Viewing entries tagged
parental anger

How to Respond to a Grown-up Bully: What parents can do when coaches cross the line

Parental discussions and professional publications are proliferating on the subject of bullying, but one aspect is almost never talked about. What if the bully is an adult? 

As I saw a Little League World Series game on the television this week, I thought of two stories I heard during this last season.

Due to his new braces, a ten-year-old boy was nervous—as I would be!—about taking a pitch to the mouth. Understandably, he chose the batting helmet with the wire mask over the face when he stepped up to take batting practice.  At his first practice with the new helmet, he was mocked by his coach, who then proceeded to zip balls at his head, calling him a “pansy.

The same week, another coach in our area went into competitive overdrive, screaming at his young ballplayers and berating them.  “Be athletic, not  pathetic!” he hollered, and, “You have to know the damn pitch count!” “Stop crying and get control of your emotions! You’re twelve!!”  He continued browbeating kids for throwing to the wrong base, dropping a ball, or hanging their heads.  He even told his daughter he wasn't going to coach her next year if she continued to be upset when he yelled at her.

Other adults were nearby during both sets of events, and in the first case, did nothing.  They just watched and let it happen.  In the second story, a dad in the stands stepped in and respectfully confronted the coach, and then he and his wife followed up with the coach later.  The “do nothing” and the “do something” contrast in these moments initiated a series of conversations with other parents and professionals I know about how parents should respond when they witness an adult bullying a child. 

Here are some suggestions I've been thinking about:

 

Model Supportive Behavior

Creating a bully-free environment starts with you.  In the heat of a game, do you ever scream out comments that stoke an oppressive, hypercompetitive atmosphere—comments that might encourage a likely bully? Keep it positive and remember that the brain is always making associations.  If someone yelled at you each time you stepped to the plate, or made audible disappointed gasps when you missed a ball, would you want to keep playing? 

 

Let the Coach Feel Your Support Early

If you do have to intercede in a bullying situation, you start out a step ahead if the coach has felt your support from the beginning of the season.  When we've connected with someone and begun to build relationships with them, they trust us more when we need to suggest that they make a change.

 

Intercede Indirectly

A bullying coach is a rocket revving up on the launch pad. If you hope to walk back that launch, try to avoid putting him on the defensive—and give him an out if at all possible. The only win you’re after here is the one for the kid.  So you might say, "Coach, Katie's grandparents are here today.  Isn't that great?"  This may be enough to get his attention without having to directly ask him to watch what he's saying.  This is an art.  If we’re abrasive, we'll only fuel the fire and increase the coach’s aggression.

 

Offer to Help

This can often de-escalate the situation. Say something like, “Things have gotten pretty amped up. Can I help?”  Or you can even take the empathy angle, which can often soften the bully, saying something along the lines of “This is frustrating, isn’t it? How can I help?”

 

Confront Confidentially

Calling out the bully in front of others will usually only escalate things, since the adult is probably not fully in control anyway if acting in such a manner. Ask to speak privately—or even slip him a note, saying something like, “Seems like emotions are getting a little intense,” just to give him some awareness.

 

Set Up a Time to Talk Later

I tell parents that in order to teach our children, we have to wait for the teachable moment, which is almost never when emotions are running high. Timing is everything. Talk to the coach about your concerns at a time when he has some perspective and will be more likely to listen and make a change.

 

Join Forces

Confer with the other parents. Chances are they share your concern—and your reluctance to intervene on your own. But there is strength in numbers. Not only will a group approach be more convincing to the coach, it permits a gentler intervention: “We'd like to see a more positive, affirming environment surrounding the team. How can we help you accomplish that?”

 

Enlist a Higher Power

Unfortunately, some unreasonable people cannot be reasoned with. That’s the time to take it out of your hands—and theirs—by going above them. Inform the supervisor or governing body of the harmful words or actions. Again, it’s helpful to bring other parents alongside. Make sure that next season’s kids won’t have to face such treatment.  If you let it slide it will just keep happening year after year.

