Staying Mad At A Child - How Bad?

15/04/2009 16:45 | Updated 22 May 2015

Ever have one of those bad-parent moments where you instantly regret your actions or words? And then you spend the next few days wondering: Did I just damage my child? If the answer is yes, read on...

Recently I've been locking horns with my 4-year-old daughter. Last night, for example, she wouldn't go to bed. And wouldn't and wouldn't go to bed. Then she refused to go to bed. She tantrumed. She screamed. She said: "I hate you." (O.U.C.H.) And finally, finally, she hunkered down to sleep and even said she was "sowwy." Okay fine. Except...instead of accepting her apology and moving on, I stayed mad.

Even the next morning, when she wanted to draw a picture together, I wasn't ready. (I actually considered saying: "No, thanks, I'm still mad at you.") I realise how petty this sounds: she's four for goodness' sake. But my feelings are what they are. And I'm worried. Surely holding a grudge against a child is bad for her. That must be why I feel so guilty about it, right?To find out the answer to my question, I called up one of my Mummy Advisors (MA's) Rosanne Tobey. "How bad?" Tobey said, "Well, it depends...."

"How long did you hold the grudge?" Tobey asks. A few hours, I say. Maybe like, overnight. "Not so bad," Tobey says. "I don't think there's anything wrong with letting a child temporarily feel the impact of her actions. It sounds like you're demonstrating that bad behaviour begets bad behaviour." Okay, then, good. Not so bad.

But wait, there's more. Tobey says I might think about whether I'm being strict enough. "Are you responding with discipline when she acts out, or are you expecting her to set boundaries for herself?" Hmm... "Do you change the dynamic when you start to feel like you're fighting with her, or do you get in the trenches and go through it with her?"

Uh, the second one. And at first this realisation makes me feel like the worst parent ever, but then I realise how constructive Tobey's advice is. By taking ownership of the situation, I'm also taking control of it. My child is acting like the child she is, and I'm taking her behaviour totally personally. I'm fighting with her instead of parenting her.

She is acting like a typical preschooler, and apparently, so am I. Time to cut that out. Here's what Tobey suggests I do from now on:

1. Try to avoid "head to head" arguments by acting quickly to discipline bad behaviour instead of cajoling or negotiating.

2. Let my little Princess know how her actions are making me feel: "That was unkind how you spoke to me. Mummy is not in the mood to draw a picture right now."

3. Take a break from my child when I feel frustrated (Tobey says it's okay to say "Mummy needs a break," and give myself a time out).

Finally, Tobey says, "I would never advise being mean to a child because she's bad. Lovingly, temporarily detach from her instead. And if you carry a grudge for a long time, that's a signal something bigger is going on and you should seek advice to solve the problem before it changes the whole way you treat your child. A child who gets too much negative feedback can start to feel like she can never do anything right. And then there's no incentive to be good; why be good when Mummy is mad all the time anyway?" Talk about ouch.

Holding a Grudge: How Bad? "On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst? I'd put this at a 2," says Tobey. "Unless a grudge goes on for a long time (more than a day) or it happens often, then it's a problem."

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