What parent hasn’t lost their temper when a kid misbehaves? A parent who hasn’t lost his or her cool is a mythical creature, probably riding on a unicorn over a rainbow right now.
But, do yelling and punishing work?
Yelling and punishing are ineffective parenting methods. If they worked, we’d all be brilliant parents and kids would always be perfectly behaved after we yelled.
But they don’t work. You don’t need parenting studies to tell you that: you can see it in your own kids. Sure, you can yell at them, and perhaps they’ll cower in fear. What you’re teaching them is not good behavior, but to fear. And behaviour teaching them to yell when they get angry, instead of talking things out and coming to a peaceful resolution.
Kids need boundaries. Set them and kids know it’s not cool to go beyond them.
Walk the walk. Be a mindful and peaceful parent, even if you violate that commitment from time to time. When you do violate the commitment, apologize and talk about why you were wrong. Because then your example is how to behave after you’ve behaved badly.
Here are a few lessons on keeping your cool, when things go badly:
- It’s not about you. We parents tend to take kids’ bad behavior personally, as if what they’re doing is a personal attack on us or our belief systems, a personal offense. That’s why we get mad. The anger isn’t helpful, but it comes up because we think they’ve done something to us. They’re not really trying to do anything to us — they’re kids, and they don’t know how to handle themselves when they don’t get what they want or they get angry for some reason. It’s about what they’re going through, and if we remove ourselves from the equation, we can more objectively see what they’re going through and how we can help.
- Be their guide, not their dictator. Kids need to learn how to make their way through the world, because we won’t always be there to tell them how to act. And so the best way to teach them isn’t by laying down the law all the time — if we dictate their actions then they never learn how to make decisions on their own. We should let them make their own decisions, within boundaries of course, and guide them when they need our help. Imagine being Yoda (the mentor) instead of Darth Vader (the death-grip dictator). Sidenote: Using Star Wars to teach lessons to your kids is awesome.
- What do they need? When things don’t go their way, when they’re angry, when they’re afraid … what do they need? You yelling at them or threatening them isn’t helpful — put yourself in that situation (and imagine you’re smaller) and ask if you’d like someone yelling at you when you’re upset. How would you react if someone bigger and more powerful than you were yelling and threatening you? You wouldn’t like it, and would just resent the bigger person. What would be helpful? Maybe some comfort? Some calm conversation about the problem, examining solutions. Some empathy and compassion. And yes, some stern words or a restraining hand if they’re actually going to hurt themselves.
- Take a timeout. When you’re angry, in the moment, it’s usually best to walk away, and breathe, and calm down. Talk to them when you’re cooler, and can think straight. This is hard to do, because as parents we tend to just dive in and try to take care of the situation in the moment. But it’s hard to make good decisions, talk calmly, not act irrationally, when we’re upset. That’s true of kids too, btw.
- If you haven’t yet lost your cool, drop down for a moment. When you see yourself stressing out about a situation, or starting to get angry but not full on lost it yet … take a breath. Pause. Drop down inside yourself and see yourself frustrated or stressed. Give yourself a moment of compassion for this frustration, which is perfectly normal and OK. Ease your pain, wish yourself happiness, and then take another breath. If you can, try to see that your child is suffering in much the same way, and needs your compassion too.
- Commit to being mindful with them. Promise your kids that you will be a more mindful parent, and ask them to watch you. If they catch you losing my temper, put a dollar in a jar to go get ice cream with them.
- Know that you’ll mess up. Expect to have difficulties, but learn from them. See where you went wrong. Be mindful as the difficulty is happening, and see this as a good step towards being more mindful and compassionate as a parent. Review your actions, and instead of feeling bad, see where you could improve, and have a plan for next time this happens. It’s important to plan it out when you’re calm, not decide how to handle things when you’re angry. And adjust the plan next time things go wrong, so that the plan gets better and better over time, and so do your compassionate parenting skills.
The main problem is that we have some ideal as parents, of how our kids should behave. We think they should be ideal kids, but in truth they’re not ideal, they’re real. They have faults, just like we do. They need help, they make mistakes, they get angry, they get frustrated. We do too. Let’s figure out how to behave when we make mistakes, get angry, get frustrated, and show the kids how to do this through our example.
Accept them for who they are, faults and all. Love them completely, with hugs instead of yelling. Hugs will be a much more effective teacher than anything else in your parenting toolset.