10 Dangerous Thoughts for Parents Who Want to Stay Calm

by Alissa Marquess on October 18, 2012

Why are these thoughts dangerous?

These thoughts, when we allow ourselves to think this way, are ones that fuel our fear and anger.  Instead of empowering ourselves, we increase our own feelings of helplessness and pain, making it more likely that we will react poorly to whatever situation we face.

I am worried about writing a post asking you to stop thinking – that’s not what I’m after.  I am asking you to be conscious of your thinking.  When you feel yourself filling with rage at your child – this is not the time to increase that rage by falling into any of the thought patterns below.  Later you can take time to analyze what triggered you to make you so angry, but in the moment when you are struggling to find calm, don’t add fuel to the fire.

We have a choice to put a stop to these thoughts when they occur. If the thought is very overwhelming you need to find what works for you; for some people that is counting, prayer or singing a song – anything to short circuit the feelings of helplessness, fear or rage – you don’t always have to know the answer to the situation to stop the cascade of negative thought.

In fact, I don’t know the exact right thing to think instead of any of these thoughts, but I know these are these thoughts send me on a road of reacting without thinking usually with yelling, slamming doors or other angry and unhelpful behavior.

If we can get in the habit of stopping these dangerous thoughts we give ourselves a chance to choose positive interactions instead of reacting with anger or threats.

A note: As I’ve worked on this post it has brought up sadness, fear and pain in myself.  Please understand that I am writing from a place of personal experience with each one of these thoughts and I would love to learn from you ways you have found to deal with them – what I write is what I have learned and am still learning.

We are exploring parenting anger on Thursdays though November 15th.  To be sure to catch these posts, please subscribe to the Creative With Kids Newsletter.

 10 Dangerous Thoughts:

1. “Here we go again…”

You set dinner on the table and your son makes a face.  In your mind you see it all – how you’ll tell him to stop, how he’ll make a rude remark back, how angry you’ll feel.  Dinner’s ruined before it’s even begun.

When you predict the future of the argument it helps set your brain onto that path.  It gives your mind a practice run for how things will go.  Do we really want to practice ugly arguments?

Possibility: When you hear yourself think “Oh, great, now we’re going to have a screaming fit about diner again,”  ask yourself if this is a chance to try something different, or at least allow for a different possible ending.

2. “NO! This is NOT how this was supposed to happen!

You thought you’d get up early and have an hour to yourself; you are imagining how nice that quiet cup of coffee will be when you hear your toddlers chatty little voice – NOOOooooo!!!

Children have a knack for changing our plans and sometimes it’s very hard to readjust our expectations.

Possiblity: Before you bark at her to go BACK to bed, flash forward to what this morning will be like if you set it up for anger.  You can yell and cause drama when events don’t unfold the way you want, or you can take a breath, face reality (I know, it’s not fun, but you have the choice to do this.)  What choice can you make now?  If you are disappointed will it help to add a crying child to the mix?

3. “I suck.  I’m such a  bad mom. I should have…”

I don’t need to tell you a scenario when guilt shows up.  Many of us battle guilt on a daily basis.

The more you dwell on your guilt the more you feel injured by your own self loathing, and the more likely you are to lash out at your child because of it.

Possibility: Remember that we all make mistakes, we are human. Mistakes are a chance to learn and grow.  Stop beating yourself up and instead look for what new tool you need.

4. “He’s going to fail. He’ll wind up addicted to drugs.  He’ll ruin his life.….”

Your five year old hits his brother and grins. Suddenly you’re seeing a psychopath in the making and your temper flares.

Fear – we see a behavior right now and blow it up into all of the terrible things that might be later. This fuels more fear causing us to feel panicky and out of control – and then we are more likely to lash out in anger.

Possibility: Can we put aside our fears until a later calm time?  What can we do later to prevent our fears from overwhelming us?  Will making some plans help?

5. “What is WRONG with him??”

Your child seems to always be the kid who can’t handle changes. All the other kids seem fine, but you’re dealing with a melt down.

Thinking this leads to wondering if your child is inherently flawed.  That is frightening and painful.

Possibility: Stop inflicting this pain on yourself.  Two things: first, there may actually be something physically wrong with your child. In which case you can search for answers and help them heal.  Secondly, your child makes mistakes just like anyone else.  When we teach our children that mistakes are something we can learn from instead of something to be avoided at all costs, it becomes easier to handle it when they slip up.

6. “Why does she do this to me?!

You daughter is melting down AGAIN about getting ready for school. She does this every morning while the other kids are quiet. You begin thinking what a brat she is – how she always ruins things with her screaming fits. Why does she do this to you? She knows you hate screaming! 

When we take our kids anger personally we wind up acting from a place of injury and resentment.

Possibility: You are the grown up, sometimes the easiest way to remember this is to think, “What are you, a two (three, four…) year old?!” and likely that will cue you in, that, yes, they are a child, they will have many times of being difficult as they learn to navigate the world.  Also, when I feel resentful I take it as a reminder that it’s time for me to find a way to get a break – call a babysitter or plan a play date in the near future.

7. “This is always going to be like this.  What have I done with my life?

You remember that feeling when you were getting woken up every night by your crying baby? 

Sometimes we start to think that a certain phase is permanent, it’s just how it is and that kind of thinking leads us to feel depressed, hopeless and stuck.

Possibility: Focus on the thought that, “Everything is a phase.”  One thing I know to be true about parenting – it’s always changing and evolving.  You have a chance every day to make little shifts as to how things will change, but if you have no idea what the right thing to do is, at least know that if you wait long enough you will have something different to deal with.

8. “Ooh! I could just SMACK that kid!!”

You’re so angry that you picture hitting your child or other acts of aggression.

This thought puts a picture of violence in your head and if you actually formulate it this way by saying “that kid” it disconnects you a little from your child.  He becomes, “that kid” in your mind instead of, “my son.”

