In Defense Of Discreet Parenting

Donnie and I are inherently yellers as parents. I have yelled so angrily at my kids that I am worried they’ll be scarred forever. Why do I worry? Because – while he was a great father in most ways – my Dad was a yeller and I am scarred from it. I was never proud of my yelling, I always felt Young Zoot’s disappointment that I became the parent she feared. But it didn’t happen often. We both used yelling, but sparingly. For awhile…

Then Wesley turned 3 and his behavior was bad and the only way we knew to express our anger was to yell at him. And because he was always getting in trouble, we were always yelling. And because he was always escalating things, we had to yell louder. And meaner. And angrier. I look back on some of his meltdowns before we really knew what we were doing and I see my own behavior and I just shake my head.

If you had taken Donnie and I during those red-faced screaming days and shown us as parents now? I would have thought you were a liar. There’s no way we could change that much. None. Nope. Those people are fake.

The first and easiest lesson to learn was, “If you are trying to teach a child to manage his anger, you need to manage yours.”

I mean, once we realized that’s what we were really seeing – anger issues – we knew we needed to come up with different ways to express our own anger. So yelling? Gone. We have only yelled a handful of times in the last few years. Of course, we still very calmly raise our voices and because kids don’t have very good long term memory they sometimes call that “yelling” – but we are NOTHING compared to what we used to be.

It’s not easy. I’ve never had to deal with substance abuse, but the difficulty in fighting the urge to yell causes me so much pain sometimes, I wonder if that’s a similar feeling. I JUST WANT TO YELL, DAMMIT. I WOULD FEEL SO MUCH BETTER IF I COULD YELL. BUT I CAN NOT. I HAVE TO STAY CALM.

But it’s not just the yelling that fell to the wayside. We also stopped with timeouts completely. We had to also learn that when a child is lacking in the “Emotional Intelligence” department (that’s a thing I had never heard of before Wesley); then sending them to be alone while dealing with those emotions is not productive. I have taken him to is room in before, but I sit in there with him. Several times I sit there and watch a meltdown ramp up and then down again. In the past I’ve watched him rip bedding off his bed and thrown pillows and toys. But it’s all while I’m there with him trying to be a calming voice in his chaotic head. Sometimes I have to physically restrain him if he starts trying to do more damage than to stuff, but I do it calmly.

When tantrums pass…THEN we talk about how we could have done things differently.

Donnie and I try to get under then anger and the tantrum now. We try not to react to the tantrum but to what caused it. More often than not it’s shame-induced anxiety. We calmly try to discuss what caused the anger and then discuss how to deal with the anger itself. With a kid like Wesley, feelings like shame or anxiety trigger “fight” (anger) instead of “flight” (tears). Once I recognized (with the help of his pediatrician) that the trigger was something I experience too, we just handle it differently, it became much easier to address.

I tell you all of this because I had a recent revelation that to the casual observer – maybe people who see Wesley at his worse – it looks like we are terrible parents. It looks like we’re letting our kid get away with murder without punishment. It looks like we’re coddling him. I know that because we’ve been told that and it hit me: If you don’t parent a child like Wesley…maybe you don’t know.

I wouldn’t have known with E or Nikki. If I had seen us not yelling or putting Wesley in timeout or spanking him (I don’t spank, but a lot of people around here do) then I would have thought we were some dumb hippie parents raising dumb kids unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. I would have hated us. I would have blamed us for all of the problems with kids these days.

Well. I wouldn’t have been that harsh because we all know I’m too empathetic to ever judge anyone that much, but I would have definitely said something about how that kid’s behavior would improve if they would do something about it.

What these people who see us and think we’re not parenting don’t know is: It takes a lot more energy and patience and diligence to parent Wesley than it did Nikki or E. With those to you just put them in timeout. Yell at them. They feel bad. They learn a lesson. We all move on.

But with Wesley it’s not like that. Parenting and discipline is a 24-hour job. We have to constantly be on guard for triggers and guide him to how he handles them. He’s gotten so much better lately. He’s learning to recognize and describe things he’s feeling which makes them much easier to handle. He’s got a quicker recovery time. He said something mean out of anger the other night and I just calmly addressed how/why it hurt and then I let it sit there. (Old Kim would have yelled and sent him to Time Out.) It didn’t take long before he came to me with a very sincere apology and we discussed why that wasn’t acceptable. On the outside? It looked like I let him dish out a terrible and hurtful verbal tantrum and didn’t address it. But in our lives? That was a big moment. He came to ME with the apology on his own. He let the flame of anger die out and then cleaned up the mess.

And maybe parents with kids like Wesley can stick to the Loud and Obvious parenting and have results. We did not. None at all. The louder and the meaner we got, the worse the behavior got.

So, if you’ve never parented a child like Wesley but you see one out in public and the parent looks like they’re barely reacting or acknowledging it…please know you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. There is a giant block of ice under the water that you can’t see. There’s patience and diligence and perseverance and trust…trust is the hardest part. You are trusting that going against your instinct to yell and send a kid to timeout is the right thing to do. All of that is under the surface and you can’t see it.

I mean – sure – there are parents who just don’t give two craps and are ignoring the behavior because they don’t care. But there are also those of us parenting in ways you don’t see. Please don’t judge us. We’re having a hard enough time sticking to the method and the plan without the rest of the world assuming we’re cluelessly ignorant of our child’s behavior.

