5 Ways I have Stopped Bullying My Kids

I am still bullying my kids. It is not intentional, and I wish I did not, but when the days are long, and I am tired, I lose my patience and yell, threaten, shame or withhold affection. This happens with less severity and frequency than it used to, but it still happens.

Bullying My KidsHere are 5 ways I have learned to ensure that I am not bullying my kids:

1. I do not say “no” so that my kids will “learn how to hear no”. When I say no it is either because I do not have the money, time, or energy, or because I have not thought about the request being made.

I do not say no so that my kids learn how to handle dissapointment, or so that I can remain steadfast to a previously given answer. I try to say no genuinely and legitimately, rather than establishing myself as the only person with power in the relationship.

2. I do not punish my kids. I have stopped exerting authority over my children in the form of punishment. This does not mean that my children are not learning right from wrong, how to be respectful, or  are “running willy-nilly”. My husband and I model the behaviors we expect from our children and do not hold them accountable for things we cannot even do ourselves! When one of my children does something hurtful or disprespectful, it is brought to their attention and addressed.

Sometimes this is done in the moment, and other times it is done hours- or even days- later while we are connected and snuggling.  This allows some space between the emotion of the incident and our discussion of it. I have learned that this process can be extremely embarrassing for children, and that often times they genuinely did not know that what they were doing was wrong. During those moments of total embarrassment, I am grateful that my child has my loving arms around him for comfort.

3. I do not force my children to obey. I am learning to treat them like people- allowing them the same right to give input and have their preferences and opinions respected and heard. My choice does not “win” just because I am the mother.

4. I Change My Mind. If my child offers a reason for something that makes me see things differently, or expresses a desire for something greater than I initially understood, I change my mind. This is not back pedaling, inconsistent, or confusing. It shows my children that their mother is reasonable, and that their voices will be heard.  It removes the notion that I have more power and that my word is more important.

5. I do not threaten fear. “If you get out of bed one more time I am turning the lights off”, “if you don’t hold my hand a stranger will take you”, “if you don’t come right now, I am leaving the store without you”. These are all things we have either said ourselves or heard others use to threaten their children. If we put ourselves in our child’s position- helpless, terrified, tiny… we can start to imagine what awful things these are to say to them.

Generally, I have learned to treat my children like people. When we are experiencing tension and conflict, I try to pause and recognize if it is real, or if I am artificially creating it by pulling rank.

Once we recognize the behaviors we want to change, shifting them becomes a whole lot easier.

What have you changed to stop bullying your children?

36 Replies to “5 Ways I have Stopped Bullying My Kids”

  1. I feel like I do too much of the creating fear unintentionally. I say a lot if things like “if you stand n the chair you could fall” or “if you run off in the store you could get lost”. How can you avoid that type of thing? I want him to know what could happen as a result of his choices.
    I feel like just making the point to empathize and try to understand their feelings goes a long way towards not bullying. Its also hard to be mad when you see they were not trying to bug you, but just wanted to know what would happen if they ____.

    • Juliana, I really like that you use ‘could’ when you explain possible consequences. I don’t think that type of information instills fear, but rather empowers the child to make better decisions. We say something similar when we need our daughter to be aware of dangers (that knife is sharp and it will hurt if you cut yourself) because she can use that instead of vague ‘be careful’ statements she ignores anyway.

      I think the idea behind the fear comments is that Mom will abandon you or take away your things if you don’t modify your behavior to suit her, and that is not an ok message to send your child.

    • I try to remember to put it from my point of view, so rather than “if you stand on the chair you could fall” to put it on me “I am afraid you will fall” so that they understand that it is my fear, my problem.
      But in situations of real danger, I have a hard time not reacting first, thinking second (pulling away hand and running into road, whacking brother on head with heavy toy, putting sticks in a fire etc).

  2. Great post! “I have learned that this process can be extremely embarrassing for children, and that often times they genuinely did not know that what they were doing was wrong.” Such true words, so happy to find more parents going against the grain. My little’n is only one year now, but I’m preparing myself for the inevitable breaking of patterns that are ingrained in me from how I was raised. Will be tough, but so worth it!

  3. Delusional. I feel for you when they are teenagers, hopefully their school will teach them how to obey the law.

    • Think about your childhood. I know for me when I was punished I wanted to do the thing again just to shie I couldn’t be bullied. The non violent approach works so much better in my experience so far. This isn’t saying dont teach your kids, its just saying there is a much better way. I hope the author doesn’t bother to respond to you though, your response didn’t show enough respect for her to bother.

