Saturday, September 13, 2008

Advice Needed

Well, here is where you get to see just how imperfect my household is, but a little bit of reality is good for all of us, plus, I am really at a loss and could use your help:

Tonight, I caught MaryB with scissors cutting her own hair for the 4th time this month. I am not including pictures, but with the trims I have done to even things out she is starting to look quite boyish, and now once again one side is way shorter. We were getting away with headbands to mask it, but I think now we are going to have to seek professional hair styling.

Cosmetic issues aside, I am concerned by her repeated disobedience, and I think that the failure is on my part. Here is the scoop -- when Peter was about two, he cut his own hair, and I got very angry. It was an unchecked natural response, and I think it scared both of us. Since that time, and as a result of other issues, I have worked hard, hard, hard on anger management. One of my techniques has been to try not to sweat the small stuff, because frankly that level of anger was out of control and scared me, may have bordered on verbally abusive, and I just don't want to be that angry with my kids.

I worry, though, that having lost my bark, I have also lost the ability to make my kids understand when something is really serious. I give the twins the same three minute time out for minor infractions (failing to clear plate after being asked to do so), as for major ones (hitting the baby, cutting hair).

Is there a place for just plain getting angry in the moment? When there are safety violations (running into the road), I think Mom's natural panic and response is a fairly good discipline tool. What about at other times? Is parenting supposed to be cool and under control? If so, what can we do to get their attention when it matters?

I don't really want to yell at my kids, it is so negative without really accomplishing much, and the atmosphere of anger affects the whole household.

In a related note, during a tough post-partum period I found myself really knocking heads with my oldest daughter (age 5). I apologized, and asked for her prayers to help me get my emotions under control. There was something about her do-goody nature that really set me off at the time, and I was just mean, which is awful. Now, though, I have lost the credibility to effectively discipline her, because recently when she was really wrong about something and was sent to bed without her story she came out and said "I keep praying and praying that you will be nicer but it is just not working!" How can I help her to understand that discipline is not because Mommy is not nice but relates to privileges and responsibilities, that she cannot mouth off to me about brushing teeth and still have a cozy bedtime story?


Kate E. said...

Ahh my friend, I was I could offer advice but I am in the EXACT same situation and was actually about to call you yesterday in tears after having lost my temper and yelled in a really mean way to Jack.

Our discipline is not working, but once yelling starts he immediately ramps up his response in reaction.

Right now he is not napping which has caused a serious sleep deficit and crankiness...first week of preschool, acting out, etc. I know the causes right now but I think the root issue is at how we are dealing with disobedience in general.

Sorry to ramble on, just a second vote for any advice out there.

Anonymous said...

My sister gave me a really good book called Good and Angry. exchanging frustration for character in you and your kids by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller. My little guy is turning 3 and I may have to revisit it soon but my recollection was that it addressed just these very issues. Parental anger is basically a red flag that something is out of wack in the relationship between you and your kids caused by either their sin or yours. This book tries to teach parents how to recognize and deal with the root sin by building character. this after all is the whole point of discipline. If we just wanted outward obedience we could scare them into compliance but we want a heart that loves to obey God and others in authority.

Elena said...

We deal with these issues all the time as I have a temper that is easily provoked. I'm definitely not trying to overly spiritualise things, but I find that the best place to start is to pray for a spirit of obedience in my kids and to ask Our Lady of Tenderness to pray for me. For years I have prayed for the spirit of obedience for our children as the fruit of the 4th Joyful mystery.

Bethany said...

While prayer and spiritual healing is most important in our relationship, including disciplining our children, I think maybe some more immediate advice might be helpful too.

My 7 year old is going through the phase of telling me "Why are you always so mean to me?" He does this because quite frankly he has, as most children do at his age, an underdeveloped spiritual life, and therefore believes that the world revolves around him. He knows God is in charge, but he's fond of saying, "but I should be able to do whatever I want."

I, too, often find myself in unwanted places when disciplining my kids, too much yelling and not enough grace and mercy. And I, too, do much of the praying for serenity and understanding. However, there are certain safety issues that need to be addressed by raising one's voice. And depending upon the age of the child (and maturity level/ability to understand) the removal of privileges.

For example... Mary Alice, your daughter has cut her hair 4 times this month. Explain to her the consequences for cutting her hair
(her hair may be lopsided and cut funny, scissors can be dangerous, she might have accidentally cut her ear or another body part) then remove the scissors from her possession for a period of time. She can only use them if you are in the room supervising her. If you have to leave the room while she's working with them, she must stop and work on something else. Physically take the scissors with you. Yes it will be difficult for you, temporarily, but she will catch on that all actions have consequences. If you don't mind the stares, I'd say leave her hair as is for a while. So that when someone asks what happened to her hair (and they will) she has to explain about how she learned that it is not okay to cut hair with scissors.

