The Day I Realized I Was Bullying My Kids

This post is brought to you by Playful Learning.

I was being a bully…

I watched the video from Playful Learning Power of Words  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.

A simple way to get out of a yelling cycle

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.

Stopping your parenting anger Related:Evolution of a Mama Tantrum and How to Stop One

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 wanting to bark a ‘hey! that Was RUDE! You need to SLOW DOWN!!’ type response, but, that’s what he’s been seeing and it hasn’t been working.  He’s simply been imitating the rude voice.

I took a breath remembering 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.  He remembered that he was capable of being kind.

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 physical reminder of how  we wanted to be acting helped me break that yelling cycle and begin a new positive cycle of imitating kindness rather than yelling. It’s not the perfect be-all-end-all solution to yelling, but it’s a good way to break the cycle.

If you want to stop yelling see these related resources:

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?

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  1. Chelsea H. Artigliere says

    I feel like 90% of your posts are posted at the exact moment I need to read them. Thank you. ??

  2. Rhonda Copas says

    I’m gonna try this…granted my oldest is four and youngest are two lol maybe my four year old will catch the hang of it :)

    • Vanessa says

      Did it work for you?! My two girls are also 4 and 2, I’ll be trying this from tomorrow!

  3. Dawn Robinson says

    The article is nice, but I wish these parenting sites stop making people feel bad because we are human. Geez, sometimes parents yell, sometimes kids are annoying, sometimes parents can’t take the annoyance at the moment it happens and sometimes kids “bully” parents too. It’s life. We’re humans. Not perfect. Why aren’t any tips given to parents about when kids bully the parents? You know, “mom, I want to go there, I want this, I want that NOW, I’m not doing that, I’m not going there, I’m not eating that” the list goes on and on…sometimes there is no room for compromise and it is what is…where are tips on how to handle? It’s always tips on how “bad parents” can change because we are in fact the root of all evil…smh…

    • Christine says

      Dawn, sounds like you could really use this advice right now. It’s not just about trying to get your kids to act right for you, it’s about shaping who they will become. If you want your kids to be the yelling, bullying kind of kids SOMETIMES they probably will. Some of us want better.

  4. Akua Serwaa Ababio says

    So so interesting to read all the opinions here. Just this Friday whilst I was dropping my children to school, the issue of parents and teachers came up in our conversation. My 7 year old daughter thought her teacher is the best because she allows her to have her way. But you mummy ….you like saying you are not allowed to do this or that. This got me thinking.. so I said to your mother and the best I can do for you is teach you to learn to do the right things so you don’t get into trouble then you can be a happy child. She said to me “but mummy some happy children do get bullied by big people too…yes they are like big bullies” I ask why do say that ..”yes they make you do the things you don’t want to do”. Wow I thought in my mind this conversation needs to continue so we can help ourselves to understand lot of things . I have thought of a mother and daughter day out . Let not forget that she is not aware of the feedbacks I get from her teacher …hahaha

  5. Tiffany Norwood says

    This article is very true. I have to remember to tell myself to stop yelling and nagging so much. This reminds me of my mother and I hated it when she did that to me when I was younger.

  6. Melissa DeGroff says

    I know someone who should read this. Unfortunately, she would never even admit that she does this. Sad.

  7. Monica Brownnutt says

    Absolutely. Kids can be tyrants and we are human. We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

    • Christine says

      Nobody is persecuting parents in this article. If you feel guilty or angry when reading it, most likely you are a yeller. It really does affect a person’s (not just kid’s) self esteem when they are yelled at a lot. We are not talking about a utopia people, just learn to communicate nicely and effectively when something is bothering you, whether it is with your kids or another adult.

  8. Angela Benvenuto Raimondo says

    I just use it as a way to keep myself accountable. We can always strive to be better, and since this is the hardest job, I take it seriously and read things like this as a way of research, or just keeping it fresh in my brain. I am a yeller but I never feel like these articles are saying I’m a bad parent. It is just a way of helping us get better. I still yell from time to time, it’s just a matter of forgiving ourselves and apologizing to our children and showing them that we are imperfect and can make mistakes too. My two-year-old now apologizes for things because she’s seen me do it after yelling.

  9. Tricia Valek says

    I noticed my yelling causes the behavior that drives me nuts. Thanks for reminding me not to be such an ego centered bully.

  10. Stacy Nerren says

    The article wasn’t trying to make parents feel like they have to be perfect. The point was take a moment to think before u speak. My children speak kindly to me because I do the same to them. They need our time and consistency. Yes I have yelled before-but the result I get from being calm and loving is much more rewarding:-)

  11. Salty McNair says

    The world is going to bully them, why not learn about it from someone that loves them. Little ingrates gotta learn somewhere.

    • Christine says

      Are you adding to the world’s problems with that attitude or making it a better place?

  12. Sae DeAnne says

    I agree! I do use these as reminders though. I do still yell from time to time, cause yeah I’m human! But I always apologize to my kids and I think they appreciate it and imitate it as well. They often apologize for yelling, tantrums..etc..

  13. Irene Hackett says

    Parents do it to children all th e time I sometimes have to leave supermarkets because its so upsetting hearing how some people speak to impressionable young children I don’t know why they have children if they don’t like them!

  14. Nia Veg says

    When kindness and compassion are choices of the majority, not just the minority, these parenting sites will stop reminding people to fix their own flaws.

  15. ElishevaWeyersHall says

    Wow.. just wow.  For the last couple of years ( I have 3 children, 16 months to 5), I’ve been feeling like things have got to change.. its just one ball of chaos after the other, and I know it has to start with me.. but wasn’t sure where or how I needed to change things.  Ive just recently stumbled upon positive parenting and I know this is what needs to happen in my family.  It hurts ya know when you realize the chaos, the anger and negative behaviors from your children are just a way of them showing you, how much of a bully you really are.  Thank you so much for this article.

  16. Funnermother: Let's get fun says

    I realize I’ve slipped back into some…. loud-ish habits. Thank you!

  17. says

    This was a great read! We will be happy to share this to our friends on social media and everyone in the Learning Differences World community! – Sometimes we all need a little reminder to be kind!

  18. Eileen says

    Totally backfired… I bought some heart stickers last night, gave some to my kids (5 and 2 yo girls), told them that when they feel like blowing up they should give a heart and ask kindly, and I will do the same (2yo just wanted to play with the hearts). Went pretty well last night, though the 5yo thought that if she takes the time to give a heart and ask nicely, she will get what she wants, and if she doesn’t, then she has a tantrum anyway. But this morning, when I asked her not to yell and scream at me for suggesting she get dressed for school, she asked, “But how will I get a heart, then?” So now she wants to misbehave so I have to refrain from yelling and give her a heart. Any modification suggestions, or should I abandon this tactic?

    • Christine says

      No behavior modification will work once. However, you have to be aware that every child is different and what works for one may not for another. Problem solve here. Regarding your daughter. She sounds as though she is the kind of kid who needs positive reinforcement (stickers, heart, hugs) when she is good as opposed to the hearts or extra attn. (good or bad) when she is naughty. Perhaps isolation in the corner (time out) when naughty (be consistent and keep putting her back when she defies), and notice and call out when she does well. This should put you guys in the right direction. Good luck!

  19. says

    Wow! I just had one of those oh $%#€ moments. I definitely yell at my kids often, I am really realizing that it’s me and not them. I love this method I am going to do it for sure. So glad for Pinterest to come across your site. Thanks for this awesome post!


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