Parenting: First The Anger, Then The Shame

A family tells how they handled their son's negative behavior

Sonia Billadeau April 12, 2014
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195411_boys_will_be_boysFrom day one, the counselor has been trying to educate us that getting angry at our kids just doesn’t work. I am theoretically willing to stipulate to such a position in the comfy position of her loveseat while my child is coloring happily at my feet. It’s another matter entirely at 2:00 a.m. and the boys are playing Play Station upstairs when they’re supposed to be asleep. Yet like Chinese water torture, eventually a groove is etched.

I dragged my very tired self upstairs to see why the light was on, and was outwardly “delighted” to discover that they had so much energy, they could start cleaning the laundry room and bathroom — RIGHT THEN — including mopping the floor. In the interest of full confession, I did “guide” my ten-year-old back to his bed afterward with perhaps a touch too heavy a hand on his arm, and I may, I’m just suggesting may, have derived a little too much pleasure from flinging (a la Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest) the legos on his bedspread onto the floor so that the little angel could ever so comfortably slide into bed for that last four hours of sleep.

I awoke in such a good mood not to have suffered the angry stomach, tense brain, and regretful words or tone I might have used that I decided to take it all the way home, so to speak. When my husband and I discovered, right before church, which is the clockwork timing of our household, that my ten-year-old had several twenty dollar bills on him, I decided to kick it up a notch and eliminate the shame as well.

I won’t bore you with the psychological judo that has become second nature to me that allowed me to determine the source of the twenties without breaking a sweat. Let’s just say that before he had his church shoes on, Justin has confessed that he talked his best friend into giving him the money because he, Justin, had determined that he did not have enough money to spend at Disneyland on our upcoming vacation.

After the usual high-fives for telling the truth, I informed Justin that he would have to meet with us, his friend, and his best friend’s parents to return the money after church today. This is where we could really have gone off the rails because Justin did NOT want his best friend’s parents to know. I decided to take the sting of shame out of it–after all, how is shame going to improve things at this point?–and told him he wasn’t a bad kid, that all kids made deals like this with their friends, and that his friend’s parents needed to know how to help their son not give money to kids who ask for it. I promised him that he would feel so much better about himself when he came home from church. And he did.

My husband and I talked about it later, and we recognized that it would have been so easy for us, habitual really, six months ago to say something like, “What is wrong with you trying to get more money from your friend so that you could get more stuff at Disneyland? Don’t you have enough stuff? Aren’t you grateful for what you have?” Now I”m not saying that those sentiments are inaccurate, just unhelpful in a teaching moment. I fully intend to revisit gratitude and having boundaries with friends at a later date. But the proof is in the pudding, and the way my son was able to handle returning the money today made me proud of him. I told him lots of boys make secret deals, many boys get caught and return the money, very few do it in such an honorable way that they feel better about themselves afterward. And he was so much more warm and open with me today instead of surly or defiant or yucky.

That counselor might know what she’s talking about after all.

Photo credit: 195411-boys-will-be-boys

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Sonia Billadeau


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