Possibility: Short circuit this thought by picturing something completely different (I mention using visualization in this post about dealing with parenting rage), or if you can, bringing up a picture of your child as a perfect infant trusting and in need of your love.

9. “I can’t give in!”

You said something like, “You need to brush your teeth,” and your child is digging in their heals, saying NO and you’re NOT going to let them win.

I hate these situations when I want to be the consistent calm parent, but instead I feel cornered and wind up in a huge power struggle with my child.

Possibility: Would asking your child if they need a hug work?  Is this something you can let go of now and come back to? The answer of how to end the power struggle varies greatly with each situation, but noticing you’re in one and stepping back from it, leaving the room, or stopping talking can help.

10. “They’ll think I’m a terrible mom.”

You’re in the grocery store and your child is screeching and hitting you.  Wow, you feel lame.

When we focus on what every one else is thinking we begin to feel ashamed and desperate and our child takes the heat of our embarrassment.

Possibility: Is there any way to move to a quiet corner or leave the store?  Also, in these situations I feel best when I have some tools I’ve thought about ahead of time so that I know what I will say to my child and how I will act.

What is your possibility?

Do you struggle with any of these thoughts (or many of them at the same time, like I do?)  Do you have ways you’ve learned to stop yourself from spiraling out of control?

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{ 50 comments }

Dawn @ PricklyMom October 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Again, thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been trying a new strategy I call “stop everything and hug.” After a lot of thinking, I decided that about 90% of the things my kids do that make me flip out are attention seeking behaviors…so stopping and hugging might actually help, right? :)

Changing your thinking is so hard.

Cerys @ Rainy Day Mum October 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm

The stop and hug is a really good strategy, I’ve put down challenging times to needing time from me, tiredness and a drop in blood sugar levels so I provide a hug and then a slow release snack like banana chips or rice cakes

Laura October 18, 2012 at 1:28 pm

My dangerous thinking always ends up getting directed at my husband. It’s like I fully realize that our 2 year old is just a 2 year old, so everything must be his fault since he’s the adult. It’s pretty unreasonable, now that I think about it. This series has helped me in so many ways already. Thanks so much for your honesty and candor!

Alissa Marquess October 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

You’re welcome -and now you have me looking at what thoughts I send towards my husband, hmmmm. Thanks for making me look there too!

Tricia October 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Laura- that is a really good point!

Emery October 18, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Thank you for this wonderful post, Alyssa. We have had a difficult week of power struggles and I feel like I’ve been yelling all the time. Sometimes in the moment I can hear myself yelling at my three year old, and thinking, “I’m going to hate myself for this later”. This is a terribly unproductive cycle and I’ve been trying some things like what you suggested. I hate that I’m always apologizing to my son for blowing up at him and he seems afraid of me sometimes. I actually asked him to other day to say to me if I get cranky, “I’m just three years old, be patient with me.” I know it’s a lot to ask of him, but it seemed to make him feel like he had a bit more control.
I just want you to know how much I appreciate your words today, and I will definitely be using your suggestions.

Alissa Marquess October 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm

One day my son told me, “When you yell at me it makes me feel like you want to give me away.” Oh, wow – that broke my heart, but also I was so glad he could vocalize that to me. Thinking about that moment continues to motivate me to learn gentler and more effective ways to parent, so kudos to you for teaching your child to communicate with you, and yes, it’s a terrible cycle to fall into. I hope you’re on your way to a more positive one today!

Linda October 18, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Many of these things are great pieces of advice but numbers 6, 9 and 10 miss some crucial information. Let’s look at number 6 first. Yes, it is not good thinking to take what your child does persoanlly but it is also not good parenting to allow your child to continually behave in that manner. Children need to learn what appropriate behavior is and screaming every day during the time they are getting ready to go anywhere should have been stopped well before school age.

In number 9, giving a hug just rewards the intransigent behavior. If you know anything about behaviorism, you know that rewarding behaviors will only encourage them to increase. Again, allowing a child to decide whether they obey or not is not an option. As parents, we must teach our kids to obey us (though we always give the reasons why when we can) because if we don’t, the consequences increase in severity if they don’t obey social rules as adults. If they don’t learn to obey mom when the consequences are small, they might do things they shouldn’t when they are grown up when the consequences are lot worse, like being in jail. Not making kids obey and learn the rules is negligence in parenting and does not set them up to be law abiding adults.

In number 10, it is never acceptable for any child to act like that in public or at home. It must be made clear to the child before they go to the store that that kind of behvior will not be tolerated. Leaving the store just panders to the child; instead of making the child understand that they must respect your need to do the grocery shopping for the family (which benefits all of them) it allows the child to rearrange your schedule to suit them which teaches them that their wants override anyone else’s needs. No wonder so many of these children have grown up into self-absorbed adults.

Parenting with love doesn’t mean being weak parents who continually teach their children that their (the child’s) wants supercede the needs of the parent. Socializing children means making them learn that they cannot always have it their way and to act out is not allowed period. I have raised 5 children to adulthood and none of them ever screamed in stores, had meltdowns at home or acted out like that more than once because the FIRST time they did it I made it very clear it would not be tolerated again. They didn’t repeat the behavior.

The idea that parents must always cater to their children has raised a crop of self-absorbed, self-indulgent adults. As a parent I believe it is our responsibility to think ahead to the future and raise well-behaved, well-adjusted, thinking for themselves, caring, coniderate people. By all means, stop and think first but then make your child behave because not doing that is a disservice to them later on. Kids do need love but they also need discipline and direct knowledge of what is acceptable in their society and what isn’t.

