The Day I Scared My Child

Too loud lucy

Ever since I first learned about RIE, I knew that that was the type of parent I wanted to be. I loved how I could empower my children simply by respecting them as the whole people they are and trusting that they are completely capable of developing and learning at their own pace and in their own time. My biggest problem, however, has been letting go of the parent I was and ignoring many of the reflexive instincts that seem to pop up all the time. This is particularly true when my children have periods of testing behaviour.

Before RIE I was a parent with very high expectations for my children. I wanted them to be exemplary in everything; from their development, to how they played, to the manners they used. I would often chastise them when they would do something that I deemed was not acceptable behaviour thinking that it was important that they associated negative feelings with this sort of behaviour from an early age so that they would avoid repeating it in the future. Funnily enough, my hard line approach to dealing with these issues did absolutely nothing to change their behaviour and served only to make it exciting enough for them to repeat and at the same time, drove a bigger wedge between us all. As emotions and feelings got to boiling point in this household we were extremely lucky to discover a much more peaceful way of parenting and in doing so, reconnect with our children and be rewarded with that lovely feeling that our children truly trust us to cope with the developmental turmoil that they face on a daily basis.

I still find, though, that on occasion my patience is so tested that I snap. This happened to me recently and the events that followed were so profound that I feel like I may be somewhat on the road to being cured of my former parenting tendencies.
Lucy (2.4 years) and I were playing in the rumpus room whilst her younger sister was having a nap. Over the previous few days I had begun to implement a little routine with the girls to encourage them to take responsibility for their toys by helping me tidy up after them. So if Lucy was playing with an activity such as cutting up little pieces of paper, when she was finished and made a move to find something else to do I would remind her that she had dropped some of the paper on the floor and she needed to help me pick it up before moving on. Often times she was happy to do this and we would enjoy working together to pick it all up and place it in the bin or a little jar etc.

So on this particular day, Lucy had been sorting through a jar of buttons and had ultimately tipped the whole jar onto the floor. She enjoyed running her hands through the buttons and picking up handfuls and watching them spill out of her hands back down on the pile.

Now, for whatever reason, 90% of the time when Lucy finishes exploring an activity, any activity-painting, rice play, eating, block building etc, she uses what I call ‘frantic hands’ to disperse her activity as far over the floor or table or room as she can before promptly getting up and walking away. This has always been a huge patience tester for me as you can imagine the mess for what seems, at the time, to be a pointless destructive act whereby she is not even interested in the task afterwards (although I know it is not and is just how she plays).

Usually I am able to remain calm and accept that this is part of Lucy’s play and somehow satisfies a need she has. Implementing the routine of tidying up afterwards has also really helped me accept this behaviour as I know that she has to be responsible for the mess she makes and not just leave it for me to clean.  So after Lucy had clearly finished with her buttons and had, as usual, dispersed them over a significant area of the room, I reminded her that we now needed to pick them up and pop them back in the jar. Her response was ‘you pick them up, Mummy’ to which I replied ‘I would like you to help me pick them up’.

For the next 6-7 minutes I tried all manner of peaceful coercion to attempt to have her pick them up with me. I suggested a particular colour she might like to pick up, I made a small area for her to focus on wondering if the task seemed too big (which I think it did in hindsight) and I let her know that I would not let her play with her other toys until the buttons were picked up.

All the while, as her defiance built, I could feel my patience waning. I felt I should probably just let it go and spend 2 minutes doing it myself but it was like I was too far into it and didn’t want to back down from my stance. Finally, I managed to get her to come back to the buttons and she dropped a handful in the jar which she promptly tipped out again. I kept calmly reminding her that all the buttons needed to go back in the jar etc etc and then, as I watched her use her frantic hands once more to further fling the buttons across the room, all the while giving me a very cheeky smirk, I snapped!

