What To Do When I'm Taking It Out On My Kids
This is a question I was recently asked and I know so many others can relate so I thought I would respond in a blog post.
Firstly, if you are taking things out on your kids I commend you for 1) Being self aware that this is what is currently happening and 2) For admitting and acknowledging it because you can only make positive changes when you call yourself out.
There’s so many reasons why we take our frustrations out on our kids.
One being that when we were younger we never learnt how to healthily regulate our thoughts, feelings, emotions so now as adults we don’t have any healthy self soothers. When we have grown up and no one has modelled to us how to regulate our feelings then we don’t quite know what to do when we are flooded with big emotions. Perhaps you spent a life time trying to stuff your feelings? Trying to run away from them? Trying to busy yourself to avoid your feelings? Or dare I say it - numb out with things such as alcohol, drugs or another addiction?
“If you don’t know how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. Don’t expect your children to be able to sit with theirs”
We get the message that our feelings are unwanted when we hear things like, “If you don’t stop crying I’ll give your something to cry about” or “Don’t you dare give me that attitude, snap out of it now”. Perhaps you have never learnt to sit with your feelings, let alone manage them in a healthy way so now when your children are in front of you having big outbursts of emotions this triggers you back to your own childhood and you’re defaulted to respond more like a child (that child in you that never had safe space held for your own emotions so of course you’re going to struggle with your own children).
Healthily regulating emotions is what I would umbrella under ‘self care’ and chances are if you’re taking things out on your children then your lacking in the self care department (and I’ll highlight here self care isn’t getting your hair or nails done).
“It’s truly impossible to consistently be emotionally generous to our children when we are dry sponges ourselves” - Respectful Mom by Kristin Mariella
Parenting can be tough but it can be even tougher when we have personal things going on such as the break down of a relationship, financial struggles or mental health problems. It’s our job as parents to keep ourselves emotionally healthy so we can show up as the parent we want to be for our children. So this leads me on to some action steps you can take:
1) What can you do to fill up your cup - each day we need to be evaluating what we need to do to help ourselves. This could be a solo cup of tea in the morning before the kids wake up to gather your thoughts and journal or it could be reading a couple of positive pages of a book at the end of the day. Perhaps you need more support?
I know for myself personally I benefit greatly from talking to a therapist fortnightly, or maybe you have great friends who you can turn to for support. What ever it is you really need to start taking a hard look at how you are taking care of yourself and what changes need to be made. What is also good to note is that what ever you are doing for self care, your child is going to model. So if you don’t want them numbing out feelings with alcohol or any other substances when they are older your going to have to start to look at healthier ways to regulate your feelings.
You may be thinking well I don’t have time for me when the reality is self care can be a family affair - you can do yoga with your children, switch off from social media and take the kids for a walk in nature or you can even read books to your children on managing emotions and talk about the changes you are going to make to be the parent you want to be.
2. Step in your child’s shoes - this is going to take some practice and it’s also going to require more awareness around the fact you may not have had anyone really display empathy to you growing up. I like to take parents through this powerful visualisation where they can be an outsider looking in on the parent/child dynamic and step into the child’s shoes to see how the child is viewing them. (It can be hard hitting but can also catapult you into making those changes you need to make).
When your taking things out on your children - how do they feel?
“When your child walks away from you stop and ask: “What did they just conclude? What did they just walk away saying to themselves?”
The more you can develop empathy for your children the more you can repair the interactions where you are taking things out on your kids which leads me to the next point.
3. Have Self Empathy
You’re going to be stuck in a vicious circle if you’re constantly consumed with thoughts such as “Why am I an awful mum” “I’m damaging my kids” “I just can’t be a good parent”. So we need to shift to a place of self empathy (it’s not easy to do which is why I cover this with my 1:1 clients). You need to take a look at your situation and display compassion and empathy to yourself.
“Ok I’m loosing my cool right now because I have A LOT going on. I feel unsupported, I haven’t had space to fill up my cup and I haven’t been sleeping well” (insert own here).
You are HUMAN and your children are seeing how real and raw we can be. This isn’t to say I condone the fact your taking things out on your kids but you ARE showing them that sometimes we struggle, sometimes we mess up and sometimes that’s ok.
Start speaking to yourself like you would a cherished friend and have some more empathy towards yourself.
So now this is where you take action. We all want to raise emotionally intelligent children who know how to self soothe and regulate their own emotions don’t we? And you know that starts with us showing emotional regulation.
This is where when you are flooded with big emotions you need to acknowledge those feelings (“Right now I’m feeling really stressed and I don’t like to take this out on my kids I’m going to try and calm down”)
Then find ways to calm down (perhaps grabbing a glass of water or maybe taking some deep breaths - which you can do in front of your children so they see how you are calming yourself down). If you have older children you can even talk them through it. “I’m feeling stressed right now because I didn’t sleep well and I’ve got lots of work on, it’s not your fault and I want to be a better parent so I’m going to step outside in the garden for a few minutes as being outside will help me destress”
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you”
When we are feeling disconnected from our children we need to reconnect with them. Children often internalise things and believe that things are ‘their fault’ and this can become a limiting belief that they carry through their lives. By reconnecting after an outburst this gives us an opportunity to talk through our feelings with our children and also allows them to feel they can safely open up to you. Maybe you lost it at them when they wouldn’t leave the park and upon reflection it was nothing to do with them and it was more to do with a childhood memory you had with your own parents - maybe they didn’t even let you go to the park so you have this internal dialogue where your children should be grateful you take them?
I don’t know but it’s worth noting that often when we take things out on our kids its LESS about them and ALL about you and the more you bring your awareness around this the more you will be able to see the patterns from your own childhood.
It’s so important that we offer safe space to reconnect back in with our children to let them know they are loved, valued, cherished, important. To let them know that mummy doesn’t always get it right and sometimes mummy messes up but that they also see they you are taking steps to be a better person for them.