Curious October 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm

“…none of them ever screamed in stores, had meltdowns at home or acted out like that more than once because the FIRST time they did it I made it very clear it would not be tolerated again. They didn’t repeat the behavior. ”

What was your technique for making yourself clear? It sounds like something that might be worth sharing.

chicklegirl October 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I’m curious, too, Linda–especially if you had strong-willed children and were able to successfully nip their tantrums in the bud. What techniques did you use for allowing your kids to express their emotions, and for expressing your own? Anything you can share would be so helpful.

Jena October 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Yes, please enlighten us. Apparently we are doing it wrong.

When my kids are acting out I like to remember HALT–Are my kids Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Most of the time, YES. Can we remedy THOSE situations/change our actions to prevent future melt downs? Sure. If your child is throwing a fit every morning as you are getting ready, maybe try putting them to bed earlier the next day?!

It is normal development for a child to scream when upset–at Target or at home. They have big feelings and developing brains and haven’t learned how to control their emotions yet. (which is not surprising–as they haven’t been on earth that long) If your kids had SUPER developed brains, you’re lucky I guess.

Absolutely speak with them when they are out of “it” (we call tantrum time being “in it” at our house)–talking about some more appropriate ways to express the anger that they are feeling is appropriate. However, having adult expectations for a small child –that is unreasonable.

My 2 cents, which aren’t worth much.

Alissa Marquess October 18, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Jena – your two cents are worth a lot, that’s actually why I chose the example I did for number 6. It is just as you say, we’ve got to look at the root of the problem instead of thinking our child is out to get us.

Brooke October 19, 2012 at 6:49 am

Thank you, Linda. I agree with you and have often gotten the evil eye from other parents in my generation when I place behavioral expectaions on my 5 kids. (I’m 30) Though for me the evil eye I know I’d get from the older generation would be muuuuuuch worse were my kids to act up etc in public. I rather enjoy having children that I can bring out in public with me, even to very nice restaurants, without worrying about them melting down or being ill-mannered, though the price of being a strict parent is very high sometimes and I appreciate the level of encouragement that your comment offered me. Last night I was crying with the thought of ‘is it even worth it?’, and now after reading your entry I’m ready to keep plugging along :) Thank you so very much.

Linda October 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm

First off, expressing emotions is fine…within some defined limits which include being respectful of others’ ears and of others’ needs. Second, what I have to say will not be pleasant; most of today’s parents will vehemently disagree.

When my daughter was 2, we were eating at a restaurant. She decided she would throw her dinner roll. As she raised her arm to throw it, my husband said, “we don’t throw food; food is for eating. If you don’t want it just put it down.” She ignored him and threw the food. Instead of taking something away or packing up and leaving or picking it up and saying “Now you can’t eat it,” or saying again that we don’t throw food, he took her outide, gave her one swat on her behind and said “You do NOT throw food. You do not make a big cry or noise when we get back to the table. You eat what you like and leave what you don’t because no one wants to see you throwing food all over. It is not nice to do that and it wastes the food someone took the time to prepare.” She cried a bit but went back and never threw food again.

Before going to the store, I made sure my children were fed frequently and on a schedule. So I would not take them to the store hungry or tired and as I drove us there, I reminded them that w are going to the store to get food for the family and that they will not ask for candy or toys or make loud noises or ask for things not on the list. I told them I expected them to act like good children because no one should have to listen to screaming and kicking children. They behaved. It was that simple.

When the children were toddlers, we nipped any unacceptable behavior the first time they did it. If telling them didn’t work or redirecting or time out didn’t work, we gave them a swat on the butt and calmly aid they could not do that behavior.

Now they are all very good, but independent thinking adults. They didn’t date until they got their degrees first (not because we said not to but because they thought things through and felt dating would distract them from their goal of being educated). If they ever hit one of us, we told them they cannot d that and if they did it again, we put them in time out. If they tried to scream or come out of time out, we banished them to their rooms or gave them a swat on the butt which made them stop. When they were five or six, they could be reasoned with so we no longer needed to swat them on the butt at all. And no, none of them are violent or angry people so those swats didn’t teach them violence; that is a myth. If spanking teaches violence then my parents’ generation should have been the ones bringing guns to school because they had to get the switch off th tree and they were whipped.

Instead of being friends with our kids we set limits and gave them a lot of love and attention but we also made them understand that their need for attention was not more important than our need to do the things that were required to keep everyone fed, educated, healthy, and safe. Kids need limits. Too many parents are more worried about meeting their child’s attention needs without realizing that part of teaching them is to make them see that they need to learn to delay gratification in increments so that as adults they can delay it to achieve goals (such as getting an education or saving for a home). They need to learn that they can get attention some of the time but not all the time because other people have needs too.

For example, a friend of mine allows her 3 year old daughter to scream at the table even when guests are there. That is so impolite to the guests; none of whom want to hear high, piercing screams their entire visit just because the girl wants her mother’s attention. That girl needs to learn that if she wants attention she must sometimes learn to wait her turn.

I don’t know if that will help you because all children are different. Your experience may vary.

Alissa Marquess October 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I am glad your children have done so well, and as you’ve said, experiences will vary. I agree that it is so important to set limits and provide routine.

I have to disagree on a few points, however:

I cannot condone spanking or swatting. I strongly believe we must treat others, including children with dignity and respect and I do not feel hitting someone is respectful. We can be respectful of children without letting them walk all over us even without spanking.

Because I gave examples of some extreme behavior that has actually occurred in some fashion or another in my household, you might assume that I am permissive and always caving in to my children. This is not the case. I don’t have five children, but with three I have a few to do some comparisons. I could parent the way you suggest with my eldest and my youngest and they would seem like perfect angels. My middle child, however is extremely strong willed and has food allergies and sensory processing issues. The only way I can imagine forcing him to be calm and quiet at the grocery store once he’d gone over the edge involves duct tape, and…yeah, that would be all wrong.