I was sitting about 30cm from her and shouted ‘I will NOT let you throw the buttons across the room! Now pick them up and put them in the jar!. Now this was a voice that I had not used in a long time. It was loud, it was angry. I had reached my boiling point and I had gone from zero to a hundred on the calm meter in a matter of milliseconds.

Lucy immediately stopped what she was doing and in her crouched position in the middle of the buttons, head firmly pointed down to the floor she picked up one button and dropped it in the jar. She reached for another and did the same, followed by another. Then a little shattered voice came out whilst her eyes remained fixed down to the floor ‘That was too loud, Mummy!’. It’s making me teary even as I write this. The cry that came out after she uttered those words were as distressed as if I had hit her. In one moment of weakness I had shattered the trust that my little girl has in me to be her rock. I held her then for what seemed like an eternity, letting her cry and trying to stifle my own sobs. When she began to settle, I tried to explain why I had shouted, that I had been frustrated and a bit angry. I am not sure what she thought about this or if it was even the right thing to do but we both settled down.

I did think then that maybe after that she would pick the buttons up with me because she had been frightened by my reaction, but no. She wanted nothing to do with the buttons and so I ended up picking most of them up by myself. When there were only a few stray ones left, she wandered back over and exclaimed, here’s one Mummy and popped it in the jar. She did this until all the buttons were back in the jar and then pushed the lid on top. We put them away and Lucy then played by herself, still unsure about me and our relationship.

It’s astonishing to me that it took my two year old child to tell me in no uncertain terms that she doesn’t like it when I get ‘too loud’. I have been preaching this to myself for quite a while but hadn’t quite let go of the thought that maybe a tiny bit of hard discipline couldn’t hurt. I now know that it is better for my children for me to rise above my own moods and
I am learning to recognise the catalysts that lead to such a melt down. Usually it’s a mixture of the following:

1. One or more days of particularly testing behaviour

2. Two or three bad sleeps or broken sleeps

3. A dash of hormonal moodiness

When all these things align I realise that my fuse shortens. I am now trying to ensure that in these situations, I look after myself a little. I reduce the ‘messy play’ activities Lucy has access to and spend more time with the girls out of the house in parks and forests etc. It is important to me that I keep my daughters’ trust. I want them to be able to come to me when times are tough, not just now but in the future. By recognising my triggers, I hope to ensure that in my daughters’ eyes I can cope with everything they throw at me.

Too loud leaf play

22 thoughts on “The Day I Scared My Child

  1. Kate - An Everyday Story

    This resonated with me so deeply. I understand completely what you are saying and how you must have felt. I’ve learnt to recognise my triggers too; not enough sleep, hungry and deadlines. I also have accepted that an untidy home makes me feel stressed and overwhelmed. Just like you said, I need to take care of myself. When I have had a good night sleep and nice healthy food, I feel like I can manage most things, when I haven’t, well it seems even the smallest thing triggers my emotions. The only thing I can control though is me, how I look after and treat myself. This is what I am working through at the moment.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Exactly, Kate! I’m so pleased you said that as I often feel I am the only one who struggles with this. It is only a recent revelation to me (since reading Magda Gerber’s book) that I need to look after myself well in order to look after the kids well. It has taken me quite sometime to be able to articulate my triggers or even recognise that I needed to articulate my triggers. Now that I have a feel an amazing sense of empowerment that I hope will carry me through this difficult period we are having. Thank you as always for your valuable input! xx

  2. johnathanness

    Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this approach to parenting. I have friends whose parents did not punish their children and they grew up shoplifting, trying drugs, getting into sex before they were ready for it, and more. My mom wanted to be our friend, but she had no problem laying down the law for us. As a result, we actually respected her more and I think it bred a strong sense of right and wrong. Just my two cents.

    1. Danny

      Jonathan, you’re missing the point of all of this. She is not saying to not instill a sense of discipline in your children, but that she list control of her own emotions and shouted in anger.

