On Being Mean

Parents are human, and sometimes humans are mean.  In the same way we would look underneath the behavior of our children for the cause, the root, or the trigger that fueled the negative reaction, parents need to do the same thing for themselves.
 
Instead of feeling guilt, shame or like a bad parent, find the root of your upset.  Only then, will you be able to make a change.
 
Example: 
The kids are begging you for a trip to the park.  You are busy with other things, but you decide to squeeze it in for them.  On the way to the park, they hit each other, run ahead, lag behind and make the walk to the park unfun and frustrating.  Halfway to the park, you get exasperated, pull up short, and say very calmly or maybe very loudly, “That’s it, no park!”  You turn on a dime and walk home with the children refusing, resisting, and shouting mean things at you about being a mean mommy.  You tell them and yourself that it is the consequence for their unruly behavior on the way to the park.
 
On the face of this it makes sense.  Not getting that thing they want is a natural consequence of poor behavior.  It just doesn’t work for what you are trying to get from them–better behavior.  Their stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) likely shot to the top of their brains blocking the meaning of the consequence. The way the consequence got dished out was mean because of the voice tone, the frustration, the punitive way the park was taken away.
 
I am not telling you to reward poor behavior.  I am trying to get you to see the delivery process of the consequence can be relationship damaging or relationship growing.  What was going to be a fun, nice mommy gift to your children, is now a punitive, mean mommy relationship sting to the relationship.  Your unmet needs and feelings can lead to behavior on your part that you regret and that your children fear.
 
Alternatives:
Squeezing in a child activity is not a great idea.  You will feel pressured, stressed, and less tolerant of the usual child behaviors. That often causes dysregulated, mean behavior.
Instead of getting frustrated on the way to the park because of unruly behavior, tell yourself the truth: your children are excited and unable to maintain the rules on the walk because of their dysregulation.  
 
Create structure before you set out.  
  • We are going to the park for a short playtime.  This is what needs to happen for us to get the most time playing when we get there.
  • On the way, everyone is going to walk together on the sidewalk. No running ahead.
  • Body space and listening ears on the way. Got it?
  • What did I say?
 
On the way, when one child gets away from the expected behavior, you STOP and say, “What needs to happen for us to get to play at the park? “When you do that, it is not keeping body space. Let’s try again”. 
You may stop 6 times on the way to the park for one child or the other.  That’s okay and that is why you cannot squeeze anything in. Time for training is required. Soon enough the children will get that play in the park is shorter when the walk is longer due to stops for training. YOU don’t need to tell them that.  They will experience it on their own. Let them.
Love Matters,
Ce Eshelman, LMFT
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Squeezing your kids into a too tight schedule will pinch your own mean behavior right out of you.

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