My middle child challenges me to go deeper and look at what the cause is for his behavior. I noticed you commented on my other post about parenting an angry child, and it seems you are aware that difficult behavior is often a communication from our children about health, emotional or physical issues. I parent one of these children, and I find that sometimes he is so out of sorts that he can’t calm himself down no matter how much he wants to. Even though it seems like I am rewarding him for a fit, a hug is actually the answer rather than punishment. Once we’ve connected we can get to what is causing the melt down and remedy the situation.

Finally – it is, of course, ideal to provide structure, to feed kids on time and to follow the routine, however we live in an imperfect world and we become parents when we are still in desperate need of improvement ourselves. In order to learn and grow together with our children, we must be able to accept ourselves as the imperfect humans that we are, and sometimes that means our children will have to function in less than perfect circumstances. Yes, this will sometimes blow up in our faces. If we have some tools for noticing our thought patterns at those times, at least we can salvage a mess rather than make it worse.

Thanks for joining the discussion!

conflicted mum of 2 October 19, 2012 at 11:36 am

“My middle child, however is extremely strong willed and has food allergies and sensory processing issues. The only way I can imagine forcing him to be calm and quiet at the grocery store once he’d gone over the edge involves duct tape, and…yeah, that would be all wrong.

My middle child challenges me to go deeper and look at what the cause is for his behavior. I noticed you commented on my other post about parenting an angry child, and it seems you are aware that difficult behavior is often a communication from our children about health, emotional or physical issues. I parent one of these children, and I find that sometimes he is so out of sorts that he can’t calm himself down no matter how much he wants to. Even though it seems like I am rewarding him for a fit, a hug is actually the answer rather than punishment. Once we’ve connected we can get to what is causing the melt down and remedy the situation.”

Alissa, I feel like I could have written that about my toddler!

i might not have made it clear in the post i wrote last night – i do believe in spirited children, and i do believe that different approaches work for different kids. my son is intense. i am his mother, this is not mis-labelling, it is accurate. he feels things very deeply and is highly emotional. i too can see that getting into a yelling battle with him is not going to work, he gets so worked up and he really doesn’t seem in control of himself enough to calm down. the best thing i can do (for both of us) is to hug him and stroke his hair. and i’ve tried everything, believe me! his speech is still limited at 2.5 yrs old but we try to figure it out between us after he has calmed down.
my daughter also has run-away emotions at times but nothing compared with my spirited little guy.
but of course, he is a toddler, and not all of his outbursts are due to his nature – sometimes he is just being naughty and seeing what he can get away with… and that line is hard to distinguish. when to hug, when to discipline…
i didn’t mean to suggest in my post that i condone spanking – absolutely not – but sometimes it is hard to know how to guide and raise a very strong-willed child, ensuring that he grows up respecting the feeling of those around him, as well as his own.
and of course, our own history shapes how we see ourselves as parents, and since i had such a different upbringing (“little girls were seen and not heard” can you imagine?!) it is no wonder that i feel conflicted at times.
i just wanted to explain a bit better, as i also saw that the comments were getting a bit judgemental – that is the last thing i wanted to do. i love your posts and discussions and get a lot of strength and support from reading everyone’s honest approaches to parenthood. the managing anger segment is helping me a lot – love the comment that “your voice today becomes their inner voice later”. i will remember this.

Jena October 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Yowza. Glad your kids turned out great.

conflicted mum of 2 October 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

this is a very interesting discussion. i can see both sides of what is being said here.
i was one of 4 children, raised in a strict household where we had clear boundaries, and if we crossed the line we were in for a ‘smacked bottom’. we respected our parents and i was always aware that i was the child and they were the adults and that my needs weren’t any more important that theirs. there was a lot of love, but we were definitely not the ones wielding the control in the house, and i wouldn’t have dreamed of throwing the kinds of tantrums i now see daily!
now i have 2 young kids and i find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum. i feel as though i absorb every emotion of theirs like a sponge, and i’m always walking on eggshells waiting for the next meltdown from my toddler. i feel that they are in control of the house and of me and it is exhausting, mentally and physically.
i do think as a society we are letting our kids get away with pretty melodramatic behaviour, which isn’t fair to us but also not fair to them. i was a really happy kid and i had clear boundaries and knew what was expected of me – sure, i didn’t agree with these boundaries most of the time, but i always felt safe knowing my parents were in charge and were making the decisions as adults.
i believe that kids need to express themselves, and that they definitely shouldn’t be treated as little adults when they’re emotions are only just developing and they are just learning to control them. however, to what extent do we let this go? at what point is the line crossed?
now as a parent, i struggle with marrying my experiences as a child with the way i am raising my own kids, and i feel like a failure a lot of the time that they are walking all over me, try as i do to impose boundaries. i seem to fluctuate between yelling and shouting and smothering them with hugs and kisses.
a middle-ground, predictable manner would be great, if i could just find one!

Linda October 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Conflicted,

I see your point and I agree; we are NOT teaching our children anything if we allow their bad behavior to continue.

I have to ask myself; where were all the “intense” children when I was growing up? I went to school in classes with 31 kids and no teacher’s aids. Only one or two of the kids would misbehave sometimes. These were punished at home by their parents. Then, as an adult, I saw kids in the school I used to work at. In a smaller class of 24 kids and with a teacher’s aid, 8 kids would act out EVERY DAY; that’s a THIRD of the class and these were not ADD or ADHD or LD or SPED kids either. They were kids whose parents thought like some here.

I have a feeling we are labeling strong willed kids as “intense” and instead of making them behave (so they grow up to be decent, considerate adults) we are pandering to their misbehavior by labeling them “intense” and then thinking we must allow them their bad behavior in order to encourage them to have their emotions. Really? When I was a kid, any kids who acted in what is now labelled as an “intense” way were not allowed to continue and a whole generation grew up having far better manners and consideration than the current bunch of young adults who are often too self absorbed to notice anyone else. Is it any wonder more and more journalists write of the coarsening of America and the lack of manners?