I don't claim to be an expert. Lord knows I have yelled at my children in some unpleasant ways. One thing I did with my oldest and especially with children around the age 5 and older is to have them help you come up with the "rules" as well as the "consequences" if the rules are broken. Write them down on a piece of poster board and put them where they can see them. Having a constant visual reminder will allow them to "see" their mistake and will allow you to take a deep breath and have a way out of yelling. The rule and consequence is already there, no thinking off the top of your head in anger. This will also allow you to brainstorm other consequences for varying degrees of punishment. Again for example, with the twins, not clearing a plate after being asked may mean they have to clear everything else (that isn't too heavy) off the table or they have to help wash/dry dishes or load/unload dishwasher. For hitting the baby a 3 minute timeout seems fair enough.

I have also discovered, for myself personally, I tend to do more yelling out of anger when the misbehavior causes more work for me, when in reality I'm just being lazy. I pray constantly for the ability to see this in myself and stop myself from yelling. "They're just kids and they need guidance in what they're doing, not anger from me because they made me get up." I tell myself this all the time.

And just make sure that when you do yell and chastise out of anger to always apologize afterwards, let them know that you love them very much but their actions are what upset you, and that you made a mistake. They'll appreciate you more if they know that they can trust that you will at least be able to rethink the situation. Reflecting is always a good lesson for children to learn.

Just some suggestions and random thoughts as I too have been thinking and rethinking my discipline strategy. I have two who can be not just disobedient but outright defiant. It's a challenge I can only pray that I'm up to facing.

Right Said Red said...


I'm so sorry to hear that Mary has cute her again again, argh!

We have dealt with that here. While my reaction was very strong, yelling, tears, and an immediate trip to the hairdresser, I'm not sure that the yelling was necessary. While a natural reaction of yelling/anger is sometimes a good thing, if you have had anger problems in the past, this probably isn't the best approach for you. You shouldn't TRY to yell, but if you do yell out of reaction to a danger or an extreme act by your child--and it is natural response, I think this is ok. It seems in the current situation you would actually have to try to yell (praise God for helping you to be so virtuous in this regard). I don't think you should try to yell ;-)

I think Bethany had a lot of great suggestions. I suggest the following:

1. Take the scissors away from all of your children for a period of time. I only allow Gianna and Charlie to play or use scissors when I am monitoring them VERY closely. And I didn't even allow this for quite some time. I think group punishment has its benefits--especially since Holly and PT will help enforce the rule that Mary isn't to cut her hair. If this isn't possible, Mary should not be permitted to use scissors for quite some time (like 6 months), until she has really gotten "over" this phase of wanting to cut her hair. I would explain this to her as an extreme solution to her extreme disobedience. I would explain to the other children in the family that the no scissors rule is temporary, but necessary since Mary has been so disobedient in this regard. While group punishment can be seen as unjust, a family/team attitude is sometimes a good approach.

2. I would take Mary to the hairdresser and have the hairdresser fix her hair. This is for your own sanity as you have to look at your child every day. By your own words it is easier to be nice to our children when they look cute! I would explain to the hairdresser what she has done and have the hairdresser disapprove of her behavior and let her know how ugly her hair looks when she cuts it herself. Explain that the hairdresser and/or mommy can make her hair look pretty with scissors, but nobody can cut their own hair. This may sound mean, but this strategy REALLY worked on Gianna. When Gianna (age 4) cut her hair, she didn't start crying when I yelled, she did, however, start crying when the hairdresser (at my request) reprimanded her! I was also not afraid to tell her how ugly her hair looked (my mother and my husband, also helped in this regard). She was embarrassed and ashamed of her hair. We then reinforced how pretty it looks now that it has grown out a bit.

3. Finally, I suggest different punishments relevant to the level of "bad" behavior. For example, getting distracted while cleaning up the playroom, interupting me when I am speaking to an adult, or G and Charlie hitting one another results in a time-out. More serious behaviors, such as hitting/kicking the baby, dangerous behaviors, speaking inappropriately to me, etc, will result in a much more serious punishment (age dependent). For Gianna this usually means a trip to her room for an extended period of time AND loss of some privilege (dessert, movie time, time outside, etc.). We spank, so when 2 year old Charlie kicks his 8 month old brother in the face, he gets a spanking as well as a LONG time-out (5 minutes).

I think different punishments for different crimes helps to teach children early about the concept of mortal sin. Some sins are worse than others, particularly sins of intentional defiance and this includes repeat offenses!

4. Finally and perhaps I should have listed this first, I would try to get to the bottom of why she keeps cutting her hair. Does she like the attention of you sitting and "fixing" her hair? Is she maybe just going through a defiant stage? Is she trying to express some creativity?

Her hair is curly, so it will be a shorter period of time before the situation improves!

Anonymous said...

This is a tough issue, certainly, but I don't think I would ever tell my daughter she looked ugly. I understand the idea behind it, but I just don't think it's a good idea and could set her up for future issues with her appearance. I think ugly is a very strong word.

Anonymous said...

I would like to add as I should have originally that the book Good and Angry is VERY practical.

Mary Alice said...


I just read "your seven year old" by Ames and Ilg, this is part of a great series that outlines typical child behavior at every age/stage, and you may be glad to know that "why are you so mean to me" or "everyone is so mean to me" is a very typical seven year old outlook.

PT, my normally difficult child, had a great sixth year and is now becoming tough again, he is fearful, a bit of a crybaby, etc, and I think alot of it is just part of being seven.

