Sometimes, we want to scream at our kids. Usually this impulse comes out of frustration or another acute emotion in the moment of a temper tantrum or outburst. But most us also know that yelling and punishing actually can damage our children's self-esteem and their trust in us, ultimately creating unhealthy coping mechanisms and leading to even more bad behavior in the future.
Instead, raising children with compassion and healthy boundaries will help them grow up into self-confident and emotionally healthy adults, and will make your parenting experience much easier in the process.
This article will give you insights and tools to raise children without yelling and punishing. In the first half, I'll offer tips that we can do ourselves as parents to feel more balanced and less triggered into having our own outbursts; the second half includes day-to-day tips for how to help your children themselves feel more grounded and less prone to emotional outbursts.
1. Cultivate self-care rituals and treat yourself with kindness.
The more we take care of ourselves, the more worthy we feel of having our needs met and our boundaries respected. When we feel tired and have no energy, it is much harder to deal with our children's outbursts. Plus: the better we feel about ourselves, the less we feel guilty about making "mistakes" or "not doing things right."
So, in addition to making sure to find self-care rituals such as meditation, yoga, exercising (and/or whatever else works!), talk to yourself as you would talk to a child, not as a harsh critic. Acknowledge your own feelings, how stupid or irrational they might seem to you. If you accept and love them, they will be released instead of staying stuck.
2. Honor your own boundaries.
If our children cross our boundaries too far, or too frequently, it's often because we let them. But we will eventually lose our patience, so remember that. I totally understand: we avoid saying "no" sometimes because we want to avoid a tantrum, or we want to be "the good guy." However, as parents, affirming healthy boundaries is our job. Loving our children doesn't mean that we have to give them what they want all the time. And sticking to your guns will ultimately prevent tantrums in the future.
3. Have age-appropriate expectations.
When we take our children to public places, we simply cannot expect them to behave like adults. A young child won't sit still for an hour in a restaurant like a grown adult.
While it's great to want to go out with our children, we must also remember that they are allowed to have their own experience. So we must commit to trying our best not to feel embarrassed, offended or guilty about their reactions. When we let go of these unrealistic expectations, we give ourselves freedom to have a much more enjoyable experience ourselves.
4. Don't project your fears.
When we worry about our children's misbehavior and fear that they might be aggressive in a given context, our children will pick up on this energy, and will likely stick those labels on themselves. If a child starts to think that he/she is "bad," that often leads to more misbehavior.
5. Heal your own inner child.
Children can trigger unresolved emotions in us, causing us to feel hurt and frustrated, perhaps about our own childhood experiences or current difficulties elsewhere in our lives. Our children can also reflect those unresolved feelings when they pick up on them. So embrace the parts of you that are still hurting. Acknowledge and accept your own feelings from or about your past without judgment and give that child in you all the love and validation it never got, or that it currently needs.
6. Create an anchor.
During a moment in which you feel calm and balanced, choose a physical stimulus like pressing your thumb and middle finger together. Recognize this as an "anchor," holding the position for a minute or so before releasing. You have now made a connection between that anchor and the feeling of calm and balance. Use this anchor by pressing it again when you feel upset or when your child has an outburst to trigger those feelings of calmness and balance to come up again.
7. Release guilt.
Guilt and shame are the lowest vibrational emotions a human can experience. I think of guilt and shame as existing in the emotional place farthest away from love, balance and compassion. Guilt not only keeps us from feeling self-compassion, but often leads to crossing boundaries to "make up" for whatever we think we did wrong. Remember that parenting is a process. At every moment, you're doing the best you can and are always learning and improving.
8. Make sure to spend quality time together.
Attention is a basic need for children to survive. When our children have emotional outbursts, it's often a sign of their desire to show us they are trying to define themselves, develop their individuality — and get attention.
Many times an emotional outburst is actually a reflection of a child experiencing more freedom than he/she can handle. They want to feel safe by our loving guidance in the form of healthy boundaries. The most beautiful way to give this to our children is in special, quality moments when we are not distracted and 100% present. Children don't need us to be physically present all the time. But quality time is invaluable for our children. Feeling consistently loved and cared for will diminish their need to act out.
9. Allow time for free and uninterrupted exploration.
When our children's needs for safety and attention are met, they will also undoubtedly express a desire to get out and explore the world. Exploration helps them observe new things in their surroundings, get to know their bodies and stay connected to their innate curiosity. Self-guided exploration will improve their attention span and let them express creativity and joy.
The amount of physical space we let our children play in, the amount of time and the physical distance from us depends on our child's age and needs and grows over the years. During these moments of free play, we can stay present with our children. But make sure not to interrupt them. Just observe and enjoy witnessing their growth.
10. Make your child feel understood.
No matter how "childish" our child's desire or emotion might seem to us in a given moment, it's perfectly valid for him or her to feel this way, no matter what it is, really. We don't have to comply with their "demands," but we can still acknowledge what they're feeling: "I see you're very upset, you really liked coloring your face and you're angry that I took your pencils away," or, "I understand you like to only eat chocolate all day. I'd love that too. But now it's time for some veggies to keep our bodies healthy." They might still resist, after all they are children, but at least they'll feel seen and understood and usually this helps decrease the intensity of the emotional outburst.
11. Allow time to adjust to a change in activity.
Sudden changes can trigger our children into resistance. Especially with sensitive children, it works really well if we give them time to adjust to a coming change. Take bed time, for example: give your child a few "heads up" notices that bed time is nearing. "You can play for another 10 minutes, and then we're going to bed," is one I use. Repeat that when there's five minutes and one minute left.
12. Respect your child as a whole person.
Our children might live in tiny bodies, just learning how to deal with everything that makes us human while still needing us for their basic survival. But they are also whole persons with very capable and knowing souls that have multiple levels of understanding. So talk respectfully to your child as if you would to an adult: use your normal voice and refer to yourself as "I" instead of "mommy."
13. Honor the integrity of your child's body.
Always tell your child when you're going to pick him/her up or touch him/her. You can start doing this even when they are babies: "I am going to pick you up now. One, two, three, there you go." Children will be less startled if they know what's coming.
When playing with children, honor their "no," if they want to stop. Horse playing or other physical activity is a very good time for your child to learn that when he/she says "stop" (touching me) or "no," the other person respects their choice. Boundaries are important for children, too. This won't guarantee that every person will listen but children with this healthy mindset about their body are much less prone to become a victim of abuse or other inappropriate dynamics.
14. Ask for help.
Don't be ashamed if you feel things are getting too much for you. Ask for help. Tell your partner when you're having a hard time, find a babysitter or parenting counselor, seek support from other parents, learn new ways of parenting that will make it more easy and enjoyable for you. You are never alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness: it is a brave thing to do.