Your child does something wrong one day, doesn’t matter what, maybe she broke a dish by accident, perhaps he pushed the baby, maybe she spilled her juice all over the carpet, and suddenly you find yourself reacting very strongly to what they did. Perhaps you start to yell, scream, threaten to hit, maybe you even hurt them. What happened? What caused your over-reaction? It could be a number of circumstances that induced your strong reaction. Check in with yourself: are you over-tired, hungry, had a bad day, PMS-ing, mad at your spouse? Or perhaps it’s something else. Did you grow up in a dysfunctional, abusive home? Were your mistakes treated as the work of an evil child instead of a natural developmental process? Are you re-living how you were treated as a child?
If we were hurt or abused as children, we have limited skills in parenting. We have been taught to react with anger or violence to simple childhood mistakes. You cannot teach what you do not know.
If you are the survivor of sexual abuse, you may react very strongly to some very innocent acts. When you see your daughter sit on her father’s lap, you may feel fear, anger or even nausea, especially as your daughter approaches the age that you were when your molest began.
All of these feelings are normal for a survivor of abuse. No one wants to hurt their child. As a survivor, you more than anyone knows what it feels like to be hurt. You want to create healthy, new patterns for your children. But it takes more than just wanting; you need to take some action.
Before you react, wait! Take a deep breath, count to ten. Think of a different reaction. Then talk with your child. Talk with them with respect and love. Talk with them the way that you wish someone had spoken to you as a child. Remember that you love this little being more than life itself. Remember what it felt like for you to be hurt. Promise your self that you will create an environment of love not fear.
To stop violence in your home, do not use violence at all. Not even when disciplining. It is too easy, especially as a survivor, to slip over the edge and to abuse your child rather than discipline them. Rather than spanking your child use time-outs or, with an older child, take away something or give restrictions. If you are consistent, and use these techniques appropriately, they will work. Remember with time-outs, do not start much before age two and give one minute for each year (i.e.: a three year old gets 3 minutes).
One of the most powerful gifts that we can give our children is to apologize to them when we have made a mistake. We are teaching them so much. First, we are doing excellent modeling for when they have erred on how to handle it appropriately. Second, we are telling them that they are worthwhile beings, that they are valuable enough for Mom or Dad to stop their day, get down eye to eye with them, and say “I’m sorry. I blew it. I won’t do that again.”
If you have never seen healthy parenting, take a parenting class. You can find them listed in Parenting magazine, at YMCA’s or at your church or synagogue. Talk with friends who come from healthier backgrounds and get tips on better parenting. Join a mom’s group for support and education.
If you still have emotional wounds that have not healed from your childhood, take some steps towards healing. Start a journal, join a support group, talk with a competent therapist. These emotional wounds are the ones that can cause you to cause pain to your child. It is possible to heal. However, it does take work. It is almost as hard as being a parent. But the rewards for creating a healthy life are amazing. Your relationships, with your partner, children, friends, will improve. Your self-esteem will increase. And most importantly, the next time your children spill the juice, push their sibling, or break the dish, you can laugh, rather than cry, you can teach, rather than punish, and you can love rather than hurt.