      • I love this site! I’m trying very hard to do all of this, but, this is near impossible with my 7 yr old twin son who has mild Autisum, he will easily laugh if someone is hurt, even though I explain to him he wouldn’t like the same done to him. What can I do with him? How can I help him if he has very little empathy? Thank you

    • GS,
      I think there are lots of great ways to bring up children and I’m sure that, if you have children and choose a different sort of family life to Jennifer and most of the readers of this blog, your way can be equally valid and result in equally happy, successful adults. Since I know nothing about you I just wanted to make that clear.

      But I also wanted to say that I was brought up in much the same way that Jennifer has described above. I was never punished by my parents (or by anyone else), never threatened, there was no sense that I had to obey my parents, nobody in our family had more power than anyone else. My parents pretty much practiced attachment parenting, although, in the late 70s they weren’t aware of that term. My sister and I are happy, successful, law-abiding adults. We are well-educated, kind, disciplined and good citizens. We are both quite exceptionally atuned to other people needs and have a strong sense of right and wrong. We have plenty of faults but we turned out pretty well. There are lots of good ways to approach having children and Jennifer’s way is one of them. I’m living proof that it has excellent results!

    • Hi GS,
      Had to respond about your comment on “fear when they are teenagers.” I am now 61 years old and my 3 children range from 29-39. I believed and practiced each of the behaviors that were listed in the article. I say practiced because I did not achieve perfection – in fact, I often fell short. But it was what I believed because I respected those three children as valued and worthy individuals. I couldn’t imagine treating them any less .But when that happened I would apologize. I’m saying all of this to say that they were wonderful teenagers. Basically, they were respectful, cooperative, responsible, self-reliant (age appropriately so), trustworthy, and fun to be with. (And yes, they would hang out with their dad and me.) Now they are raising their own children and I love watching them treat my grandchildren with respect and empathy. So please, don’t fear your children. Teens are not about rebellion but redefinition. Treat them the way you would want to be treated. Then enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

  4. This is so good! Thanks for listing such specifics like these. Because most of us haven’t grown up being treated like that, it’s hard to know when we’re bullying and when we’re not. Hopefully these become like second nature. 🙂

  5. Yes, love this post. Thanks for sharing these things with us. I’m a new mother of a 1 year old girl and you have been helpful to me in making sure I don’t raise her the way I was raised. Question though, you say you don’t punish, you don’t threaten, but what DO you do in a situation like that? IE: not wanting to leave the park, not wanting to go to bed… What can I do if I’m exhausted and its midnight and she just wants to jump on my bed and play? I’m at a loss. I end up forcing her to lay down and rub her head till she finally gives in and falls asleep. We are losing sleep for it. I don’t want to be mean about it but we have to do something? I have a friend who tosses her kid in his room and lets him cry himself to sleep. It’s heart breaking and I could never do something like that.

    • Kassi, we learned a lot from the No-Cry Sleep Solution books. Two biggest things are that it takes about an hour for children to wind down and fall asleep and that you have to do what works for you.

      We plan on an hour, so it’s not usually a struggle. If you don’t allow enough time, you start to feel stressed and it becomes a battle for the rest of that hour (or longer, because now your child is too keyed up to sleep). You might also try moving bedtime up an hour. There’s a natural period where they’re more ready for sleep, and if you miss the window, you then have chemicals the body produces to stay awake to deal with.

      We have a non-traditional sleep arrangement, but it works for us. When you are deciding when and where to sleep, don’t let other people’s expectations influence you. The important thing is that everyone gets enough sleep and you are happy with your choice.

      When my daughter was 1, she had a lot of ear infections and was teething, so she slept even less than before. She seemed to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer when I was in bed with her, so I just went to bed when she did. Several nights, I fell asleep before she did… And I think that’s actually part of what works – when its time to fall asleep, stop engaging your child. When I’m awake, the only response she gets is “it’s bedtime” until she falls asleep. I’m still there for her but I’m boring.

      Sleep deprivation is so hard. I hope you find what works for you.

