The Day I Realized I Was Bullying My Kids

by Alissa Marquess on September 5, 2013

This post is brought to you by Playful Learning.

I was being a bully…

I watched the kids’ video from Playful Learning Put Ups and Put Downs Course  with my kids, thinking it would be helpful for them, hopefully help us decrease sibling squabbles.  I didn’t realize I would get an emotional 2×4 to the head as I listened to the description of Put Downs.

The Day I Realized I was Bullying My Kids

In a Parenting Rut

For most of the summer I had been doing great on not yelling, on enjoying my kids and having a good handle on my anger triggers, but after some emotional upsets and long days alone with the kids I was operating on a short fuse.

In the video, kids describe both verbal and non-verbal Put Downs.  They talk about how Put Downs make us feel.  It’s not like information I don’t know, but suddenly I had an “Oh $#!+” moment as I watched the kids demonstrating Put Downs.  I had been in a foul mood for a couple days – really snapping a lot at the kids, speaking harshly and doing more yelling than I care to admit.

I suddenly saw my own yelling at my kids as a bunch of Put Downs.  It struck me hard.

Yelling wasn’t effective teaching.  Yelling didn’t get my point across, nor did it even make me feel better – it made me feel worse.

I had heard my son describe yelling like “being hit“  before.  Here was another analogy for me to reflect on.  My yelling and annoyed/angry voice was a big Put Down on my kids.  Instead of taking care of myself I had been taking out my emotions on my kids,  bullying them because I felt bad.

The tough part is that sometimes kids are….well, really annoying. and button pushing. and limit testing.  And sometimes life happens – you don’t get a break, family tragedies unfold, the dryer breaks, the dog pees on the carpet, you lose sleep.  Sometimes you get into a dark parenting rut, and that’s where I was.  I didn’t really even want to connect with my kids.  I just wanted a break, but one wasn’t coming soon and my kids still needed me.  They didn’t need my Put Downs.

Instead of Yelling - Put Ups for my Kids

Instead of Yelling – Put Ups for My Kids

I had been putting down my kids with my body, my voice, my face.  It made me feel bad, which added to the bad feelings – you know.  I needed out of this horrible cycle.  I decided in those moments when I wanted to snap I would find a way to remind us of who we all wanted to be instead of harping on the bad behavior – Put Ups instead of yelling.

I was really stressed and needed a visual cue to cut out this Put Down behavior in myself, so  I cut out a bunch of bright pink hearts and explained to my kids that I was feeling sad lately and having a hard time being nice and I wanted that to change.  I told them I would give them a heart when I wanted to remind us all that we were kind people and we could treat each other with love.  I gave them a couple hearts in case they wanted to give them out too.

Using Put Ups to Reset

I got a chance to try this out right away.  At the grocery store my six year old tried to shove me aside to get onto the cart.  I bristled, but remembered the hearts and stopped to kneel beside him.

In a calm voice I said “Hey, that was rude, you just pushed me.  I need you to  treat me kindly.” I handed him a pink heart (visual cue!)  “I know you are kind.  Can you tell me a kind thing you do?”

He thought I wanted to hear something kind about me and said, “Mama, it’s kind when you take us to lunch at the grocery store.”

“Oh, thank you.  And what kind things do you do?”

“I help my sister get out of her car seat.”

“Yes, that’s kind.  I love you.  Are we ready to shop now?”

And with that we were reset and I had not added more fuel to my anger, nor had I added shame to my six year old.

At home I started to flip out about…uhhhh….something I can’t even remember (must have been super important ;) )….and my oldest waved a pink heart at me, “Mama….remember!!” he said warningly.  Ah, yes, trying to be loving…

Later I interrupted an angry pre-dinner outburst between the boys by giving them both hearts. They didn’t want to stop their argument/play and it took a while for me to get them each to say something kind, (“Nope, when you have said something kind about yourself and your brother THEN you can go play again…”) By the time they were done, they were happy to head away from the crazy mama giving out hearts and play a bit more peacefully in their rooms until dinner was made.

Out of the Anger Rut

The pink hearts only lasted a couple days, but it was enough to get us out of that grumpy resentful space.  The concept of yelling or snapping as a Put Down has given me a powerful image to motivate me to take better care of myself, and using Put Ups to get my point across has been a helpful tool.

