Are Your Children Embarrassing You?
“Jimmy is such an a__ hole!” 4-year-old Thomas shouted tearfully while his distracted mom was busily cleaning up after breakfast.
“What did you say?” his mom shrieked as she whipped her head around, knocking over her coffee.
“He is! He knocked over my tower.”
“What did you say?” she demanded.
“He knocked over my tower! He always messes up my stuff.”
“No, what did you say before that?” she demanded as she closed the space between them in an intimidating couple of steps.
Thomas looked at his mom apprehensively. She was obviously mad at him, but he couldn’t figure it out. Jimmy was the one who was mean to him!
One more time, Thomas’ mom demands to know what he said.
“He’s an a__ hole! He knocked over my tower,” Thomas replied as clearly as he could, because apparently she didn’t hear.
“Don’t you ever use that word again! That’s nasty! You’re a bad boy!”
“But you call Daddy that all the time!” he cried, running from the room to throw himself on his bed.
Does this story sound familiar? We often make similar judgments. He’s a jerk! God, can you believe she’s so fat? What an idiot! Can’t you do anything right? Whoa! How stupid can one person be?
Not only do we make snap judgments about others, but we voice our criticisms thoughtlessly and label people carelessly.
Our kids are sponges, especially young kids. They love us! They want to BE like us! They assume that whatever Mommy or Daddy says or does is right, so they imitate us.
But never does a message hit home so hard as when we hear our own precious, “innocent” kids talking the way we do, repeating the very same hurtful, thoughtless or prejudiced things we say ourselves to or about others.
If we, as parents and role models for our own children, are not mindful and careful about the things we say, then it’s no wonder our kids will also think that judging others, calling them names and labeling people in hurtful ways is normal and acceptable behavior.
Can we fault Thomas for being confused? His mother never acknowledged or addressed the hurt he felt about Jimmy’s behavior, but was quick to blame and punish Thomas for calling Jimmy an “a__hole” — the very same word he had heard her say when she was angry at her own husband. The injustice of Jimmy knocking down Thomas’ tower was never acknowledged or discussed.
Let’s Teach and Practice Understanding Instead
Parents: teach your kids to be curious. Teach them to try to understand why someone acts the way they do. Teach them that people are different, feel different, look different. Differences are normal; differences are OK.
This will free your children to be true to themselves, without fear of being shamed for being different or unique. You will give them the gift of freedom to express their true feelings, confident that they will be heard and understood.
Imagine if Thomas’ parents openly and clearly addressed their differences with respect and understanding, without blaming, shaming, or calling each other names. Then Thomas might be less likely to call his own brother an a__hole, and mom would not be embarrassed to see her own behavior mirrored by her son. Would it not be better for Thomas to feel heard, to receive an empathetic response and constructive guidance on how to resolve his grievance against his brother, instead of being condemned and invalidated?
If loving and respectful communication among family members was the norm in Thomas’ family, Jimmy might never have knocked over the tower in the first place.
Imagine a society where loving and respectful communication between mom and dad, and parents and children, was the norm.
Imagine a society where all children grew up feeling loved, feeling heard, and feeling respected.
Imagine a society where everyone learned and practiced effective ways to resolve grievances amicably instead of violently.
Maybe, just maybe, we’d see fewer mall shootings and fewer school shootings on the nightly news.
Just a thought.
As always, I encourage you to take a breath, step back and consider your feelings and actions, being the mindful, peaceful parent that you really want to be.
Marianne Clyde is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in anxiety, depression, relationship issues and eating disorders. Happily married with a combined family of 8 children and 10 grandchildren, her office is located at 20 Ashby Street in Warrenton, Virginia. For more information, visit: MarianneClyde.com or call 540-347-3797.