      • Thank you for the advice. I’m hanging in there. We are also nontraditional with sleeping arrangements. I sometimes get hurt from negative outer influence, but I try to let it not get to me. I want a happy well adjusted kid so I’m doing whats best for us. At least she isn’t crying and stressed, I’ve got that right 🙂

        • HurricaneKassi it’s heartwarming that you don’t want to leave your daughter crying and stressed and upset.

          Maybe you could try lying down with your daughter and putting on a children’s audiobook on a low volume (loud enough for her to listen to it).

          You can fall asleep beside her even if it is before she falls asleep and she can listen to the soft (low volume) audio book story.

          I know many adults that fall asleep to audio books (and many to tv).

          You could try free audio stories from http://www.storynory.com/

          Or try “audible” like this story (Frog and the Toad) that’s 20 minutes long. She’ll probably be less resistant to lying down if she doesn’t feel like she’ll have to just be bored, awake, lying in silence.

          These lullaby projectors are also popular for babies and there are many different models and people who comment that it helps their babies fall asleep

          I don’t sell any of these products but like I mentioned I know many adults who cannot fall asleep by just lying down in quiet and staring at the dark ceiling bored, so maybe there are kids that feel the same way.

          Good luck 🙂

          • Thanks for that 🙂 I’ll give it a go. I’ve been letting her play with her ABC’s flashcards quietly the last few nights until she’s ready to snuggle, then I softly put her to bed if she is willing to go and rub her forehead with her security blanket for a few minutes and she’s been going right to sleep. It getting easier now that bed time isn’t an argument.

  6. It just sounds like old Catherine Dolto’s “The child is a person” motto . Believe me it hasn’t done good here (France) . We are raising children ( I have three) and trying to guide them . I don’t think they know better than us from the start which is almost what you’re implying . When they’re scared animals go under the bed because they need limits . Kids need limits too. They test those limits to see how far they can go . Acting as everything they do is legitimate is an error IMHO .

      • Hi Alexis,

        Thanks for taking the time to comment. Can you explain a little further what you mean? Maybe provide an example? Could you also give us a little bit about your background so we can understand the context? It’s so difficult over the internet to know!

        • Besides being a mom to three (best job I ever had) and grandma to 4 (close tie for best job) I have been a trainer/consultant for the family based education program Nurturing Program for Parents and Children for the past 25 or so years. I teach, write, and do workshops on parenting as well. I currently teach parenting for a mental health agency, too. I happened onto this blog by reading an article to a facebook posting. The remarks in the blog sparked the teacher in me and I chose to respond. 🙂

  7. I do think its right to respect your children as people, taking their feelings and perspectives into account when making decisions, especially about them. I like your point about not saying “no” so that they will learn how to hear “no”. I also believe that parents are given power over their children, to protect them, guide them, teach them, love them. None of us are even in charge of ourselves. We like to think it, but we are not. Mamas and Dadas must obey other people and institutions, so I think it is healthy for kids to learn to obey their parents, who have their best interest at heart. I think discipline is part of this, and it isn’t necessarily the same as punishment, but it is finding ways to help them experience and connect the consequences of the actions and choices.

  8. It cannot be stressed enough that the presence of respect and empathy is not the absence of limits and teaching. The challenge for most parents is to find a way to guide, direct and teach a child whose behavior is dysregulated without resorting to yelling, threatening, bribing, or hitting. It takes a parent with will and intention to set limits with dignity.

    • Hi Gayle,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience and observations with us. Given that you are on the other side of this parenting thing, I’d like to ask you to comment on something that I observe (given that I am at the very beginning of unschooling!).

      It seems to me that limits and boundaries are set in my house without much fanfare. For example, if we have someplace that we absolutely must be (rare, but it happens) and my son wants to continue an activity at home, the limit and boundary is set in the moment. While I try to remember to let him know ahead of time how our day needs to go, I am not setting a limit ahead of time so that he “gets used to limits”. If Owen really wants to continue his activity, I try to think of a way that he can while we are in the car. If this does not work, and he will not have time to finish, the activity must stop. I don’t even know if this is a good example, it happens so rarely.

      Boundaries and limits are mostly talked about in our culture as a way to control kids, and I really struggle with the words because of this. I don’t know if I “set limits” for my kids, or if they more just come up naturally as a part of life. We do not have limitless money, for example. Or sometimes I am sick and plans change.

      I guess I am wondering if you could speak to this a little bit. I spend a lot of time trying to understand it.

      Thanks so much for your time.

