Kids Should Not Be Punished For Simply Being Human

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
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Part of my daily routine after I get the kids off to school is to shut my daughter’s bedroom door. Every time I look in there, it makes me stabby. There are clothes strewn all over the floor, and messy papers littering her desk. Every time I go to shut her door, I sigh to myself and think, “What is her problem? How hard is it to put the clothes in the hamper?” It never fails to put me in a foul mood.

Then I turn the corner, enter my own room, and instantly realize my double standard. My pajamas are strewn on my own floor, and I remember how awful my room was growing up. It often looked like a clothing store had exploded in my room.

I’m a broken perfectionist. Sometimes, I’d like to say I’m a recovering perfectionist, but the truth is, that part of me is still there — always anxious to rear its ugly head. I fight all the time to punch that perfectionist version of me in the throat and ignore her constant pestering. And sometimes, I see it spilling over into my parenting, and it makes me cringe.

Rebecca Eanes, author of The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting said, “So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones, or bad attitudes. Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves.”

Ummm. Guilty.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve woken up in just a plain old grumpy mood. My tone of voice sucks, I’m biting everyone’s heads off, and there is literally no excuse for it. Except, dammit, I’m allowed because I’m human, and I’m the mom. Right?

Well then, are we offering this same grace and humanity to our kids?

I’m trying. I really am. But it’s not easy to remind ourselves of that.

One thing I find with kids is that there is usually a root to the problem that is manifesting itself with a temper tantrum or a bad day. It’s my job to get to the root of that issue and figure it out. Maybe it’s a crappy night’s sleep, or maybe it’s someone being mean at school, or maybe, just maybe, they just woke up in a foul crusty mood for no reason whatsoever. After all, our kids are human too.

But sometimes we don’t take the time to remember that. We punish, raise our voices, and get annoyed, or if you’re anything like me, you withdraw from the kid that is being the toughest that day. The tween emotions in my house right now are killing me.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes look at my little kids and see so much neediness that I just can’t see that they are needy because they’re human. They aren’t out to make my life miserable; they’re out to discover their own lives and how to live them. They just need my help, love, and support to do that.

And frankly, I’m needy too. That’s what makes us human. In fact, if there were such a thing as the queen of neediness, I’d probably be wearing the crown.

I’ve tried to tell my kids lately that they are allowed to be mad or angry at me. They just aren’t allowed to lash out in a hurtful way. They are allowed to go to their room, cool down, scream or yell into a pillow, and then talk about whatever is bothering them when they have some perspective. I also try to follow this advice, so I can model the behaviors I would like to see in them.

I’m trying to learn the difference between punishing them for behavior that is human and punishing them for behavior that is just crappy and inappropriate.

It can be downright exhausting, though, to distinguish between the two because coexisting in a family comes with a lot of extreme emotions.

Add to that the threenager with her foot-stomping, and the tween with raging eyerolls and sighing, or a surly teenager who hates the world for no reason at all, and a mom can be left questioning her very will to live.

So it’s important to remind ourselves that these tiny humans we’re raising are tiny humans. They need some grace and compassion for their big emotions, and punishing them for feeling upset or angry isn’t always the best answer.

So, here are some things I do to keep myself in check:

–Ask myself if there is something more going on with my kid.

–Ask my kids if there is something that is bothering them. –Ask myself how I would feel if I was being reprimanded the same way. –Ask myself if I’m guilty of the same behavior. Or in other words, would I be punished for my behavior if I were the kid?

One afternoon, my daughter was crying and angry at everybody after school. I found myself growing more and more frustrated by the second with her bad attitude. I was happy before she came home. Why couldn’t she just stop ruining my day? is honestly what I was thinking.

I wanted to banish her to her bedroom for the rest of eternity so I wouldn’t have to deal with her roller coaster emotions. But something whispered to my heart that I just needed to hang out with her for a few minutes — to connect.

I stopped what I was doing, and we sat down on the couch. She didn’t say much, but I could tell by the way her breathing slowed, and the calm look in her eyes as she looked out the window, that what she needed from me was me — my presence, my undivided attention.

And that’s the big takeaway here: There isn’t a cure-all or a one-size-fits-all model, but we can make it a point to remember that that our kids human. And so are you. You aren’t perfect, so why expect them to be? If we can all let go of those expectations, I imagine our families will be a lot happier.

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