"How can I make sure my children understand the seriousness of certain situations (e.g., using drugs, talking to strangers on the internet, etc.) without yelling and coming on so strong and aggressive that I damage their self-esteem."
When your youngster's safety is at risk — whether he's run into the street, reached for an open flame, or gotten dangerously close to a pool — yelling, screaming, or crying out is a perfectly normal – and appropriate – response. At that moment, you would do anything possible to get your youngster's attention and get him out of harm's way.
After a parent’s “screaming-yelling” episode, it's natural for children to get upset — and for you to want to apologize. But the truth is this: your children are getting upset in response to the fear and urgency in your voice, not because you've been "too strict." At times like these, you should comfort them, but without apologizing. Give your youngster a hug and say something like, "I know you're upset. But what you did was dangerous, and I was scared that you were going to get hurt. You must never do that again." Disciplining children after an event like this is usually not necessary, since they've probably learned their lesson.
On the other hand, there are times when being too strict — like yelling regularly for minor offences — can backfire. Children can become immune to your exaggerated reactions and fail to take them seriously. If you feel yourself getting into this habit, take a deep breath before responding to your youngster's behavior and ask yourself, "Am I about to over-respond?" If so, walk away for a few minutes and come back when you've calmed down.
Researchers are studying how harsh parenting can impact the emotional development of a youngster. It is believed that harsh parenting methods may lead to anxiety disorders such as social phobia, separation anxiety and panic attacks. We know that common practices such as spanking or excessive punishment do not instill a strong discipline. Quite the opposite, they have a lasting psychological impact on kids.
Many studies have suggested that a parent’s aggression can affect their kid’s own social problem-solving proficiency, leading them to use aggression as a solution to disagreements that arise with their siblings and peers. This reliance on aggression can have potential long-term effects, including the development of antisocial behavior and juvenile delinquency.
Consider these facts, all backed-up by research:
- Constant yelling and screaming erodes trust between a parent and a child and increases the risk of child abuse – because it doesn’t decrease bad behavior, parent aggression may increase in an attempt to solve the problem.
- Kids who are screamed at regularly are more likely to cheat or lie, act up at school and bully other kids. They also do less well academically.
- Kids whose parents use aggression to control antisocial behavior show more antisocial behavior themselves over time.
- The more a child is slapped, the more likely it is that they’ll grow up to slap their children, spouse or friends.
- Yelling and screaming increases the probability of your child assaulting you in retaliation as they grow older.
Being an aggressive parent will only be a short term solution to controlling your kids, and it will lead to long term problems for them as they grow up trying to function in the adult world. Aggressive moms and dads can cause their youngster to develop one of two different personality types: being the victim because it was their assigned role in the family, or becoming abusive because it was role modeled for them.
The alternative to an aggressive parenting style is the “assertive style.” These moms and dads tend to see good behavior from their kids due to setting clear expectations as well as direct explanations of those expectations and they do so without the use of intimidation or threats. These parents listen to their kids, but do not allow themselves to be talked out of what they feel is right. They do not blur the lines between who the parent is and who the youngster is, who is actually in charge is never called into question, and the lack of aggressiveness does not contribute to the youngster being unsure of who the senior family member is.
Most often, when this parenting style is used, it tends to produce kids who:
- are able to comply with expectations and respect their parents due to feeling listened to and respected by them as opposed to fearing them
- are better prepared to give and receive love through genuine and reciprocating ways during their adult lives
- learn to listen to their parents as well as be able to actively listen to directives while waiting for the next opportunity to engage
There’s no getting away from the fact that no matter what you say to a youngster, the model of behavior you display to them will be the most potent influence on their development. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never worked and will never work. Before a mother or father can place the expectation on their youngster of what they want them to “be” – they first have to “be” it!
We, as parents, are role models whether we like it or not. To behave boorishly, antisocially or abusively in front of kids does more harm than most moms and dads realize. It’s destructive, it’s detrimental, and it’s bad parenting. Talk is cheap, and we get what we give in this world.
Follow these tips to break the cycle of aggressive parenting:
1. Get their input when it comes to the rules— When you’re working out your house rules, involve your children in deciding what they should be and what the consequences are for breaking them. This will give them a sense of control and empowerment and help them get into the habit of listening to their conscience and managing their own behavior.
2. Let practice make perfect— Don’t always jump-in to solve disputes that arise between your youngster and his siblings or friends, because whatever you say, someone is likely to resent your decision. Put the problem to your kid in plain terms and let him work out a peaceful resolution: “OK, so both you and Jack want to use the computer. How can we sort this out in a fair way so you each get to use it?” In this way you’re guiding your kid towards negotiating a compromise without laying down the law yourself.
3. Model patience— Let your youngster see you listening to other people’s problems, empathizing with their feelings and co-operating with them to find a solution to any differences of opinion.
4. Set age-appropriate limits— Think about what your kid is capable of according to his age and developmental stage. Yes, a preschooler is old enough to listen when you tell him not to touch something dangerous – but a toddler isn’t. Where younger children are concerned, adequate childproofing can remove temptation and do away with the need to constantly discipline them for touching things they shouldn’t.
5. Teach conflict resolution skills— Show your youngster how listening, verbalizing his/her needs and feelings, accepting differences and negotiating agreements can stop a situation from descending into conflict and aggression.
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