Last week, Kristen Hewitt, a popular mommy blogger based in Florida, got called out online (and on Good Morning America) for publicly telling her kids to stop being annoying.
Responses to her comment including everything from agreement to people telling her she would regret the comment because “time goes so fast, you should cherish these times.”
The frustrated mother didn’t agree, saying again that her kids were being brutally annoying and that she wasn’t going to miss that aspect of parenting.
Unpacking The Hostility: Why the Judgement?
The current pressure to be a perfect parent is omnipresent. Parents are blamed for everything their children do, from being loud in public to being antisocial. But then when parents try and correct the behavior, they are castigated for that, too.
And the professional child-rearing experts have gone whole hog on this constant parental emphasis.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes the idea that parents should be constantly monitoring and teaching children, even when the science doesn’t give a clear answer about what’s best. It now recommends that babies sleep in parents’ rooms for a year. Children’s television — instead of giving parents the chance to cook dinner or have an adult conversation — is to be “co-viewed” for maximum learning,” reported the New York Times.
Of course, if good parenting now requires being with your children constantly, they probably are going to be annoying. Children, after all, are just little people. And some people, maybe even all people, have their annoying moments.
So how does a tired, privacy denied, sleep-deprived, and indeed annoyed parent deliver the message to their kids to just cut it out? That’s the tricky part.
How to Handle an Annoying Child: Getting Triggered
There’s site after site dedicated to how, with a few well placed verbal barbs, you can essentially ruin your child’s self-esteem. Apparently this will lead to less success and more anti-social behavior. The fact that the millennials, the group with the highest self-esteem ever, also happens to be the rudest (check out the driving and phone etiquette) and have the thinnest skins, seems to have escaped these sites’ notice.
There is a difference between pronouncing your child permanently annoying and simply telling them that they’re being annoying; one is an irreversible state of being and the other is a temporary spate of lousy behavior. And, if you, as the parent and the most unconditional person in your child’s life, cannot be honest about anti-social behavior, then who can be honest with your child?
The trick, says Greater Good, a UC Berkeley site, is to understand your child’s annoying habits aren’t personal.
“It takes psychological effort to go from anger to understanding, and to nurture the insight that what feels intentional isn’t always so. This is true whether or not one is receiving help from a professional,” says Greater Good.
The site goes on to point out that compassion, for both your child and yourself, leads to better parenting.
“It also demands developing more immunity to a parent’s perceptions and behaviors—a process that signifies growth, and makes us more resilient both in our family relationships and in confronting life’s challenges. Developing compassion for parents, intimate partners, and friends is useful, not only because it makes us more compassionate people, but because it allows us to see others’ frailties, to recognize sometimes bungled attempts to care for us, and eventually to love more fully and be more open to being loved by others.”
If You Do Blow Up, Make Amends
One of the hardest situations a parent faces is when your child acts out in public. Because of the accusatory mood, mothers, in particular, feel judged immediately and then lash out at the kids. This, of course, leads to more recriminations, both literal and imagined.
“I didn’t know that I had this monster inside me,” confesses Megan, mother of a 3-year-old daughter in Baltimore to the advice site Seleni. “I had these ideas of who I wanted to be as a mom: ‘I’ll be perfect. I’ll be in control.’ But there’s so much that goes out of control with a kid.”
One way to set a good example after losing it with your child is simple: apologize. Kids are flexible, says Dr. Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting.
“Apologize. Children are very forgiving when we acknowledge our mistakes and make an effort to do better,” Cohen explained to Seleni.
Letting your child know that you love them enough to correct their behavior, but are human enough to admit when you’re out of control is key. Kids crave stability, so try to maintain that even during those incredibly challenging moments.
“And don’t bother with the guilt,” recommends Philippa Gordon a pediatrician in Brooklyn, to Seleni. Or “you’ll spend your whole life feeling guilty. The important thing is to model regaining control. Let the kid know that things are back to normal.”