I was shopping at the local “big box” store in town recently. As I was walking out into the parking lot, I noticed a mother walking in front of me with a preschooler-aged little boy and a little girl of probably 8 or 9. The mother was yelling at the little girl to “Get back here… NOW!” The little girl seemed mad about something and she was walking a few feet ahead of the woman.
When the mother yelled (and quite loud I must say), the girl would immediately stop in her tracks, arms folded, face down and with a huge frown. As the mother caught up to the girl, she yelled at her with a phrase something like “If you walk ahead of me one more time, you’re gonna get it when we get home!” But as soon as the mother was almost within an arm’s reach to her, the little girl would quickly walk ahead.”
This went on for the entire walk out into the parking lot. With the constant threats and the woman’s growing anger, I feared the mother might hit her daughter (assuming she was her daughter). Customers passing us by, quickly looked the other way . She had a very big build and sounded and looked tired and angry. I was afraid she was going to have had enough with the girl.
I’ve witnessed this incident many times in the past and I think because I am a parent educator, I feel very sensitive to the situation. I can feel the mother’s pain of being tired, stressed and angry, and not in need of anyone adding to what she already feels. And I can feel for the little girl who may be acting this way because she is mad about something that occurred between her and her mother earlier. It seems like a no-win situation that could quickly get out of hand if the mother is not able to control her anger.
My friend and pediatrician Susan Markel, MD asks parents to avoid losing control at all costs. Chapter 8 in her book What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child (BenBella Books;2010) is titled Treat Me Like I’m Someone You Love. In it she warns parents that taking your anger or frustration out on your child is likely to lead them to feeling like there is something wrong with them.
If you ever find yourself in this situation with your children, remain calm, stop talking and give up the urge to control the outcome. Take several deep breaths and get yourself and your children home quickly. Take a break as soon as you can and know that you are human and need breaks from the kids now and again. I love that Dr. Markel also says “Behavior is not taught to children by talking about it. Rather, correct behavior is demonstrated, observed and experienced… children learn to be nice by having someone be nice to them.”
Bill Corbett is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, LOVE, LIMITS, & LESSONS: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show CREATING COOPERATIVE KIDS. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse and the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and holds several degrees in clinical psychology. Bill's practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three. You can learn more about his work at http://www.CooperativeKids.com and http://www.BillCorbett.com.