      • Hi Jennifer, I am touched (as well as honored) to receive your reply and to seek more clarification. I will do my best to provide it. First, when I speak of boundaries and limits I am not thinking in terms of “controlling or manipulating” a child’s behavior as much as I am think of how he/she needs to learn that they are part of a society (macro or micro as it may be for the setting) and that in order to learn how to live within a group they need to learn how to 1) regulate their self, 2) be aware of and respect the feelings and rights of others. So as their mom (aka first teacher) it’s up to me to begin that lesson. When I set a boundary or limit I’m saying to them “this is what I am or am not willing to do” as well as other times “this is what you are able or not able to do.” Example: If I am holding my toddler and she bites me on the shoulder, I can say to her “Teeth are for chewing food. Please do not bite me.” If she continues I can say “I don’t like to be bitten. It hurts. If you bite me I can’t hold you right now.” The boundary is more about what I will do rather than what she will do. The key is to respectfully follow through. If she bites me again, I put her down. She cries. I acknowledge her sadness but say again that I don’t like being hurt. After a short amount of time I give her another chance, pick her back up and say “let’s try again.” I might encourage her to give kisses (aka redirect to a good choice). Or I might give her something she can bite on like a toy. The point is, I set the boundary and respectfully followed through. Setting boundaries and limits are necessary when living in community because it builds empathy. Empathy is the cornerstone of all human relationships.

        In your example with Owen when you must set a limit in the moment (and this happens in life all the time) it sounds to me like you’re doing just fine. As a parent, I don’t think we need to take each of our choices out of context and examine whether or not it was positive or negative. (Having said that I am all for parenting with intention.) My point of this distinction is to say we can look at the big picture. If you strive to treat your son with respect and dignity you both will be just fine. If you have to change course in mid stream in an activity and he cries – you can acknowledge his disappointment/sadness/frustration. Offer an alternative when possible. And then do what you have to do. He learns what flexibility is all about and learn to adapt – go with the flow.

        I hope this explanation is a confidence builder and answer some of your questions. Owen is lucky to have a mommy who is also a seeker!

        • Thank you GH 🙂

          The perfect answer to the question I have been searching for months.. I have saved your comment, so I can always refer back to it.

  9. Very interesting article – thank you for posting. I do have a couple of questions that I was hoping you could clarify:

    1). If you always must have a legitimate reason to say “no” to a child, does that mean you must always justifiy and explain it to them? I struggle with this notion, because I don’t want them to be surprised later in life when their teacher or boss just says no and does not feel like explaining anything to them or justifying their decision. Will they challenge their superiors every time?

    2). You also do not force them to obey or punish them.. are there any consequences to disobeying? There are rules we all must obey or there are consequences to disobeying those rules. They range anywhere from traffic tickets to getting expelled from school to getting fired from work, to going to jail. Can you please clarify how you communicate to your children the consequences of not obeying the rules?

    (As a side note, I’d like to point out that I expect my subordinates at work to “obey” me for lack of a better word. That does not mean that I treat them with disrespect or I do not treat them like people. It means that I expect them to follow my instructions and to meet my expectations. Although I always encourage questions and learning in the workplace, I make many quick decisions on a daily basis based on my experience and my professional judgment and I would not expect to be challenged every step of the way by someone fresh out of college).

    3). “When one of my children does something hurtful or disprespectful, it is brought to their attention and addressed.” Could you clarify how you do that? Also, will that not set an expectation that when they will say something hurtful or disrespectful to their friends or others that behavior will also be addressed while snuggling? How do they learn that disrespectful behavior has immediate consequences that can result in a fight or worse, a termination of a relationship?

    Thank you very much in advance!

    • These are all the questions I was wondering! Very interesting notion that has the potential to be great, but not without some clarification.