 

Stand Up for the Victim—Now!

Sometimes you don't have the leisure of waiting for a teachable moment. An adult bully’s actions may render nice notes and confidential conversations moot. And especially if a child is endangered—I’m thinking of the first time the coach whistled a fastball by the ten-year-old’s chin and called out “Pansy!”—you may have to go all superhero. Get your body between the bully and the child, gently guiding the latter away from the situation.

 

I love youth sports, and the vast majority of coaches are kind, supportive adults who really care about the kids they work with.  But we all know that there are still too many exceptions to that rule. Too often we see adults bullying children, and too rarely do adults stand up and do anything about it.  When we don't, we communicate to the children that the bully’s behavior is OK and that they are on their own.  We want to model bravery and doing what is right, even when it’s hard, and even when we feel uncomfortable.  We want to communicate to children that they deserve to be treated with respect.

 

This article originally appeared on Mom.me.

20 Discipline Mistakes All Moms Make

Some of you have seen my posts about common discipline mistakes even the best parents make.  Mom.me has just posted a re-working of those ideas as a gallery with pictures.  It begins like this: -------------------

Because we’re always parenting our children, it takes real effort to look at our discipline strategies objectively. Good intentions can become less-than-effective habits quickly, and that can leave us operating blindly, disciplining in ways we might not if we thought much about it. Here are some parenting mistakes made by even the best-intentioned, most well-informed moms, along with practical suggestions that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in one of these situations.

-------------------

View the whole gallery here.

 

 

Common Discipline Mistakes Made by Even the Best Parents: Part 2

  [This is a revision of the second article in a two-part series.  Click here to see the first four mistakes.]

 

Here are more discipline mistakes made by even the best-intending, most well-informed parents, along with practical suggestions that might come in handy the next time you find yourself in one of these situations.

Common Discipline Mistake #5:  We get trapped in power struggles.

Everyone says to avoid power struggles.  But no one seems to tell us what to do once we’ve gotten ourselves into an inevitable one.  And when our kids feel backed into a corner, they instinctually fight back or totally shut down.  So here are three ways to help you get out of those lose-lose power struggles you sometimes find yourself in.

A.  Give your child an out or a choice that allows her to comply with your expectations, while still saving face:  “Would you like to get a drink first, and then we’ll pick up the toys?”  The phrase “It’s your choice” can be a powerful tool to wield, since it gives your child some amount of power, which can often diffuse stand-offs.  So maybe you ask, “Would you like to get ready for bed now and read four bedtime stories tonight, or play 10 minutes longer and read two stories?  It’s your choice.”  (If she chooses fewer stories, it’s a good idea to remind her several times before story-time about her choice.)

B.  Negotiate:  “We’re not really getting anywhere here, are we?  Let’s see if we can figure out a way for both of us to get what we need.”  Obviously, there are some non-negotiable issues, but negotiation isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of respect for your child and his desires.  It teaches him important skills about considering not only what he wants, but also what others want; and it’s a lot more effective in the long run than bullying or simply arguing with him.

C. Ask your child for help:  “Do you have any suggestions?”  You might be shocked to find out how much they are willing to bend and bring about a peaceful resolution to the standoff.  Recently, my 4-year-old HAD to have fruit snacks at 9:30 in the morning.  I told him he could have it after lunch, but he didn’t really like my plan.  He started to whine and flop about, so I interrupted him and said, “I know you’re really sad about not getting the treat now.  Do you have any ideas?”  His eyes got big with excitement and I could see his little cognitive wheels turning.  He called out, “I know!  I can have one now and save the rest for after lunch!”  He felt empowered, the power struggle was averted, and I was able to give him an opportunity to solve a problem.  And all it cost me was allowing him to have one fruit snack.  Not such a big deal.

 

Common Discipline Mistake #6:  We let “experts” trump our own instincts.

