To snap means to be cruel to a child: to hit, insult, call him names, threaten, ignore, express harsh criticism, disregard his needs for food, play, movement, sleep.
If this happens systematically, the child learns that a caring adult can hurt, can be insensitive, can invade personal boundaries. This is written into the child's picture of the world as "I am not valuable. My boundaries can be violated. My bodily integrity is not valuable."
This affects self-esteem, the child begins to feel worse about himself or herself. At the same time, the child may become internally defensive: he or she stops trusting, tries to be on guard. This inner tension eats up a lot of mental energy, and the child may start to learn less, remember less, communicate less.
How do you know if you are using violence in parenting? If your child feels frightened to communicate, helpless, outraged by injustice, you are probably using at this point. You can also read about the signs of abuse in a relationship here: https://neterpi.com/test
How is it that it's hard to stop?
- Perhaps there is your own experience of abusive parenting, when there was a lack of parental warmth and attention. Maybe there were too rigid requirements in the family and cruel punishments. That is, the parent himself was psychologically traumatized as a child.
- It is possible that a person is currently being abused (a spouse shouts and threatens, is severely criticized and accused at work), but it is impossible or dangerous to respond to the husband or the boss. And then the person reacts his anger on someone who is safer. For example, on children.
That's how this mechanism works. There is my own traumatic experience, the experience of helplessness. Facing it hurts. ˃ Sometimes situations arise that remind us of situations in the past when we were traumatized. ' This is the trigger that triggers the drawing of the picture to a dangerous one, ' then anxiety and helplessness are triggered (I've been here before and I felt bad), ' then irritation as a defensive reaction (we don't want to face our own pain), ' and then violent actions happen: slaps, insults.
This can happen very quickly, in seconds.
Here's an example. One of my clients was often yelled at as a child and teenager by her parents, criticized and controlled a lot. When this happened, she felt heartache, irritation, despair. When she had a child of her own, she found it very difficult to endure his yelling. It was a trigger situation. She told me that at such moments she had images of her father yelling at her in front of her eyes. It was unbearable to face her pain and helplessness again, irritation built up. And my client yelled back at the child, slapped him. Then she repented, but said she couldn't stop in the moment.
How do we stop the mechanism of violence?
- The first important thing to do is to remember specific situations and observe.
- At what point do I notice that I am acting violently, committing violence?
- Recall what you were experiencing a minute/few seconds before you did the action? What were your thoughts? What were your bodily reactions?
For example, I felt a lot of irritation 30 seconds before I started screaming and slapping the baby. My thoughts were: he did it on purpose. I felt a clotting sensation in my body, tension building up, my heart beating faster.
- What were the feelings even earlier? 3, 5, 10 minutes before the action? What were the thoughts? What was going on with the body?
For example, a child demanded to buy a toy at the store. It seemed to me that people around me were looking at me in a judgmental way, as if it was my fault. I was transported back to my childhood, where I was harshly criticized for an oversight, and once even hit. The current situation seems dangerous. And I feel helpless, just as I did when I was a child. I am anxious, waiting to be punished in the same way. The emotion is fear, despair. Thoughts: This is dangerous. People are not happy. In the form of bodily reactions a clenching in the chest, catching my breath. And only then a strong irritation as a defensive reaction.
It is important to trace the traumatic experience behind the feeling of helplessness and the ensuing irritation.
- Compare your image of a child with reality.
- How do you see your child in this moment of irritation? How do you explain his behavior to yourself?
It may seem that the child is screaming on purpose to make you feel bad. He is perceived as an aggressor who is attacking you.
This image can be fascinating. It is important to ask yourself questions:
- What other explanations could there be for his behavior? What else can he be?
Maybe he really wants this toy and is upset that you won't buy it. Maybe he didn't sleep well the night before or something else upset him this morning. Maybe you have bought the toy before when he insisted and he resents being turned down this time. Maybe he saw the toy at a friend's house yesterday and that's why he wants it so badly now.
In general, he is usually affectionate, gambling, loves to play with you and socialize.
Such reflection will help move away from the image of the child as a malicious aggressor.
- It is important to understand the goals of the violent actions.
- What exactly do you want to achieve with them? Why is it important to you?
In our example, I want to get the child to shut up so that those around him don't look at me with judgment. This is important because I don't want to feel guilty.
- Is it possible to achieve what you want? Is the result sustainable?
I don't get what I want. My shouting and spanking upset the child even more, and we draw more attention to ourselves. And if he does shut up, he is afraid. This obedience is based on fear, and next time we have to shout louder.
- Find the source of helplessness.
- Do you notice your anxiety and helplessness just before you react violently?
- What earlier experiences might this anxiety and helplessness be related to? What situations related to these same feelings come to mind?
- Examine the consequences of violent acts.
Violence teaches us nothing, it is just a release of anger. As a result, our relationships crumble, trust is lost, fear and tension arise.
- What do you experience immediately after the incident? After 10 minutes? An hour later? The next day?
Maybe at first it's relief, and then guilt and fear of losing trust in your child.
- What actions are you forced to take to reduce the negative consequences?
Perhaps I need to pay more attention to the child, to reassure him for a long time, to try to restore his confidence. If he gets sick after a nervous breakdown, I need to take care of him and treat him.
- Find alternatives.
What could I have done instead of acting violently?
- Maybe take a break: wash your face, drink some tea.
- Compare reality and your scary fantasies. The child is not the aggressor and not on purpose, but from his helplessness he screams.
- Acknowledge your anxiety and helplessness. "It's really hard for me when people around me look at my child screaming. It seems like they're going to start blaming me, just like my parents did.
- Looking for compromises and new solutions. Maybe I can talk to someone around me to make sure I am not being blamed or even sympathetic. Maybe I can sympathize with my child. To dream with him: what it would be like if I could buy all the toys in the world. What would happen if I just stood by my child, waiting for him to calm down? What if I invited him to discuss the rules about buying toys?
Come up with some alternatives for typical situations - triggers.
It is good to keep a diary of your reactions in situations where you want to react violently.
Write it down:
- date, time.
- How are you feeling at the moment? What are your bodily reactions?
- How did you feel a few minutes before? What exactly were you thinking about? Catch a moment of helplessness.
- How do you see your child now?
- What do you want to do?
- What are the alternatives?
Violence is a skill that can be abandoned.
Of course, it is important to have the support of a psychologist along the way.
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