  10. This is so hard to do when you have been doing things a certain way for years. While reading this, almost every line got me. Some of them I was like “yeah, I don’t do that.” then others made me think “wow, I really see how me saying this causes my daughter to react in a certain way. Or bully her brother.” then others I genuinely thought “hmm I’ll have to think about that one more.”
    Your quote “My choice does not “win” just because I am the mother.” really makes me think. We are told that we must be the authority. We must guide our children because they do not know what is right yet and do not need to be responsible for making such decisions yet. While I don’t believe that is totally true, I do see that sometimes my child will tell me that she is the boss, that she doesn’t have to listen to me, and sometimes she just doesn’t. I feel helpless sometimes like I have “created a monster”. Like she doesn’t respect me because I encourage her to make decisions for her self and she thinks she has the power. If I am trying not to gain power over her why does it feel like she is of me. I have learned to be much more assertive since becoming her mommy, but I feel like the less assertive I am the more domineering she becomes. She bullies her brother often, blocking his path while he is crawling, roaring at him when he crawls into her room, hugs him tightly then does not let him go. I know I have bullied her at times. Yelling, time out. Why does she act like a bully to her brother, friends that come over to play (blocking their path and declaring that they can’t leave), and me? Is it because I am naturally submissive and she is more aggressive? She is 4 and a very petite person, if you asked her though she would say she is as big as the moon. Is her bigger than life demeanor, and self assessment a good thing? Sometimes I don’t know. I am not sure if this will serve her well or create so much tension that she feels she has to change as an adult. Any thoughts on my late night ramblings would be appreciated. If you can make any sense of it. 🙂

  11. I would be interested to learn more about where / how you learnt and refined your beliefs and techniques.
    Have there been any long term studies on the success of the practices that you suggest implementing… (eg studies from birth to age say 25 years)
    I would be interested in learning more about it.

  12. Please, please do whatever it takes to stop bullying your kids. I didn’t read all the comments, but this can’t be said enough: Bullying is largely LEARNED behavior. If your kids don’t become bullies in school, they WILL become bullies to their spouses and/or their own kids…and Heaven forbid…possibly bullies to YOU in your older age. Every time you’re ready to “shame” your child…stop dead in your tracks, drop down and do 20 burpees…then reassess the situation!

  13. I would like to start by saying I agree with the list and parent in much the same style, however, sometimes our (parents) limits are reached! I have become incredibly proficient at remaining calm and not losing my patience, something I never believed was humanly possible for me!! Sometimes my limits are reached. Stressors are piled up and then there’s a tantrum about getting ready just as we’re trying to get out the door and I’m late for work. This morning I lost it. I yelled. I bullied. I later beat myself up. After the incident, while we were sitting in the car and my daughter (4) was crying and scared because I was yelling “why can’t you just get ready in the morning so we aren’t late??!!”, I stopped, I looked at her and said, “do over. Let’s have a do over.”. I told her I lost my patience and I was sorry I yelled. I told her that sometimes people lose their patience and it’s okay to lose your patience but it’s not okay to make someone sad when you do.
    3 Things:
    1. I still hate myself right now for treating my daughter the way I did this morning.
    2. I still hate myself for not knowing how to parent appropriately and hurting my daughter in the process.
    3. I think it’s okay that she understands that I have weaknesses and have trouble with things sometimes and that she knows I make mistakes. She is also learning that although it’s okay to lose your patience, it isn’t okay to hurt people in the process.

    Our children learn most of what they learn by watching us and modeling our behaviour. As I work through struggles I encounter and makes mistakes and then recognize those mistakes and try to learn from them, I have created an opportunity for my daughter to learn as well.

    P.S. Anyone have any ideas on how to get a preschooler to get ready in the morning when they don’t want to?…and she doesn’t always fall for the “turn into a game” trick:)

    • If you find an answer to the morning problem I would love to hear it. My 12 year old still can’t get ready in a timely manner without screwing around, doing whatever she wants. She has made no less than 6 lists for the routine. We have tried charts and pictures, threats, bullying, natural consequences when available, etc etc. Nothing works and we are at our wit’s end. Next school year she will have to be leaving at the time we wake up now! It’s not that we don’t give her enough time. We wake at 6:30 and she needs to leave at 7:45. She has no concept of time. Yes she has ADHD. Now that I’ve really let it all out there, thanks for the group, I am learning new ways to parent, that’s always good.

  14. I would love some more info about not threatening with fear. It is a horrible habit and we are working to end punishment in our home but I often finding myself threatening my 3 year old son with something, anything, to get him to do what I want. I know that my overall goal is to stop trying to control him and to allow him to be his own person but old habits die hard, and this issue has proven particularly difficult!

  15. My mom actually did leave me somewhere once, my aunts house, when I was terrified to sleep anywhere but home, in my mom’s bed. My aunt had to drive me home in the middle of the night because of this. It is terrible, and it is cruel. I will NEVER do that to my child.

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