By “experts,” I mean authors and other gurus, but also friends and family members who offer well-meaning (It is well-meaning, right?) advice on how to raise your kids. But it’s important that you not discipline your child based on what someone else thinks you ought to do.  So fill your discipline toolbox with information from lots of experts (and non-experts), then listen to your own instincts as you pick and choose different aspects of different approaches that seem to apply best to your situation with your family and your child.

Also, be aware of times you might be disciplining differently because you’re concerned about what someone else will think.  If you need to discipline in public or when others are watching, you might want to pull your child away from the crowd and deal with the situation quietly, or even leave the room, so you won’t be tempted to parent in a way that pleases those watchers.  Instead, you can focus on what your child needs from you in that moment.

 

Common Discipline Mistake #7:  We discipline in response to our habits and our own feelings instead of responding to our individual child in a particular moment.

We all do it from time to time, don’t we?  We let our own feelings and issues override our decision-making about what’s best for our kids.  And we know it’s not fair (though it’s completely understandable) that we lash out at one child because we’re so fed up with his brother who’s been acting up all morning.  Or we explode in anger simply because that’s the way we were parented or we don’t know what else to do.

Practically speaking, there’s no simple solution to this common discipline mistake. What’s called for is for us to reflect on our behavior, to really be in the moment with our children, and to respond only to what’s taking place in that instant.  This is one of the most difficult tasks of parenting, but the more we can do it, the better we can respond to our kids in loving ways.  It can be helpful to consider how our children are feeling when we act in these ways and to take care of ourselves.  Parenting is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting because it requires so much, so much of the time.  Taking care of yourself is an essential part of parenting well.

 

Common Discipline Mistake #8:  We confuse consistency with rigidity.

Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them, and what they should expect from us.  It doesn’t mean maintaining an unswerving devotion to some sort of arbitrary set of rules.  This means that sometimes you might make exceptions to the rules, turn a blind eye to some sort of minor infraction, or “cut the kid some slack.”

There may be times, then, that we should wait before responding to misbehavior.  For example, when our kids are out of control—when we see that they’re becoming an emotional tsunami —that may not be the best time to rigidly enforce a rule we’d enforce under different circumstances.  When the child is calmer and more receptive, he’ll be better able to learn the lesson anyway.

Recently, for instance, our 4-year-old has been insane at bedtime.  In response to our cajoling he’ll often say something like, “Well, I’ll come find you and kick your eye!” (I often have to hide my smile as his anger and threats end up sounding more funny than ominous.)  We’ve found that our usual strategies—trying to talk to him, offering incentives, redirecting him—haven’t been working.

So two nights ago I tried to simply avoid the situation.  As he began to argue from his bed, I said, “I love you.  Goodnight,” and left the room.  Amazingly, it actually worked!  (Apparently it never crossed the poor little dude’s mind to actually get back up out of bed.)  So then, yesterday, when he was in a great mood, I addressed the situation and told him I didn’t like the way he had been acting at bedtime, and we did some problem-solving.  He went to bed beautifully last night.  We’ll see how tonight goes. . .

In closing, let me emphasize that we’re all going to make mistakes while setting limits for our children.  But if we can discipline with consistent and clear boundaries, and with a high degree of nurturing and respect, then any mistakes we make will be clearly overshadowed by the reliability and love you offer your kids.

[This is a revision of the second article in a two-part series.  Click here to see the first four mistakes.]

 

How Much Am I Screwing Up My Kids When I Don’t Handle Myself Well?

How well do you handle yourself when you’re upset with your kids?

Me?  Sometimes I respond extremely well, making myself proud of how loving and understanding and patient I remained.  At other times, I lower myself to my kids’ level and resort to the childishness that upset me in the first place.

My message to you today is that when you respond to your kids from a less-than-optimal place, take heart:  most likely, you’re still providing them with all kinds of valuable experiences.

For example, have you ever found yourself so frustrated with your kids that you call out, a good bit louder than you need to, “That’s it!  The next one who complains about where they’re sitting in the car, has to sit in that same seat for the rest of the year!”

