maintain your calm?
2009-12-05 14
(How can I yell at this precious face?!)

1. To preface this story, my parenting style does not incorporate "making" children "do better." In this context, that implies I would be trying to bend the child's will to my own. That's not how I intend to parent, but I still appreciated the sentiment of the quote.

About today's guest writer, Dionna:

Dionna is a lawyer turned work at home mama of her amazing son, Kieran, and a beautiful new daughter, Ailia. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with little ones.

This post has been edited from a previous version published at Code Name: Mama.


  1. Reading about Kieran walking on your lap top reminds me of every little thing that my daughter does to get my attention: turning off my net book, placing the book mark in my book, and most recently turning off the digital piano while I'm playing (that one I don't get because for me I'm being productive, but for her it's just another electronic thing.) I really shouldn't allow myself to use the Internet while she's awake because it completely diminishes our quality time together and is teaching her some bad habits about screen time (especially when I let her watch TV as I surf.) Self-discipline has never really been my specialty, but I need to be better for her sake.

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  2. great post, will be using in Sunday Surf

  3. Becky - how true on all of those little things they do to get our attention! It's nice to be mindful of those cues, even if we can't always attend to our littles.

    Thank you, mamapoekie :)

    ~Dionna/Code Name: Mama

  4. I don't always manage to stop yelling before I start. And there have been times I've had to apologize profusely and hope to salvage some of everyone's dignity.

    However one of the best things I've done is rewind/re-do - for instance, the other day I was frustrated with my 3.5 yr old DD as she began to kick one of my papers out of the van as I was trying to buckle her in. I started berating her for kicking it, when I realized she wasn't trying to kick it out of the van, but bring it close enough to see what it was. I stopped mid yell. Said "Opps, I'm sorry that's not the way I should behave. I want to redo." So paper was put back where it was everyone climbed out of the van, and we started the entire scene over (at this point I was making us late for an apt). When she started to kick at the paper, I said, "Oh do you want to look at the paper I got today?" She nodded and I handed it to her, then I spent a few moments describing what it was - and then also handed it to her sister to see and explained what it was. Then we buckled up and went on our way.

    Doing the full redo gives me an opportunity to actually change my behaviour in practice vs just theory and allows me to be more respectful in the future. I find if I'm in a low place and am falling into old patterns a couple redoes are all it takes to get me back on track.

    1. Oh my goodness I love the redo! Thanks for taking the time to share that.

  5. Wow! Okay, quite convicting. Thankfully tomorrow is a new day to be a better parent.

  6. dandelionroars - I love the redo option! We've used that on occasion, but I think I need to do it more frequently. Thanks for the reminder!

    Jeff - definitely :)

  7. Dionna, you got me so hard with the paragraph of "I could have." That is so me. Right now, as maybe you are, I find myself longing to be more level-headed with my toddler as she transitions to being a big sister. I want to treat her gently especially because she is feeling a bit insecure now. What I have found is that when I get most angry or upset is when I know I could have done something or when something is my doing in the first place. I know when she is tired she can't handle as much or that being on the computer while she's around is not good for us or that I should have made the environment more Yes in the first place.

    As for your questions, I have been loving Stop Drop and Breathe. I feel like I've had the most "success" with that because it forces me to shut my mouth and calm my mind and still my body and listen inside until I find something worth doing and saying. I wrote about the instant shift the very first time I tried it in one of my Tandem Nurturer posts because it has been a key part of my learning to be a mother of two.

    As always, I love your post! ;)


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