Part of this is the ‘self-esteem” movement which has been an abject failure; kids who have grown up under that (who got ribbons just for trying) became adults who feel entitled to rewards just for showing up. Gone are the days of intrinsic motivations to do a job well or hard work being a reward in itself.

No one here has to change their parenting; I am only saying what I have experienced in the many years I was a parent of five kids. I have seen parenting trends come and go and I have to say the latest of labeling kids as “intense” and pandering to their “need” for emoting all over all and sundry as well as pathologizing normal energetic behavior (where were the ADD/ADHD/ODD kids when I was growing up?) is, in my opinion, a load of manure. Sure, there are intense kids and some kids do have ADD, ADHD, ODD but not nearly the 400% rise that has happened in the past 30 years. One of my kids was found t be ADD as an adult but he was never allowed to misbehave as a child so the ADD could not have been an excuse; he turned out to be just as well adjusted as my non-ADD kids.

Too many of these labelled kids just need proper limits, discipline and consistency. As conflicted said, our kids need to know who is the caring adult in the room and the philosophy I am reading here is not conducive to that. My kids not only respect me, they all love me (and their father) and our whole family is close. Imagine that; 5 kids who were swatted as toddlers and made to behave, all growing up and being conscientious adults. Despite one of them being very emotional (what would probably be labelled today as “intense.”) and another having ADD. It bears real thought about labeling and enabling kids to behave in ways which are socially counterproductive.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 9:52 am

The comment above touches on too many different and overlapping but not-the-same issues to get to them all. I’m hearing you say that you are frustrated with the lack of structure and guidance the current generation of parents is providing, and that maybe schools are party to this lack of discipline as well.

It is extremely important to me that my comment section does not become a place where we lay blame and judgement on other parents, we simply cannot know what is happening in another person’s family with their health, histories and personalities. By telling parents that they just need to not allow their children to misbehave, we are not empowering them or giving an answer.

Parents need to know that thoughts like the ones listed in my post are normal, and an indication that they need to find a new solution for their family, whether it means changing what the parent is doing or changing how the child is eating, sleeping or being educated. Families are complex and most situations call for a combination of solutions. When we notice we are in a cycle of anger and yelling; it is time to make a change.

I think we are both coming from the perspective that we want parents to take charge of how they parent and make conscious decisions, but having lived with an “intense” child for five years now I am not willing to dismiss that as poor parenting. I get frequent compliments on how well behaved my children are – yet we have our challenging moments as well. If tell myself that this would all have gone differently if only I was a better mom, I feel defeated and ashamed. Not only that, if I stuck with that reasoning I think we would have overlooked certain medical issues with food that would be still hurting my son’s health.

Linda October 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm

“However, having adult expectations for a small child –that is unreasonable.”

Adult expectation: expecting a toddler to sit through a long and protracted dinner or expecting a tired or hungry toddler to behave during a long shopping excursion.

Realistic expectation: expecting a well fed, well rested toddler to behave during a short shopping trip or during a visit to someone or during the time some guests are in my home.

Small children CAN behave and refrain from screaming or kicking anyone. That is NOT an adult expectation.

Adult expectation: expecting a toddler to stay on the sidewalk while waiting for traffic to clear so we can cross the street.

Realistic expectation: expecting a toddler to remain in hand (your hand around their wrist to prevent them from running out into traffic) while you wait for traffic to clear.

It is not unreasonable to teach your child the correct behaviors both by modeling these and by rewarding correct behavior and punishing incorrect behavior. That’s how you train them.

Brooke October 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

Thanks again, Linda – I’d love to be able to email you!

Alissa Marquess October 18, 2012 at 9:33 pm

I appreciate the conversation happening here, however I am concerned that it is moving away from the point of this specific article. Some of the examples and possibilities certainly can be handled differently, but the main point I want to make, is that we can control what we are thinking and that when we find ourselves moving along a path of thought that feeds parenting rage, we need to stop and make a different choice.

Nataliya October 18, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I am going to try these tips. My 18 month old is suddenly throwing tantrums, saying No to everything, being cranky and whiny all the time, and it drives me crazy some days.

Charlotte October 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Alissa, thankyou so much for writing this. I have been through every single one of these thoughts lately, I have been sorely tempted to ‘give up’ all of the principles of what I think of as ‘positive parenting’ and just yell/ timeout/ smack my son at times.

Lately I’ve been remembering that saying ‘your voice now, becomes their inner voice when they’re older’ and trying to let this guide my words and actions.

Cerys @ Rainy Day Mum October 19, 2012 at 12:09 am

Thank you so much for this article Alissa I find it refreshing to read that I’m not the only parent that has children that behave as children should who are learning about the world and are parented with kindness and respect and realisation that it’s not the children that are the problem instead we need to change our attitude and the way that we parent especially with stopping ourself and looking for the cause of the behaviour in our children or ourselves!

I am by no means a permissive parent but from years of research on behaviour management in teaching and now as a parent myself I realise that positive parenting or the teaching equivalent of positive behaviour management is the way forward – however both strategies which are highly effective start with looking at yourself and just as you are talking about in this series instead of erupting at the behaviour look for the reasons behind it and STOP yourself before you erupt.

I think to a lot of society that parenting with a positive attitude is a difficult one to grasp as we are brought up the views of our parents, grandparents and their parents where there is was an attitude of a child should be seen but not heard. I am second generation of positive parenting and to me it’s a way of life I don’t know any different, what I can say is that my parents still apologise to me about times when their positive parenting attitude slipped and they remember the occasions much better than I do.