Or maybe, when your eight-year-old pouts and complains all the way to school because you made her practice her piano, you say, with your parting words as she departs the mini-van, “I hope you have a great day, now that you’ve ruined the whole morning.”

Obviously, these aren’t examples of perfect parenting.  And if you’re like me, you beat yourself up for the times when you don’t handle things like you wish you had.

So here’s hope:  Those not-so-great parenting moments are not necessarily such bad things for our kids to have to go through.  In fact, they’re actually incredibly valuable.

Why?  Because these less-than-perfect parental responses give kids opportunities to deal with difficult situations and therefore develop new skills.  Here are some of the ways these moments, while not optimal, can still be valuable:

  • The kids have to learn to control themselves even though their parent isn’t doing such a great job of controlling herself.
  • They get to see you model how to apologize and make things right.
  • They experience that when there is conflict and argument, there can be repair, and things become good again.  This helps them feel safe and not so afraid in relationships.  They learn to trust, and even expect, that calm and connection will follow conflict.
  • They see that you’re not perfect, so they won’t expect themselves to be, either.
  • They learn that their actions affect other people’s emotions and behavior.
  • If we were perfect with them, the first time a friend or teacher was reactive to them, it could be shocking and terrifying to them.

Abuse, of course, is different.  Or if you’re significantly harming the relationship or scaring your child, then the experience is no longer valuable for either of you.  In fact, that’s going to damage you both, and you should seek the help of a professional in order to make whatever changes are necessary so that your children feel safe.

But as long as you maintain the relationship and repair with your child afterwards, then you can cut yourself some slack and know that even though you might wish you’d done things differently, that’s still a valuable experience for your child, even if it means he has to control himself simply because Mom is mad at the moment.

I hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying that we shouldn’t aim for the extreme good when we respond to our kids in a high-stress situation (or any other time).  The more loving and nurturing we can be, the better.  I’m just saying that we can give ourselves a break when we’re not perfect, because even those situations provide moments of value as well.  They give our kids opportunities to learn important lessons that will prepare them for future conflict and relationships, and even teach them how to love.

 

When a Parenting Expert Loses It: How NOT to Discipline a Preschooler

Here are some things parents say to me about their discipline frustrations:

--I feel like I just put my daughter in time out all the time and don’t know what else to do when she’s misbehaving.

--I don’t feel like I have an overall theory of discipline.  It’s more that I just do whatever comes out at the time.  Sometimes my reaction or instinct is really good, and other times I’m being just as immature or reactive as my toddler.  I just feel like I need to give more thought to it and have a plan.

--I feel disempowered.  I think I’ve been told a list of things that I should NOT do –spank, yell, etc. – but I don’t know what I CAN do, other than just take a toy away.  So I find myself making empty or meaningless threats ("Do that again and you’re going to be in BIG trouble!") and then I’m just so frustrated.  I don’t know what to do in the moment.

Do these parents’ comments resonate with you?  I can certainly identify.  I remember how clueless I felt as a new parent, and even though the stories often end up being funny in retrospect, I’m embarrassed at how I responded at times when my kids acted out.

 

The Parenting Expert Gets Taken Down by Her Own Reactive Brain

One day my three-year-old got mad and hit me.  I guided him to his time-out spot at the bottom of our stairway, sat next to him, and smiled.  I lovingly (and naively) said, “Hands are for helping and loving, not for hurting.”

While I was uttering this truism, he hit me again.

So I tried the empathy approach:  “Ouch!  That hurts mommy.  You don’t want to hurt me, do you?”

At which point he hit me again.

I then tried the firm approach: “Hitting is not OK.  Don’t hit any more.  If you’re mad you need to use your words.”

Yup, you guessed it.  He hit me again.

I was lost.  I felt I needed to up the ante.  In my most powerful voice I said, “Now you’re in time out at the top of the stairs.”

I marched him up to the top of our stairs.  He was probably thinking, “Cool!  We’ve never done this before. . . I wonder what will happen next if I keep hitting her?”