See the Take Care of Yourself Challenge and {Fill Your Cup} Weekly Journal Prompts for ways to take care of you in this busy part of your life.

For more on dealing with Parenting anger see:

If you’d like to check out courses from Playful Learning (affiliate link), I am happy to be able to give CWK readers a special 20% off couponUse the code: CREATIVEWITHKIDS when you check out to get your discount.

Do you ever get in anger or resentment ruts?  What’s your trick for coming out of the dark?

Camp Mom Summer Activities Pack

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Helena September 5, 2013 at 8:16 am

Thanks for sharing Alissa! I’ve been having mommy tantrums and its hard to admit it! I think to be able to stop the cycle it really helps to admit it and talk about it.


Alissa Marquess September 5, 2013 at 11:55 am

Best wishes on stopping that cycle Helena. I really, really know how hard it can be to bring yourself around when you feel exhausted and taken for granted. Sometimes you never know what form help will come in, but usually it does come eventually, whether by your own hand or by others.


Heather September 5, 2013 at 9:15 am

Awesome idea! Thanks for sharing! Both mine and my husbands families have long histories of parental yelling. We struggle with this bad habit more regularly than we care to admit. Sometimes it feels like a constant battle but I feel so much better as a parent knowing that I’m not the only one and that others have great tricks and ideas. It helps with the depression that comes with it and gives me that boost of energy to dig out of the ruts and begin new days of no yelling. Thanks!


Alissa Marquess September 5, 2013 at 11:53 am

Yes – knowing you’re not alone and continuing to look for the tools that work for you, are both very helpful in stopping the yelling. It’s a process. These kids sure teach us a lot, don’t they?


Alicia Johnson September 5, 2013 at 10:44 am

I think this is really sweet and helpful information. I can really, really related. Wanting to be nice, just need a break, the exhaustion, constant demands, silly fights….it gets overwhelming. I always tell my husband, “I use to be a really nice person, ya know.” I’m going to try the heart thing next week. Hopefully it will help that nice person stay around even in moments of stress.


Alissa Marquess September 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

Good Luck Alicia. It definitely wasn’t *perfect* but I think the key for me was that I needed to break my pattern, and since I was in a pretty tired/stressed place I needed a visual as well as a plan for what I would do in the moment when I was feeling angry. The simplicity of having that heart there made me tune in to what I wanted to portray to my kids. And I’m hanging onto the concept of looking at yelling as a put down and that we all learn better through “put ups.”


Dawn @ PricklyMom September 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

That was brilliant. That’s all I need to say! :)


Alissa Marquess September 5, 2013 at 11:51 am

Thank you Dawn. I think maybe it was part brilliance and part desperate-grab-for-sanity ;)


Diana Blanco September 5, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Ugh. God is funny. Here I am on Pinterest looking up mindless things to get my mind around how grumpy I am and how unfair my life is and how angry my 3yo makes me and how I don’t want to be an active parent TODAY. Then your link comes up (from who knows where) and I instantly feel like I have an answer. I’m mad because I haven’t taken care of ME. Thanks for the detective work! You’re clever! Lol. Yes. I need to control my emotions. And yes. I need ideas on how to model kindness. :D


Sandra September 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Hi Alissa,

I just wanted to thank you for writing and sharing this with us. I have been having a very difficult time lately with my patience and anger. Unfortunately, I have been taking it out on my small children. I feel so guilty and have cried many nights because I feel like I am ruining my children. I needed to read this today and I will definitely be trying your Hearts suggestion. Thanks again!


Tanya September 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Wow, thanks so much-I love your posts. I hate that I have issues controlling my anger, my tone of voice, or mommy tantrums due to my breaking points. I’ve been struggling with unwanted behavior with a 3 & 4 year old (I forget all too often their age and expect too much from them). I know that when they are at their worst they need us to behave our best and be there loving them not disciplining them-it’s difficult for me. I know kids copy us and I have already seen my son behave like me during one of his tantrums (not flattering) and I realized I need to change so he can change too.