12 thoughts on “In Defense Of Discreet Parenting”

  1. You have figured out what is working for you and your child and thats what you need to do. Forget about what others think. I was a yeller . When she complained about it, I said, its the only way I can get you to listen. We worked together to stop the cycle. I yelled less, she listened more. Being that I am a preK teacher I have assisted in the raising of hundreds of kids. Time Out does not work! Not for your kid, not for 90% of kids. Another thing that I discovered with the help of a director. In some kids, loud fuels their fire. I had former neighbors request that their grandson by in my class. The director had reservations because I had a loud voice- all the time. No that I was yelling, even when I was reading stories, etc. The directors child had been like this. The little guy was put in my class, and was moved within a month to the other teacher. She was actually much stricter, but she had a softer voice, and the childs behavior got much better. I also learned that with some kids you can avoid meltdowns by taking a detour when you see a problem coming. Change your plan , create a diversion. One morning I arrived to find one of my former students in total meltdown in the office trying to talk to Mom on the phone. The teacher manning the office at 6:30 AM didn’t know what had happened, she couldn’t understand through the sobbing. I took the little girl into a room and just held her until she stopped and could tell me what had happened. Her teacher that Summer was a college student. I talked to her and found out what had happened and advised her that this was a kid that you couldn’t take head on and expect immediate compliance from. That she would do much better by heading behaviors “off at the pass”I didn’t see the kid back in the office again that Summer. Every child requires different strategies to teach them how to control their emotions. You know what you are doing. Don’t be thrown off track by the looks of others. (I bet there are some days where you would like to say to some of them,”Okay, why don’t you take him home for a day, then we will see what you think of our child raising ability!”

  2. Thank you for this. Not quite the same situation, but we are trying to deal with anger issues with our 2.5 year old (mostly related to age, I think). We also tend to be yellers, and I don’t like it. So, “If you are trying to teach a child to manage his anger, you need to manage yours,” was a lightbulb. Definitely something I need to remember.

    Damn, this shit is hard sometimes.

  3. This is a great post. And this type of parenting isn’t just helpful for kids like Wesley — I truly believe it’s the best type of parenting for all kids. When kids are acting up or having a tantrum, the worst thing you can do is put them in time out or send them to their rooms alone. They’re already feeling uncontrollable, scary feelings, and then to be abandoned on top of that? How terrifying for small children. When they’re having huge feelings, I think the best thing is just to be there with them and help pull them out of the pit.

    I read an article saying, take a magazine or your phone and just sit nearby, making comments like “I’m sorry you’re so upset” and “please let me know if I can help you” every once in a while. You don’t want to stare or focus at them, so that’s why you have the magazine, but you’re near once they can calm down.

    My husband absolutely cannot do this — he gets too angry. But it really does work.

  4. I will chime in and say, you are doing the right thing and it is SO HARD. I had a child that yelling and punishment just escalated the situation. Learning to just listen was the best thing I ever did. I mean, I always listened but after he repeated himself a million times and was occasionally incorrect about his beliefs I wanted to yell and tell him to stop talking. I found if I just let him talk himself out and then made observations it went much better. (My husband could not do this – it is very difficult.)

    Also, timeouts? As a teen they work much better. Never worked when they were young. As teens, when they needed to cool off I would send them to their rooms. Eventually they learned to do it themselves and would return as more rational people. It’s another thing that can be difficult to do when you are arguing with someone – let them just walk away to calm down when you want to yell at them.

  5. He is a wonderful kid. I know he’s my grandson but I have spent some fantastic times with him. You are doing a fantastic job of being his parent.
    The best time I had with him was last Christmas when you guys went to that race and left Wesley and me along to watch movies. We were both in our jammies snacking on anything I had. We had a ball and it’s what I always remember when I think of him.
    You and Donnie keep up being the great parents you are and Wesley will be just fine.
    I love you…Mom

  6. Parenting is such hard work. Thanks for speaking out. I am so glad you are finding things that working for Wesey. He’s a lucky kid!

  7. I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate this post. Your capacity for self-reflection and your ability to articulate your parenting journey is a gift. My new mantra is WWKD. 😉 Please keep doing what you’re doing. You are awesome!

  8. Oh wow, you are just amazing and you are doing such a good job. My son is 34 years old now. I wish he was young again. I know now that this was his problem and I was trying traditional parenting methods that just made everything worse. I do have a spiritual practice, so I am willing to have a healing around this and I am sharing the benefits with everyone. I truly am practicing non-judgment in all areas of my life, I do not know what anything is for and it is not my job to figure it out. So no judging anyone’s parenting.
    I see my son in a few days and I am looking forward to it – looking forward to seeing everything with “new” eyes. Thank you again.

  9. Kim – Don’t forget to check out Project 4 Awesome today and this weekend. It’s always a great way to lift spirits.

  10. I think yelling is really bad for a child. I am 16 and my parents are very strict but they never yell at me even when they are angry. I get punishments with the belt and the cane regularly, usually every weekend and it hurts but I think yelling is even worse.

  11. Agreed. This shouldn’t be as unusual as it is. 😦

    Also, just for the record Kim, if I see a parent spreading to their child about their behavior, or ignoring it studiously (in situations where it is safe to do so) I assume they know what they are doing. What makes me shake my head are the parents who give in to the manipulation…toddler having a tantrum so you buy them a toy???

  12. Erik – My Dad yelled a lot, never spanked, but yelled and I often thought I’d rather him spank me because the yelling scared me so much. Hang in there.

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