At the top of the stairs, I bent over at the waist, my pointer finger wagging, and said, “NO MORE HITTING!”

He didn’t hit me again.

He kicked me in the shin.

(As he points out these days when we re-tell the story, he was technically obeying my no-hitting instructions.)

At this moment virtually all of my self-control was gone.  I grabbed his arm and pulled him into my room at the top of the stairs, yelling, “Now you’re in time out in Mommy and Daddy’s room!”

Again, I had no strategy, no plan or approach.  And as a result, my young son was simply enjoying wielding his power as his increasingly red-faced mother yanked him from location to location in the house.

By this point I was alternately cajoling and scolding and commanding and reasoning (waaaay too much talking): “You may not hurt mommy.  Hitting and kicking is not how we do things in our family. . . Blah blah blah. . . .”

And that’s when he made his big mistake.  He stuck out his tongue at me.

In response, the rational, empathetic, responsible, problem-solving part of my brain was hijacked by my primitive, reactive brain, and I yelled, “IF YOU STICK THAT TONGUE OUT ONE MORE TIME, I’M GOING TO RIP IT OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!”

In case you're wondering, I don’t recommend in any circumstance threatening to remove any of your child’s body parts.  This was not good parenting.

And it wasn’t effective discipline, either.  My son dropped to the ground, crying.  I’d scared him, and he kept saying, “You’re a mean mommy!”  He wasn’t thinking about his own behavior at all—he was solely focused on my misbehavior.

What I did next was probably the only thing I did right in the whole interaction, and it’s essential each time we have these types of ruptures in our relationship with our children:  I repaired with him.  I immediately realized how awful I’d been in that reactive, angry moment.  If anyone else had treated my child as I just had, I would’ve come unglued.  I held my young son close and told him how sorry I was and allowed him to talk about how much he didn’t like what had just happened.  We retold the story to make sense of it for him and I comforted him.

 

How Would I Handle This Situation Now?

I usually get big laughs when I tell this story because parents so identify with this type of a moment, and I think they enjoy hearing that a parenting expert has these moments, too.  Virtually every time I tell the story, someone raises a hand and asks, “What would you do now?  How would you handle this situation differently?”

For several reasons, I’m not a fan of time-outs anymore, especially for a child this young.  Instead, once my son had hit me the first time, I would have used a simple, four-step approach.

  1. Address the feelings behind the behavior:  “Wow, I can see that you’re feeling really frustrated.  Do you feel mad?”
  2. Address the behavior: “Hitting hurts.  No hitting.”
  3. Give him alternatives.  Tell him what he can do instead:  “Be gentle with mommy’s body.  It’s OK to be mad, but when you are, you can tell me about it, or even hit the pillow, like this.”
  4. Move on:  “Hey!  Let’s go outside and see if there are any worms on the sidewalk.”

Some people may wonder about consequences for my son’s actions.  For an older child, you might choose to make consequences a part of the discipline process.  But as I always say, the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to give consequences.  If consequences help teach, then it might be appropriate to use them.  But I believe that for a child this age, the most effective approach is to address his feelings and the behavior, tell him about a more appropriate response, then move on to other things.

I’m guessing you’d agree that this four-step approach might be even more effective and loving than threatening to remove a body part.

 


Do You Discipline on Auto-Pilot? (revised)

Auto-pilot may be a great tool when you’re flying a plane.  Just flip the switch, sit back and relax, and let the computer take you where it’s been pre-programmed to go.  Pretty great. But I’ve found that auto-pilot is not so great when I’m disciplining my children.  It can fly me straight into whatever dark and stormy cloudbank is looming, meaning my kids and I are all in for a bumpy ride.  So instead, I’m always working on DECIDING how I want to interact with my kids when I discipline them.

For example, let’s talk about consequences.  For most parents, when we need to discipline our kids, the first question we ask ourselves is, “What consequence should I give?”  That’s our auto-pilot.  But through my years of parenting, I’ve begun to significantly re-think my use of consequences.

