My friend seems to be severely disciplining her 18-month-old. She yells at him when he does typical baby things like grabbing everything in sight or pulling other kids’ hair. She also uses terrible and negative language in front of him, like calling the little thing “stupid” or “senseless”. Should I say something or do some parents just do things differently? We are close, but parenting can be so individual.
Well, this isn’t a question of “doing things differently”, as you so diplomatically put it! There seems to be a problem here. It could be one of several things or a combination of some. As her friend, you could try to figure out what is at work, and then offer support or advice or suggestions. It’s best to tackle this kind of thing—any criticism of someone’s parenting—by weaving in a suggestion about how to do things differently. This way, the parent doesn’t get on the defensive.
As a friend, you could observe and intervene kindly, but quickly—because, however much one may understand where the yelling is coming from, you have to work at getting her to stop; it must be damaging the child every time, for sure. And something like this can only escalate.
Here’s what could be happening: Almost every mother at some time or the other is distraught and may resort to yelling. But usually she is sufficiently shocked by her own behaviour and finds other ways of coping. This begins by her recognition of the fact that she is tired and strung-out or in desperate need of some non-child-related interaction with other adults. She will then get a friend, relative, or her spouse to take over for a while and give her some time away from the infant/baby.
If you think this is what’s happening, you could gently put it to her that she is stressed out and needs to work in some breaks and time for herself with the help of her spouse or others (or you, if you’ve got the time). So, you introduce her to the idea that her yelling and angry words are not appropriate and, at the same time, offer a solution.
The other thing that could be at work is her own anger issues—in which case, too, she needs to tackle this. Observe if this is part of her general behaviour—being angry and dismissive and hypercritical of herself and her world. Now this is a difficult one to put to anyone at a friendly level. But if this is what is happening, you could say it out when you have a chat.
The third thing that you need to figure out is whether the child is hyperactive. Check with the father or any other adult who interacts with the child, to see if he is really difficult to cope with. There, too, you can suggest she go see a good paediatrician.
The bottom line, of course, is that no one should yell at a powerless child. You have to help this mother stop.
There is so much violence all around us. How do we protect our kids from it? When I see and hear bashing and screaming sounds from the TV, I insist my kids turn it off. However, I notice that the kids become withdrawn and nervous when my husband and I raise our voices. How do we shield them from this?
You are right—when parents talk about violence around us, they are usually talking about the violence that comes through to us from the news, from films and television programmes, and from electronic combat games.
This is overt violence. However, there is a hidden, and more subtle, violence generated right within the family. And this has a much more immediate and lasting influence on our kids than anything that they watch on TV. However young they may be, however engrossed they may seem in play, even when they are not in the same room, children pick up on covert interpersonal violence.
Adults in a family do commit and communicate a lot of violence. This may not be actual physical violence or out-in-the-open shouting and fighting. It may be something as simple as banging a door, muttering under your breath, sneering and mocking at other people… All of it adds up in your child’s psyche.
Sometimes, even silence is violent: For instance, when one adult in the family withdraws from another in cold, white rage. How often people remember such things from their childhood and say: “It was the most frightening part of my growing-up years.” We may think that as long as children don’t actually see or hear anything, they don’t know how violently angry you are with your self/spouse/in-laws/boss/life. But children absorb with all their senses, and with many “micro senses”, too.
When a child overhears you talking bitterly about another family member, when you make disparaging remarks about some community…it all generates violent images and deep fears in your child. And because they do not know how to process this, it comes out in surprisingly violent forms of social behaviour.
Of course, minor arguments, small irritations, even serious family discussions on possibly unpleasant topics do not necessarily send out violent messages. Household disagreements, problems, discussions, crises—they are all part of the dynamics of family life. It is how much “heat” we as adults bring to the situation that brings in the element of covert violence. The tricky part is that this kind of violence is rarely out there for all to see. In some families, you may never hear a raised voice and, yet, there could be serious violence being perpetrated there. You can be sure that children from such families pick up on the unsaid accusations, silent resentments, wordless judging and condemning attitudes.
How does one tackle this? There is no clever couching and disguising such violence. It simply has to be addressed by us: If we give it some thought, and watch how we choose to interact, address or resolve issues in our day-to-day lives, we can clearly detect and diagnose all our own hidden anger and violence. It is imperative that we work on and through such anger, so that we do not make this “loaded gun” available to our children.
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