I also love the post “Orange Rhino Alternitives to Yelling”

My son copying what I say use to make me nuts, then I started saying “I love you…I love you too much…I love you to the moon and back…I love you more than you love me…” and it magically transformed the unwanted behavior and we giggle and everyone was happy. One time he wanted me to know he was copying me and he said it but I just continued until we all were giggling and happy.

I LOVE giving a heart out idea (i need visual reminders) and being positive to redirect the behavior-I’m going to try this!


Alissa Marquess September 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Yes, the Orange Rhino is great!

And I really like your giggle causing solution to your son repeating you. Humor works wonders – I need that tattooed to my skin somewhere so I can remember it! I know, for us, once we’ve shaken ourselves out of the anger/defiance and into a more positive and connected place, then my kids are SO MUCH more willing to listen and try and help out.


Cortney September 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm

What a wonderful idea! I will have to keep this in mind, I love the visual cue!


christine September 6, 2013 at 9:15 am

how do i get this thing you watched and will it work for 10-12 year olds who fight all the time and say mean things to each other. i know i sometimes hear myself doing what you said you did.


Alissa Marquess September 6, 2013 at 10:07 am

Hi Christine – it was in the Put Ups and Put Downs Course by Playful Learning. You can find the video in the course. For right now if you enter the code: WORLDPEACE at check out you can get the course for free.


Carmen Reyes September 6, 2013 at 10:56 am

Thanks for sharing! I am a single parent and at times my stress may get the best of me at times. This was very helpful. Thanks again!


Tricia September 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Wow, great article! This really hit home! Rough week with hubby being gone a lot and three young kids with no breaks for me was enough to set me off a couple of times. I love the visual que idea!! Thanks for sharing and I hope to add more put up’s to our lives!!


Jessica @ Play Trains! September 6, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Put this into practice, ASAP! It seems like every August, I get a little crazy, and my son goes through a huge developmental leap, and everything goes off track. I think this will work really well with him.


Wendy September 6, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Seriously…I thought I was the only mama in the world who went through stuff like this. Thank you for your honesty and for a constructive way to fix it!


Amanda Patterson September 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Such a great and useful article. I find myself stress yelling more than I would like. Great idea on breaking the ‘habit’


Cheryl Hayes September 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Talk about an answered prayer! I have been struggling with this very issue for some time and have been in prayer for God to help me find joy in my life again. Next thing I know I’m on FB and find this in my news feed! Praise God! Thank you!


Irene Lawson September 7, 2013 at 8:08 am

Thank you for sharing Alissa! I’m shocked at how many of us moms are going thru the same stress. It’s overwhelming at times dealing with our children. I tell all the time and feel so guilty after. I’m trying your hearts idea with my 7 yr old son starting TODAY!


Linda September 9, 2013 at 4:03 am

Thanks for the post. I sometimes yell at my daughter and I always feel bad about it, but just couldn’t figure out what else to do. Thanks for the tips.


kate September 9, 2013 at 4:59 am

Kudos for the honesty and the underlying message that we all make mistakes, we need not be ashamed, we can do better ,and we can help others to do better without shaming them.


Ellen September 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Thanks – so needed this today. I am cutting up hearts tonite to start using tomorrow.


Holly Horst September 16, 2013 at 6:14 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! It is so easy to get caught up in everyday stress and before you know it the day is over and you’re telling yourself, I’ll try and be better tomorrow. But everyday is one less day you have with your children and it really puts everything into perspective. I’m reading this as I sit here at the hospital with my husband, waiting on the oncologist to call us back for his follow up appointment, and i’m think about my babies who I put on the bus this morning. From one mom to another, how do you deal with the guilt that I’m sure you feel / felt when you yell / yelled at your kids? I find myself feeling an overwhelming amount of guilt that I can’t seem to let go of, but I know I’m not alone in feeling at way. Any advice on how to overcome that feeling and move on?


