October 23, 2009

Shouting vs. Spanking

i heard you.jpg
Fake, fake, everything you do is fake, fake, fake...

From the NYT:

"I've worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking... As parents understand that it's not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don't work... they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again."

The article describes parents who (of course) wouldn't spank their kids, who thus end up yelling.

Psychologists and psychiatrists generally say yelling should be avoided. It's at best ineffective (the more you do it the more the child tunes it out) and at worse damaging to a child's sense of well-being and self-esteem.
This is absolutely TERRIBLE advice.


The problem is neither the yelling nor the spanking, the problem is when.  When these parents yell or spank, it isn't in response to intrinsically bad behavior, it is in response to behavior that burdens the parent.

Note what it is that causes them to yell:

She can emulate one of those pitch-perfect calm maternal tones to warn, "You're making bad choices" ... That is 90 percent of the time. Then there is the other 10 percent, when, she admits, "I have become totally frustrated and lost control of myself."

It can happen... at the end of a long day at home -- just as adult peace is within her grasp -- when the 7- or 9-year-old won't go to sleep.


"I'd like to think that most of the time we have a good interaction based on reason," Lena Merrill said of her 4-year-old daughter, whom she has never spanked. But then there are the times when "she's done something like poured milk on the floor or ripped a page out of a book," Ms. Merrill said. "I just lose it."
The yelling isn't just disproportionate to the behavior, it has nothing to do with the behavior.  She's angry about other things, but she's yelling about the milk

The kid has learned nothing about good and bad behavior.  In fact, they've learned that "bad behaviors" merit only calm discussion, while things that annoy Mom or Dad are met with wrath.

Watch your kid: are they more terrified of your reaction when they are caught in a lie, or when they accidentally knock over a glass?

The natural thing to do would be to yell about bad behavior ("did you push that boy on the playground?!?!") and be calmly annoyed when they spill milk.  But.


But that doesn't happen, because the parent isn't being honest.

I recognize it's done with good intentions, but pretending to be calm and reasonable "as much as possible" is neither honest to yourself, nor helpful to them: no one else on the planet is going to treat your kid that way.

Two-thirds of respondents named yelling -- not working or spanking or missing a school event -- as their biggest guilt inducer.

Read the article: the parents' reactions are all of guilt.  But it isn't guilt, exactly--

"Admitting I'm a mom that screams, shouts and loses it in front her kids feels like I'm revealing a dark family secret."
--it's shame.  Their yelling reveals them. Their carefully maintained identity (of sensible uber- parent) is revealed as a facade.  And the facade isn't in service of the kid

...as parents understand that it's not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do.
but in service of their identity of "good parent."  But they get exposed, turns out they aren't as rational as they thought-- they yell over spilled milk. 


Consider a mom and a kid in a toy store.  The kids starts whining about buying something. He gets loud.  The mom hisses through clenched teeth, "wait till I get you home."

I understand she's frustrated.  But why is she whispering it?  At home she would have yelled, why not just yell now?  She's willing to carry the anger by car to another location-- is the behavior that serious?

She's whispering because she's embarrassed, not at the kid's behavior but about what it says about her as a parent to onlookers.  And she's even more embarrassed by her reaction.  She can't let other people see her rage when it appears to other people that it is only about a kid wanting a toy.

But if she catches the kid stealing, then she'll let him have it, right there in public, because then there's no shame in her yelling-- it reflects well on her.

The yelling isn't the problem, the problem is that yelling is used for the wrong things.


The single problem of modern parents, mothers and fathers alike, is that they are trying to be something-- "good parents" (an identity construct) and not doing what is good for the kid only for the sake of the kid. (I look forward to your emails.) They may be doing good for the kid, but they are also trying to reflect themselves as good parents, they are also considering their shame.  That cannot work, ever.  The kid will sense this, and the lesson they will learn is that there is no absolute right and wrong, only pleasing the boss.

I'm not judging you, untoggle the caps lock, I am trying to help you understand where it all goes wrong.

If the parents had simply been real-- angry when something angers them, more angry when it is worse and less angry when it is not as bad--they'd feel better, and their kids would learn much better life lessons.  If they showed frustration when they were frustrated (and labeled it: "this is frustrating me!") and disappointment other times and rage for the big things-- instead of holding it in and then unloading-- they'd be much less stressed and the kid could learn to mirror a range of emotions, instead of acting out.  "He bites for no reason!"  There's a reason.

But I have asked a generation of parents raised by amazingly bad parents in 30+ years of a preposterously self-absorbed media environment to forget everything life taught them and be real.