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Yelling at your child happens—what you do *after* is what counts, mama

If we don't do anything about the guilt it can eat away at us.

after-you-yell

Most parents out there have lost their cool in front of their child at least once. It happens. And it's not too hard to find people or resources out there providing reassuring statements like, "It's okay, it happens to everyone," or "Don't worry, everyone makes mistakes," or some other variation of that.

I agree with those statements completely and have even found myself offering those words of support to friends at times. But most of the time, when we are the ones who messed up, those statements don't really take away the guilt we feel, do they?

I'm sure there are entire books out there about parent guilt because it's plentiful and comes in many forms. But the guilt I'm talking about today is a little different than the guilt we feel when we are too busy cooking dinner to play, or the guilt we feel when we have to leave a child with a caregiver in order to go to work, or the guilt we feel when our child is crying and we can't figure out what's wrong.

In those situations I just mentioned, guilt comes underserved. We haven't done anything wrong, but we still feel bad. That guilt is more like a version of heartbreak. Because we are limited as human beings and cannot give more of ourselves than what we have.

But the guilt that we feel when we lose our cool is different. That guilt is worthy of the name—we did do something wrong, and we feel bad about it. That guilt is indicative of our own morality. It's a sign that we can acknowledge our mistakes and our poor decisions.

It's a good, healthy thing to be able to feel guilt when it's warranted. But it certainly doesn't feel good. In fact, if we don't do anything about that guilt it can eat away at us.

So what can we do after we've lost our cool with our child? It takes three steps:

Step 1: Calm down

If you're still in the hot zone, you're not going to be able to use the part of your brain that helps you make thoughtful, rational decisions. So you've got to get yourself out of that hot zone. This can be one of the biggest challenges as a parent, especially if you're a single parent or a stay-at-home parent or someone who doesn't have a partner that can take over so you can take a break.

Sometimes you might need to find ways to take a mental break even when you can't take a physical break. This is where you're going to need some creativity, and it will all depend on the age of your children.

It might be packing the kids up into the stroller and going for a walk outside. Maybe you keep special activities aside for moments like these when you need to entertain the kids and catch a breath. Perhaps this is a moment you become a little more lax with your TV restrictions. If your kids are old enough, you can even tell them you need to take a break to calm down and go in another room for a bit.

However you do it, finding a way to calm down is necessary to move on.

Step 2: Allow your child to calm down

In the same way that you're not able to be thoughtful or rational when you're upset, neither can your child. If your child is still in that feeling, you will also need to help them find a way to calm down. (After you calm yourself down first!). They will be unable to have a corrective experience otherwise.

Helping your child to calm down will look different depending on their age:

  • The littlest ones might need to be held, rocked or played with.
  • Toddlers and preschool-aged children might need help to label their feelings, or to cry, or to direct their anger in an appropriate way (ex: your brother isn't for hitting, but you can hit this pillow).
  • School-aged kids may still need help to label their feelings and could also find drawing their feelings helpful. Physical exercise and alone time might be beneficial for these kids too.
  • Teenagers are most likely to need time away from you to calm down. Music, art, poetry and writing are all effective mechanisms for releasing emotions to calm down. And physical activity can help release the physiological energy that builds up when angry.

Step 3: Repair

This is where the good stuff happens. Repair is all about taking the bad feelings that have just happened and releasing them through forgiveness and love. When we don't repair after conflict occurs, kids and parents are left with those negative feelings stuffed inside. Over time, those negative feelings accumulate and eventually explode.

In addition to a feelings explosion, parent-child conflict has a long-term impact on children's internalization of the process of conflict. As with most things, kids learn about the conflict through their parents.

They learn about the "rules" of conflict

  • Is it okay to yell?
  • Is it okay to name call?
  • Is it okay to throw things?
  • Is it okay to give the silent treatment?

They learn about themselves

  • Am I bad? Or did I just do something wrong?
  • Am I a burden? Or does my value outweigh my challenges?
  • Am I still loved even when I make a mistake?

And they learn about the ability to work through conflict

  • Do relationships end after conflict occurs?
  • Is forgiveness possible?
  • Can you be mad at someone and still love them?

As you can see, the way children experience conflict with their parents sets the stage for a lot of significant beliefs and expectations later on. So being able to effectively repair the break in the relationship after conflict occurs is incredibly important!

How to repair your relationship after conflict:

1. Determine that both you and your child are calm

Make sure you've completed steps one and two above. You both need to be able to reconnect with the rational part of your brain that can think things through and have a dialogue.

2. Approach your child and invite them to talk

This doesn't have to be a formal invitation necessarily, but by thinking of this as an invitation, it reminds you that your child has the ability to decline.

Perhaps you misjudged, and they are still angry and not ready to move on to the repair stage yet. Or maybe they are busy doing something else, and this isn't a good time. This step is all about demonstrating respect for your child.

3. Offer affection

You can adapt the level of affection to what you're comfortable with and what you are accustomed to using with your child. But affection is powerful. It has the ability to melt away negative feelings instantaneously when offered genuinely. And can set up your conversation out of a place of love instead of anger or guilt.

4. Apologize

This step is important! Some parents think apologizing undermines their authority, but remember what I said above about parent-child conflict shaping your child's experience with conflict going forward?

Do you want your child to demonstrate accountability for their actions? Do you want them to communicate this accountability to others? Do you want them to apologize to you for their misbehaviors?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you need to start by demonstrating the behavior you want your child to learn. And that means apologizing to your child when you make a mistake. Being able to apologize for your mistakes is indeed a sign of strength, and you want your child to gain that strength.

5. Encourage your child to express their feelings

In order to fully move past this issue, you'll need to allow your child the opportunity to express how they felt when you did whatever you did. This will help him to release any remaining negative emotions stuffed inside and ensure that this isn't something that's going to come boiling over later down the line. So take a deep breath and listen.

6. Validate your child's emotion

Whatever emotion your child brings up, find a way to communicate that their feeling is understandable. It doesn't matter if you wouldn't have felt the same way your child felt. All that matters is that your actions made your child have some negative feelings, and now it's your job to help them feel okay about those emotions.

If you do these steps, you and your child will both walk away feeling lighter and more relaxed. If either of you doesn't feel that way, something may have been off. Were you both calm when the conversation happened? Was your apology genuine? Did your child express the feelings he had inside? You can always go back and try the repair again.

If you're new to the process of repair in relationships, this experience may seem uncomfortable initially. However, remember that the price of positive change is just a little bit of discomfort. And the benefits are absolutely worth it.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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