Lindsey October 19, 2012 at 4:41 am

My Aunt raised 5 kids, they all graduadted with honors and never got in trouble. They were raised in church and spanked when needed. There is a right and a wrong way to use spanking. She always gave a warning (usualy thats all it would take), she never did it in anger, and before she spanked she would ask them to tell her why she was going to spank. She would always tell them she loved them afterward. Four are out of highschool. They have never been in trouble and plan on raising there kids the same way. They are a very close family and the love they have for each other is undeniable. She and her husband agreed on how to discipline there kids. There way of discipline worked because it was predicdable and immediate. I raise my kids the same way. Everyone complements on how well behaved my children are. You don’t need parenting books the only book needed to raise a happy loving and well rounded child is the bible.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 10:04 am

Hi Lindsey,
I think, to be fair I need to mention that my mother raised three children without spanking and we are all responsible and successful adults (at least, in my definition of caring for ourselves, pursuing work we love and enjoying our families, we are successful.) The three of us sibling are very close and we are close with our extended family as well. Spanking is not the only way to provide discipline and raise stable happy children.

Susan Case October 19, 2012 at 4:48 am

Great post! All moms have had these thoughts – now we can be more aware of why we need to focus differently. Good points.

Eddie - The Usual Mayhem October 19, 2012 at 5:08 am

A great article and a thought-provoking discussion! Thank you everyone….I have read through both the article everyone’s comments and I love reading a polite, non-accusatory discussion of an article, such as this one.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

We’re trying Eddie, thanks. I’m lucky to have a great group of readers.

Erin October 19, 2012 at 5:28 am

I love this article!! I’ve definitely fallen into some of these thought traps before, unfortunately. Having a plan on how to deal with these thoughts in advance will surely help!

And interesting discussion! I find that remaining calm helps me to be more like the parent I want to be – not yelling, not reacting with anger, and having a plan in place for discipline (not punishment, but guidance).

Kat October 19, 2012 at 6:14 am

Its such a useful reminder to just stop and think, instead of letting the pressure, panic, fear and emotion get to us. Thank you for sharing. x

Jen October 19, 2012 at 6:19 am

Thank you for writing this article. I love the honesty with which this article is written. As a parent of 2 girls aged 6 & 9 I have been very fortunate to have faced these sorts of emotions only a few times. However, I can see that my future, with a independent 9 year old, is going to be filled with these types of situations and thoughts. We might not be dealing with tantrums at the grocery store, but how I approach her maturing attitudes is going to truly shape her future. I am always looking for effective ways to parent in a positive way. Thank you.

Amanda @ Dirt and Boogers October 19, 2012 at 10:26 am

I think that no matter what your parenting style is, we all have negative thoughts about our children’s behavior now and again. Our thoughts really do influence our behaviors so it is terribly important to be aware of them. I love that you have written this post because it can be a very difficult subject to talk about.

I also really appreciate the discussion in the comments. I like hearing about how other people parent and why they choose to parent the way they do. Even if I don’t agree with their style, it gives me something to think about which makes me more secure in the way I parent. I try very hard not to be judgmental about other’s parenting style. It is difficult sometimes, as I don’t agree at all with physical punishment, but I figure that we are all trying our best to be good parents. Parenting is tough and the last thing we need are other parents judging our decisions.

Thank you so much for a great post and discussion.

Dawn @ PricklyMom October 19, 2012 at 11:10 am

I’ve really been digesting these comments and I’ve seriously been gleaning useful bits from all of them.

I’m reading “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons” by Bonnie Harris. It brought me to an amazing but unsettling realization about my yelling; I’m doing it because I feel unheard and disrespected, which is EXACTLY how I felt growing up. I cannot stand feeling “dismissed” or disrespected, and when I do, I FREAK. OUT. However, now that I feel like I finally figured out where I’M coming from, I can finally address the dynamic with my own kids.

So my point is…I’m glad you’re shining a light on our “automatic thoughts.” It’s been a big piece of my own puzzle.

Jennifer October 19, 2012 at 11:11 am

Are you reading my mind?!! I could relate to all of these points, and I am very, very pleased to have found your blog. Thanks!

Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam October 19, 2012 at 11:45 am

I struggled with some of these negative feelings when my daughter went through a rough phase a year ago. A turning point in our challenging situation was when I changed what I thought in the face of a severe tantrum. Instead of thinking, “Is this going to last forever? or I am afraid my child is going to hit me or She must have some psychological disorder it’s going to affect her for life.” I made myself think feelings of love. I would think, “I love her and I am not afraid.” I would also often think, “She is a child of God. Be an example of Christ like love.” It brought me a sense of peace that allowed me to deal with my out of control child with presence and strength rather than my own self being out of control too. All of our behaviors come from our feelings whether they be in the forefront of our mind or deeply buried. And as adults if we aren’t reacting to our children’s misbehavior appropriately, it is our responsibility as the adult to control ourselves and the only way to do that is to change our mindset. And guess what? She didn’t forever stay a child that hit and screamed at me every day. A year later we only very rarely deal with a severe tantrum and she is a child who behaves very well at school and loves and respects her parents.

Sarah October 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

You know, I’ve been considering this type of destructive thinking a lot this week. Another pretty crummy thought I often have is, “If I could just have a day to myself to get things done/to have some time to myself/to finish my thank you notes/to meet a deadline.” And the more I feel like I am Owed this time, the more bitter I become, and the less I am willing to cope with the demands of a two year old. That’s usually when I remind myself of your blog and put down my $#% cell phone and hold and talk to my child. Usually, but not always. Sometimes I fuss at him and it’s really myself I should fuss at…or give myself a break (there’s a novel idea).