      When you have some time, maybe look up ‘permissive parenting’ which is what I think you are getting at. Not setting boundaries or holding your kids accountable is bad as being too strict etc.

      1. johnathanness

        If that’s what she meant, I apologize for the misunderstanding. I just didn’t get a sense of real discipline until the blow-up, but rather cajoling and negotiating. I certainly agree with you on the last line.

        1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

          Hi Johnathan, I appreciate your view on this. I too believe that a parent should not be passive in their discipline. It is a very important role as a parent to set limits for our children so that they feel safe and secure and know that we are capable of guiding them confidently towards true independence. I just also believe that it is possible to do this without needed to yell in anger or frustration at our children. I know that if I were ever to be shouted at I certainly would not feel good about myself and would not respond well to that person. There are many things I will not let my children do on a daily basis and I verbalise this to them and then physically step in to restrain the behaviour if it continues. I try to do this calmly but firmly without excessive emotion. I respect my children and know that over time, through a combination of modelling acceptable behaviours and setting boundaries, my children will grow into respectful and confident adults. Thank you for taking time to comment.

  3. Laura

    Thank you for sharing this. These moments are crushing and important. It’s hard work to be the calm and peaceful parent our children deserve!

  4. Tml

    I can most relate to the fact it’s hard to back down once you’re already on the road… I sometimes feel like im too stubborn. Like I already decided something and that my son would listen to me. And when things don’t work out that way, it’s been hard for me to accept that. Even for sleep for example- my son would get sleepy, but then wake up out of nowhere. And for me it was like “we’ve been nursing/rocking for so long, now you will go to sleep!”. So, that’s kind of my trigger too, unnecessary power battle. I have been able to let go more lately though:)

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Yes, Tml, I agree. Sometimes I think I am as stubborn as my kids are. I feel like once I have stated an expectation I have to follow through with it to the nth degree. I know I need to bring a little flexibility and compromise into my life and not be so steadfast in my resolve all the time. There are times though where I do think it is important that we follow through with what we have asked so the kids know where they stand and don’t feel unsure about their limits etc. It’s all about picking the battles I think. Thank you for sharing
      Kate xx

  5. thenaylorpetts

    Tears are streaming as I read this, thank you for being so honest. Can you role play a bit as to what the ‘correct’ way to handle this situation would have been.

    1. Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

      Sorry it has taken me a little while to respond to your question. I have actually drafted a couple of responses to you but my ipad keeps freezing part way through so I am now on the big computer :). For me it has been a matter of letting go of some of my unrealistic expectations for my two year old. This doesn’t mean that I let her have her own way but it does mean I am not as stringent on having to pick up absolutely everything. Now, in the same situation, I would say something like ‘I can see you have finished with the buttons. Now we need to clean them up’ I would then find a way to give her some autonomy in this request. My Lucy doesn’t really like being told what to do but I find when I give her choices she is much more reasonable to work with. So I could either say ‘ would you like to pick them up now or in five minutes’ or make two small piles and ask her which one she would like to pick up etc. If it still got to the point where she refused to pick them up and her behaviour was similar to that in my post, I think I would say (calmly) ‘I won’t let you fling the buttons anymore as they need to be picked up’ and then physically remove her from that area. I would then pick up nearly all of the buttons but leave a couple there for her to pick up when she was feeling more cooperative. This way she gets the message that I am serious about requiring her to clean her mess and doesn’t learn that by creating havoc she can get out of a task. I know with Lucy that given time to process information and not pushed hard, she often is quite willing to help anyway. She is like most toddlers I think in that she likes to exercise her will but has an inherent desire to want to help. I hope this is helpful. I truly believe that I won’t have a similar experience (well not often anyway) if I remember to offer Lucy options and be more mindful of her immature age. Please let me know if I need to clarify any of this further. Thank you for your lovely response to my post.

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  8. Flora

    My little one does the ‘frantic hands’ thing too! I can’t help but laugh as he shows clearly: this activity is over now. 🙂

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