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.