The other destructive thoughts I have been trying to quell are my insane focus on the negative. On Wednesday, my toddler was an absolute angel all day. He was patient during an hour-long wait at the vet, he was polite during a church dinner, he played on the playground after and then was insanely curious about the organist he could hear inside the church. I let him explore, but apparently not long enough, and our lovely afternoon-evening ended in a 30-minute hysteria jag for the whole walk home. I mean, people were crossing the street to see if I was abusing him. It was mortifying, and nothing I said made him feel any better. My nerves were totally shot, and I had to put him in time out for 10 minutes until I trusted myself not to yell or spank him. And that part of our day was loudest, and ended the whole thing on a bad note. It was all I could talk about for two days…not him being wonderful at the vet, not him eating all his green beans at the supper, not him climbing the rock wall at the playground “all by mypelf!” I HATE THAT! How do I make THAT shitty thinking go away? What else could I have tried on the walk home than alternatingly speaking calmly to him and telling him I’d had enough? Would it have been a big deal to let him watch the organist mashing all those cool buttons a little longer…did I really win at anything, since i just feel awful about the whole night?

To Linda, I think your ideas on boundaries and discipline are valid. Children do better with structure and feel safer not being in charge. Manners have a place in modern society, and you’re probably right that letting children run wild with no self-discipline sets them up for a lot of hardship as adults. But I do think parenting now is a lot different than it was 20 or even 15 or 10 years ago. The options for education are a lot different, the medical issues are more numerous (carseats, vaccines, natural childbirth, organic foods, IBS, gluten, GMOs, spanking), the awareness of dietary options and chemicals in our home and in our bodies is bigger, and it’s almost a necessity to have two incomes in every household. Everything is a decision, and everything is a judgement.

And as parents, we are connected ALL the time, to our jobs, to our aging parents, to our friends. It’s expected, and without any eye-rolling, the outside world’s demands on our time and energy practically require immediate response. Bosses will email, text and call you if they don’t hear an answer within 5 minutes. And the time to focus on ourselves and our families has diminished, probably when we need it the most. So when we’re grocery shopping, we might also be reading an email from the boss, texting our mothers about Thanksgiving, telling our children to put down that peanut butter, and making a list of work tasks that need to be done. It is relentless, and we often feel like failures if we don’t juggle all of these things successfully. And as parents, it feels like a luxury to power down and spend one-on-one time with our children. Like attention is a luxury we can ill afford. That is not to say, “poor little modern parents,” but modern parenting is what it is. Our kids sometimes do act out to get our attention, and sometimes, it isn’t such a bad thing to remind them that they really are more important than anything else in our lives.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I think of you all when I’m in my worst moments and try to see a better path. I am so grateful that I have readers like you as it really encourages me to keep learning and holds me accountable to my own words.

I too have those times of feeling resentful and like I just need a break. If possible, I try to actually call someone to watch the kids and take a break, but this is not always something I can do. I’ve had success with calling a friend and just chatting while I cook dinner, I also try to look at those times as a very important signal that I need to nurture myself in some way. For me that means maybe less being online, organizing something that is causing a hassle in my life, eating well and getting enough sleep.

As far as the negativity – great catch of one of your own destructive thought patterns! Rebekah in the comment above mentions some positive thoughts she’s used. Also, now that you realize you d this, maybe if you catch yourself you can use it as a cue to look for positive parts of your day?

And finally, the busy-ness – similar to what Linda is saying below, I think one of the most detrimental parts of our current society is the “glorification of busy.” We are constantly surrounded by folks involved in what seems like hundreds of different project, activities and organizations and they just keep saying yes. It’s become acceptable to far too many of us to *always* be maxed out and running on empty. I think it is a major challenge to extricate ourselves from this thinking, but very worthwhile.

Linda October 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm

” and it’s almost a necessity to have two incomes in every household.”

Almost being the operative word. I know too many women who do not work; they are not even middle class in their income yet they remain home, live with a smaller (more like when I was parenting) American Dream in order to focus on their families. They choose not to have all the issues tearing at them that you mention. We are far too materialistic now; used to be a 1200 square foot home with one bathroom was considered the American Dream home for family of four; now that has grown to over 2000+ sq ft with two bathrooms and all the gadgets. It is all in perspective: kids won’t remember that clean, 2000+ sq ft home, they will remember you being there for them and the stability of a less-rushed life. Living with less also teaches a great lesson on having a lower carbon footprint. These days, that is a crucial lesson for all Americans to learn to live.

My point is, these ten thoughts would happen less often if we all changed not only our thinking but our lifestyles.

“Our kids sometimes do act out to get our attention, and sometimes, it isn’t such a bad thing to remind them that they really are more important than anything else in our lives.”

But are they, really, if we are working ourselves so thin to have it all? There are two ways to make kids the center of our attention: the way that tells them they are important enough to us that we eschew the materilistic and consumptive lifestyle in order to really parent them or the way that tells them we are unwilling to make them that much of a priority so instead we overindulge them based on the guilt we feel for making the consumptive lifestyle the real priority. I chose the former but I see so many parents of today choosing the latter. Most never realize that they have made that choice but subconsciously, their kids know it. They have swallowed the philosophy du jour that says we “need” two incomes to “make it” without even questioning that ideology. Everything that follows is built on that ideology; including the ten things in this article. Imagine going back to the foundation and questioning that first and then going from there; how would we live differently if we didn’t have that uniquely American “look at me, I am working myself to the bone and doing it all ” thinking? Life doesn’t “have” to be fast paced to the point that we relegate our kids to that smaller slice of “power down” luxury.

Jeanette from Artchoo October 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Yeesh. It’s just so easy to fall into these thought patterns. The part of your post that struck me the most is remembering that whatever you are raging about is probably part of a phase. I get soooooo caught up in the negative thinking during phases and forget to remember how amazing my kids are on the whole. Thanks for this.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

You’re so welcome. One friend says to me, “The thing is, it will change. Then it will get different. Then it will change again.”

