Mean Voice? What Mean Voice? Are you as Oblivious as I was? How to Ensure Your Parenting Style Doesn’t Negatively Impact Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Recently I received an email (with this photo) from Eric, a dad in my parenting class.

Thank you for taking classes to be nice. I heart YOU

Thank you for taking classes to be nice. I heart YOU

There have been so many changes for the better that have come up over the last 8 weeks since we started taking your class.

The screaming and yelling in our house is now filled with laughter and smiles. Everyday I tell my wife how proud I am of the way she handled a specific situation and I compare it to how we would have handled it before attending your class.

We have a new story every day and find ourselves constantly turning things into games or putting our children in the same boat.

I never realized how firm my discipline style was and the potential negative results that can come of that parenting style.

The fact that my daughter has noticed a difference and that she’s happier to be around me is really a life-changing event for me.

Thank you again!

My heart jumped for joy when I got this for two reasons:

  1. This sort of transformation is WHY I do what I do(!!!);
  2. I know exactly how he feels.

I, too, had been unaware of how my style impacted my son until the day he brought it to my attention.

I thought I’d made a simple request that day, many years ago. My 7-year old, Sunny, came in from playing outside and I told him to go wash his hands.

After I’d said the words and he’d gone into the bathroom, I was aware of a shift in energy — it felt like something dark and heavy was now in the room.

When he came out, I could see hurt in his eyes, tears squeezing out of them as he said, “Why do you have to talk to me in that mean voice?”

My heart hit the floor.  This bright, cooperative, sunny child never complained.

I took a breath. The look on his face along with his words woke me to the harshness of my tone that while unconscious, was undoubtedly powerful. I’d been oblivious.

I can’t quite remember what happened next.

Likely I asked him a question or two, put my arm around him, said I was sorry and proceeded to feel like I was a horrible mother.

The truth is that my tone could have been caused by not knowing what to cook for dinner, exhaustion… an annoyance I felt about who knows what…. What matters is that at the time I was clear it wasn’t about him.

His hurt shone a spotlight on my lack of awareness. Like the brave dad in my class, I never realized how my style negatively impacted my son until that day when he directly told me.

This new awareness was a shock, but one I felt oddly grateful for. The fact that Sunny said to my face that my words hurt him was a mini victory — a sign that maybe I wasn’t such a bad mom after all.

My young son trusted me and and our relationship was strong enough that he could be vulnerable and tell me how he really felt.

Children are sensitive.

Alfred Adler, whose work lays the foundation for Positive Discipline said that children are tremendous perceivers, soaking in energy and feelings around them. He went on to explain that children make meaning of their perceptions and not always in ways that make sense to parents.

For example, children can make very different meaning from the same event (or siblings can perceive the same event in very different ways).

Here are some examples ….

Parent Action → Child perception and meaning making

  • Mommy’s voice is mean → Mommy doesn’t like me/I’m bad
  • Mommy’s voice is mean → This hurts and I’m going to tell her her voice is mean
  • Mom & Dad are fighting → I must have been really bad
  • Mom & Dad are fighting → They had a hard day, I’m going to leave the room
  • Mom & Dad are moving to Maine → I wonder where I will go?
  • We’re all moving to Maine → I’m excited
  • Baby sister cries and gets noticed → I need to cry to get noticed
  • Baby sister cries and gets noticed → I’m going to be a big helper

You may not be able to control how your child perceives reality (especially as it applies to you and your interactions with them), but you CAN influence it by consciously softening your tone, acting with care, and choosing more positive words.

For example, when my son came in that day, I could have said, “Sunny, let’s take a look at those paws of yours… they could use a good scrub before dinner” or even, “Sunny, I’m feeling kinda craby right now cause I’ve had a hard day — I just wanted to let you know.”

A helpful catchphrase to bring kind and firm to life is CONNECT BEFORE CORRECT!

I didn’t connect with him before sending him off and as a result my son woke me up to the power of my tone and energy.

I continue to be imperfect — at times unwittingly putting unwarranted anger on my kids — however, I do this far less than I used to.

The wake up call my son gave me is one of many I’ve received since becoming a parent. They all work together to move me in the direction I want to go as a human being:

  • Being more conscious of my energy and tone;
  • Connecting before I correct (kind and firm);
  • And when all else fails, separating myself from my kids when I know I’m on the edge.

Eric got this same wake up call by attending my Parenting with Positive Discipline series. Once he starting being kind AND firm he realized how his former style was having a negative impact on his relationship with his daughter. He’s been amazed that such simple changes like asking for a hug or making a problem into a game, can be so life altering.

CONSIDER⇔SHARE⇔ACT

In what circumstances have you been surprised by your child’s interpretation of your behavior?

Does being conscious of your impact help you? If so, how?

By sharing your experiences in the comments below, you add to this conversation and support many parents by showing them they’re not alone.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

2 Responses to Mean Voice? What Mean Voice? Are you as Oblivious as I was? How to Ensure Your Parenting Style Doesn’t Negatively Impact Your Child’s Self-Esteem

  1. Holly March 18, 2015 at 5:12 am #

    I have definitely noticed an impact in the way I deal with my partner’s daughter (who is 6). I am not her biological mother, but I love her a great deal, and try to be very conscious of how I’m responding to her, especially after reading your blog.

    One day I had a horrible day, and I was not very warm or friendly. I kind of just kept to myself, and didn’t engage like I usually do. It hit me the next day that that probably at best was confusing, and at worst, hurtful. When I got home after work, I pulled her aside and told her that I had had a bad day the day before, was grumpy, and that I was sorry. She confided that she thought I was mad at her because I was not smiling. This makes you pay more attention to your interactions and how they may be perceived from a child’s view.

    The other day, she was very upset over not being able to download a new game. I hugged her and told her I could see how sad she was. She was laying on the couch and then started kicking hard at the curtains. Before reading your blog I probably would have said “Hey! Don’t kick the curtains!” Now I looked at her calmly and said “Wow. You are so frustrated right now about that game you wish you could have. It’s okay to be frustrated. But sweetie, I’d feel better if you didn’t kick the curtains, because they might get ripped down.” She smiled, and stopped kicking the curtains, and was ready to do something else! It’s amazing how a little love and understanding can go a long way.

    • Lisa Fuller March 23, 2015 at 9:19 am #

      Holly,

      Thank you for sharing these two examples. What you’re describing is what all of us experience on a daily basis — and these seemingly small changes you’ve made, acknowledging your behavior the day before, make a tremendous difference to your step daughter.

      Children want to feel significance and belonging — they want to know that they are lovable.

      Thank you for sharing your powerful stories!!

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