Alissa Marquess September 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Hi Holly,
Some days I have a hard time letting go of guilt and moving on and I feel awful and very lost. However, I have discovered certain ways to help myself move forward. Many of the ways I let go of guilt and move on are listed in this post:

All my best to you an your family. ((hugs))


terina September 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I just want to thank you so much for the advice. I’m a very controlling, yelling, constantly aggitated, and depressed mother. I have come to terms with it and want so badly to change. For an example- today my wonderful two year old son learned how to open the fridge. Now as his mother I should have praised him for learning something new, but instead I was so upset because I knew what was to come. Within one hour he ate a package of string cheese, yogart, two bananas, my chocolate stash, and three pieces of bologna. Mind you to make matters worse my husband laughed and helped him open everything. I was furious! Every two minutes I was yelling at him to close the fridge. So I very much needed to read your page. Thank you again! I will definitely try this tomorrow! My baby is worth it!


Patricia October 8, 2013 at 1:00 am

Thanks Alissa,
I love the idea of the heart. Thanks for sharing and being so real. I was a yelling parent when my children were little. I’ve since learned how I can change my own psychology so thos anger buttons don’t get pushed. I would like to share what I learned.
So to that end I’m holding free live workshops this coming weekend on Becoming a Calm Parent. More info and sign up details here
I hope it helps someone.


Eve October 13, 2013 at 11:55 am

Dear Alissa,
thank you so much for this lovely insight into your handling the family. I badly needed to read that
a) it happens to the best moms from time to time and they do feel like i do – all shitty about yelling to the best kid one could ever have
b) there is a way out.
My daughter is only 2.5 years old but I´m gonna try this in an adapted way. I badly want her to know that she is loved even when I´m having a bad second (or bad 10 minutes or a shitty week).


alefiya October 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm

hi. nice idea…dear…i will now try this…the problem wth me is tht i live jointly with another family

..where ths mother scolds her children almost for everything…. my daughter gets scared of such high voice …
i end up scolding my daughter too due to the work stress…
what to do??


K'Dee November 4, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Thank you for this, it helped at the perfect time. Thank you!


Anita November 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm

My kids and I do a heart with our hands when needed. Have to admit that we do them quite oft!
Either we do them when we catch ourselves with being less than nice, or we do them when the other one is doing something that upsets one of us.

It works! (Mostly… I have teens!) ;)


Hannah December 3, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately due to the holiday coming up and we are trying to sell our home and buy another, and I find myself being in an “anger rut” and having a short fuse with the kids. It helps just to hear that I am not the only one, so thank you for your honesty! I have two young toddler boys (3 years old and 20 months) my three year old is extremely hyper, stubborn and testy right now, so any moms with suggestions of getting through to that age would be great.


Patricia Hope December 4, 2013 at 12:41 am

Hannah, I feel for you at this difficult time. When a child is extremely hyper, it can be because they are sensitive to certain foods.
You will have to balance the stress of trying to find out what that is with the stress of her being hyper.
My youngest daughter is affected by sugar – any sugar, even a little bit as an ingredient. Very hyper. My grandchildren are affected by wheat/gluten. Eliminating this makes a big difference and they are so much easier to handle.
Just a thought. I hope it helps.
Oh, and I find that keeping off sugar myself helps me stay calmer.


Hannah December 4, 2013 at 9:02 am

Wow, thank you I would have never thought of that on my own. I had no idea diet had such an impact, I was just trying different ways to calm him. I will definitely experiment with his diet.


ilse December 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

This so awesome and helpful I get angry at my two year old all the time I feel stressed because he still won’t talk all he does is whine about everything. He is still small to understand things and he sure knows how to push my buttons. I wish I could help him understand his feelings and talk instead of throw tantrums


Britt Teel January 20, 2014 at 12:24 am

Needed this article more than I can even express in words. I have so many other stresses in my life that any not so nice actions from my 3 year old or 21 month old sets me off. I have begun to hate myself. I want to change. My babies don’t deserve an angry mother due to being stretched thin. I can control this. It was so reassuring to see that I am not alone.


Ronnie February 9, 2014 at 6:56 am

My issue is when I think my son going to hurt himself and I yell to get his attention so he will stop what else can I do without yelling?


PatriciaD February 17, 2014 at 5:05 pm

One of the VERY best things I ever did for myself and my kids (fosters) was to take the course by Love and Logic. It is so awesome. It teaches you how to talk to your kids (exact words, tone, etc. and you practice it in class) and then you also get CDs to listen to in the car when you’re driving to reinforce. It is so fantastic and you wouldn’t believe the difference in you and the kids.


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