Sarah October 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Jeanette, that is so true. When my preemie was still awake every 15 seconds (seemingly) for months, I thought it would never end. Now that my galloping pony child is two, I miss our midnight cuddles. I feel like it can be such a release to just be in the moment and not wish stages away.

Linda, I mean this very kindly. I think prescribing lifestyles for people sounds kind of judgmental. We don’t know what people’s circumstances are or that our way of doing things would work for them. Our country has just been through a really hard time economically, and I don’t think people are working themselves to the bone just for gadgets. I think people feel lucky to have an opportunity to work, something you mentioned earlier…hard work is a reward in itself. People have lost their homes, so several thousand square feet may not be what they’re fighting for.

Loving your job doesn’t have to make you a bad parent, but finding balance can also be really hard. It’s blogs like this one that remind us in a really kind and forgiving way, that there are small ways to find meaning in our day, and gentle ways to connect with our children. It can be so inspiring for moms who need a helping hand (and a little forgiveness) as well. I know I usually feel better for reading it.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm

“Loving your job doesn’t have to make you a bad parent, but finding balance can also be really hard.” So, so true. It’s a bit of a catch-22 for me sometimes. Writing about connecting with kids is my job (my blog helps bring in income for our family) and I LOVE to write here. Connecting here helps me be a better mom as I am forced to look at what I’m doing and work through my own thoughts in order to share them with readers. On the other hand, I’m sure my kids would love if I never opened my computer…but then I think I’d be fried, so wouldn’t want to connect…..

I guess that’s where creativity really comes into play for me – I want to use my creativity to find simple ways to connect with my kids and share them so other readers are able to connect creatively as well and build the kind of family life they want.

Thank you so much for your encouraging comments.

Tricia October 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Alissa- this is a great discussion and series- Even just 20 minutes ago, we had our daily power struggle….the witching hour happens on the way home when our pre-schooler, who really still needs his nap sooner than I can give it to him with the school schedule is also hungry. I can bring the snacks, but his lack of sleep makes it a trying hour until the power struggle to get him to nap is over. I read through half the comments and all of your article on my first try to get him to sleep as I do every day, but went in and offered more food and sat him on my lap in bed as I talked to him about why mom was getting so frustrated- and my three and a half year old agreed with me. He was cranky every single day and he told me that he has consequences (conthequenthes- in his tongue) because he screams so loud every day. And you know what, he ate the string cheese and laid his little head down on the pillow on his own. I came back to read the rest of the comments and I’m writing this now- I’m pretty sure he is out. I think re-grouping is important- even if you’ve already lost your own temper because it is now a yelling match just to be heard over the wails- and offering a hug can be less of a reward, but more of an opportunity to discuss what has happened that led to the “conthequenthes”. I couldn’t have done that a year ago before he was really talking well- but I am glad we can do it now. And now that I’m done with this comment, I’m going to go check on him. I bet he’s out like a light.

Mel@TheDizzyMom October 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm

You are helping so many people right now. Talking about these issues, these situations, is freeing. I can relate to each and every one. Thank you for reminding me that I can change my thought pattern and change the outcome. We learn more and more everyday about how to better handle situations and personalities. I have to tell you, my toddler taught ME something this week: Tuesday was an awful day for me. I was just plain crabby, I didn’t smile or sing or dance the way I normally do. I was in a funk. I was snappy with my 2 year old all day. At the end of the day I felt terrible and I apologized and promised to be a better mommy tomorrow. He said, “You need big hug mama.” My heart melted and I cried. Hugs are healing.
Thanks for a great series.

Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 10:17 pm

What a beautiful story, thanks Mel. Hugs are healing, indeed.

LisaMarie October 21, 2012 at 6:41 am

Linda, I am with you. Pretty well on all points. I nannied for 15 children before I ever had one of my own. I learned what worked and what didn’t on a WIDE range of situations and personality types. Telling a three year old what behavior you expect from them is not unreasonable. spanking a completely irrational child rarely helps, but spanking them after you have explained to them WHY they are being spanked is VERY useful. My mother (of 4) used to send us to our rooms when we had done something wrong to think about what we had done. 5 minutes or so later she came upstairs and talked to us about what was acceptable and what was not. Then we were spanked for our bad behavior. As a child I dreaded having to sit there and wait for the spank (which was not so bad) as a parent I realize she did it that way so she never spanked angry. In public all it took was a little pinch on the back of the arm or “a look” for us to know that if we didn’t stop our behavior we would be spanked at home. Spanking doesn’t work for every child, but it does for most. Finding your child’s currency is important. For some kids it is time with people and going to their room is a very effective punishment. Some kids would RATHER be alone so it doesn’t work. As far as school goes, being a teacher is no longer about teaching. It has turned into a three ring circus. Parents no longer support the teacher. They think their little darling was wronged. There are rarely punishments at home for the bahvior at school. Never blindly assume your child was the one that was wronged. If you don’t want another adult to have discipline power over your child, don’t send them to school. But be warned, if they can’t function in school because you are always fighting their battles, they won’t make it in real life.

Alissa Marquess October 21, 2012 at 10:23 am

For my own peace of mind, I need to go ahead and close comments on this post. I am in favor of conversation, but I cannot have my comment section becoming a place where we extoll the virtues of hitting or pinching children.

I don’t think we are far apart on certain points – when parents take over their children’s responsibilities the children do not learn to take responsibility for themselves.

However, if we control children with intimidation, pain or fear, but that’s the problem. WE are controlling them. I am working to teach my children to control themselves. Though it may take longer, through positive discipline my children are learning self discipline, judgement and self control.

This is not the place to detail an entire parenting philosophy, however I have this post about books on positive parenting: http://creativewithkids.com/great-books-for-positive-parenting/

And this post about positive parenting resources online: http://creativewithkids.com/positive-parenting-tools-online/

As always, readers are welcome to get in touch with me over email: alissa@creativewithkids.com or via my facebook page.

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