My four-year-old, for instance, hit me the other day.  He was angry because I told him I needed to finish an email before I could play legos with him, and he came up and slapped me on the back.  (I’m always surprised that a person that small can inflict so much pain.)

My immediate, auto-pilot reaction was to want to grab him, probably harder than I needed to, and tell him through clinched teeth, “Hitting is not OK!”  Then I would, of course, give him a consequence.

But how effective would that really have been when it came to teaching my son?  And would it have addressed the issue behind his behavior?  Maybe, but maybe not.

So instead of that consequence-based approach, I’ve shifted to begin my discipline by asking three different questions:

1.     Why did my child act this way? If we look deeper at what’s going on behind misbehavior, we can often understand that our child was trying to express or attempt something that they didn’t handle appropriately.   If we understand this, we can respond more compassionately, proactively, and appropriately.

2.     What’s the lesson I want to teach in this moment? The goal of discipline isn’t to give a consequence.  The goal of discipline is actually to teach, but we forget this easily.

3.     What’s the most effective way to teach this lesson? Answering this question may allow you to be more creative and effective in teaching the lesson, instead of just doing the same thing over and over.  In fact, answering this question may reveal that your current practices aren’t actually teaching the lesson you want to teach in the best way—or, it might affirm what you’re already doing.

When I felt the small-hand-shaped imprint of pain on my back, it took me a moment to calm down and avoid simply reacting.  But when I could ask myself these three questions, I could see more clearly what was going on in my interaction with my son.

#1:  He hit me because he wanted my attention and wasn’t getting it.

#2:  The lesson I want him to learn is not that misbehavior merits a consequence, but that there are better ways of getting my attention than resorting to violence.

#3:  While giving him a time-out might teach him that lesson, I decided it would be more effective to remind him and give him the words to communicate his needs.  So first, I connected with him by pulling him to me and letting him know he had my full attention.  Then, I acknowledged his feelings and modeled communicating these feelings:  “You really want me to play, and you’re mad that I’m at the computer.  Is that right?”  Finally, once he was more calm and I had his full attention, I could get eye contact and explain that hitting is never all right, and ask him to list some alternatives he could choose the next time he wants my attention.

I’m not saying that there’s never a time to use consequences.  They can be an effective tool you want to consider when it’s time to discipline.  I’m just saying that consequences aren’t the goal of discipline.

So the next time you’re disciplining your child, do your best to avoid switching to auto-pilot, and instead, stay focused on what it is you want to teach and accomplish.  That will benefit not only your child, but the relationship you two share as well.

 

 

What's REALLY Causing Your Frustration Towards Your Kids?

Do you ever get so upset with your kids that you do something that leaves you (and the rest of the family) asking, "Where did that come from?" At times we’re not really listening to our children because our own internal experiences are being so noisy that it’s all we can hear. We often try to control our children’s feelings and behavior when actually it’s our own internal experience that is triggering our upset feelings about their behavior. An example of this would be when your child is being really clingy, and instead of seeing that she’s communicating that she needs your comfort and attention, you get furious with her. Your fury is not really because of her developmentally appropriate need for you—it’s because you feel smothered because you haven’t done anything for yourself in a long time, or because you had a parent who relied on you to meet her needs, and in this moment, you feel resentment again at being needed.

The Parenting Hall of Shame: Now Accepting Members

We all lose it from time to time. We say mean things, we yell, we may even pull our child’s arm too firmly. Why don't we talk about moments like these with other parents? Is it really such a shocking epiphany that all parents occasionally lose control of their emotions and their better judgment? I am convinced that we pay a price when we choose to keep silent, rather than honestly sharing our own stories about times when we get furious with our kids and throw our own fits. Sharing our worst moments with each other allows us to comfort each other, to laugh about how crazy our kids are and how crazy we are right back, and then to look at our behavior with some insight so we can make better choices the next time.