Tearing a Child Down Will Not Build Him Up
I recently saw a quote (from positive discipline enthusiast Jane Nelson) that resonated with me1:
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, yesterday I was on the phone and Kieran 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?
- 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. ↩
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"Tearing a Child Down Will Not Build Him Up"
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