Also, many thanks for the reminder that the goal here is character building, I think I was starting to fall back on just needing obedience to keep order, I need to remember that they need to learn obedience, self control, etc, for when I am not around and in charge anymore!

Right Said Red said...


I agree that ugly is a strong word and should be saved for extreme/severe situations. When a child cuts off their own hair, it generally looks ugly. I also think this is a pretty extreme circumstance, calling for an extreme word like ugly.

I think our relativistic culture tells us that nothing is ever ugly, all things are beautiful and good right? I disagree. While I do not approve of using the word for trivial things or to describe a person (that girl is ugly), I think it fine to say a tattoo looks ugly, or purple and green hair looks ugly, women who intentionally give themselves a crew cut look ugly, etc. In most cases, a child who cuts their own hair makes their hair look ugly. Likewise, a teenager who decides to pierce part of their body, such as their eyebrow, makes themselves look ugly.

I do not agree with telling a child they are ugly, but labeling something ugly when a disobedient action caused the appearance to change--seems truthful and honest.

Maybe many of the insecurities that come with appearance are the result of a fear to speak the truth (tattoos, body piercing, florescent hair color are all ugly, but our society labels these things as artistic expressions). I think most young girls need clear guidance and loving input from their parents in this regard.

The unfortunate truth is that a young child cutting their own hair seriously alters their appearance for quite some time (and in the the case of MaryAlice's daugther, she has done this 4 times!) I don't think ugly is too strong a word to describe what hair looks like after it has been through such an ordeal. That being said, I haven't seen Mary's hair yet--I have, however, seen my daughter Gianna's hair after her experimentation with the scissors. It looked terrible! Mary has curly hair and so this helps a great deal.

Molly said...

This is going to sound horrible, but when my younger brother disobediently cut his hair himself for the second time, we all basically made fun of him. Because it was spiky in the front, we called him the rhino and wondered aloud to each other, in front of him, why anybody would want to make themselves look so silly. He never did it again, and I don't think the teasing had any long term ill effects. It also helped my mom stop crying (angrily) about it and start to laugh a bit...

Anonymous said...

I'm not excited to hear that 7 is a challenging year. 5 has been so hard with my daughter, and I keep thinking it's got to get easier as we go along. I guess maybe it's never easy.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree with the other anonymous that telling your child that they are ugly or any person at all is ugly seems to be harmful and does nothing more than encourage them to judge people who make choices that are different than the ones you or they might make. Just because someone chooses to dye their hair or get a tattoo or piercing doesn't make them ugly. It might detract from their beauty in ways that seek to gain attention, but ugly is a really hate-fueled word that I would hesitate to use with a child for any reason.

4ddintx said...

To one of the anonymous posters:

I think 6 is an amazing year. I have only girls so it may be different with boys, but I've found my 6 year old children to be thoughtful, helpful, and compliant to my requests. They can have a great conversation with you and you can really see inside their personalities. Seven brings some challenges, but 6 is an incredible breath of fresh air!

I think 3 is harder than 2, BTW.

Right Said Red said...

To both anonymous (maybe try posting under a name, even a made up name would be nice)

If you read what I wrote, I don't agree with calling people ugly, but calling certain extreme things ugly (like body piercing, tattoos, self given haircuts, etc.) Sort of like the hate the sin love the sinner idea.

I'm wondering if there are any other words and phrases you two would like to remove from our language. I guess we should shelter children from strong words in general. Why teach them to hate sin when they can just dislike it, right? Next thing we know that sin isn't really a sin, but a "different idea", and then before we know it, sin doesn't exist. Oh wait, I am describing our modern culture.

I believe in teaching my children the proper use of strong words and strong ideas (age appropriate of course!), and then saving these words for extreme situations.

I'm sad to see the thought and word police have reached into good homes and convinced mothers that they have to combat things like tattoos (a permanent destruction of one's body) with soft words.

And Molly, thank you for your great comment! I think that story is exactly the technique I was advocating. God Bless you for sharing!

Right Said Red said...

Oh and MA, sorry to turn this into a word usage debate. I hope you have come up with a solution!

Rory said...

Long ago I vowed never to offer advice to moms with children older than my own (after an episode which shames me deeply in retrospect). I should probably extend that to cover moms who have more children than I do. But here goes anyway:

I am the type who, when one of the kids does something outrageous, tends to overreact and see it as a symptom of some larger disaster: like too much laxness in our home, or my unfitness as a mother, or a sign that my child is truly disturbed. And then time passes and I realize it was just a thing.

Assuming this is also "just a thing" (albeit really really annoying) I might use a technique my sister who is a teacher uses for behavior modification. It's called ABC, for Antecedents, Behavior, Consequence. Essentially you write a little report where you figure out in what situations this behavior occurs (like, alone with scissors? looking for attention while other children are reading with mom?) and then isolate the behavior (B) and then decide what the Consequences (C) will be. I think what you do is tell her the consequence and also at the same time get really alert to when it's likely to happen and maybe even change things around so it doesn't. A teacher might be able to flesh this out more.

I never want to do it because I always want to address the "larger issue" but in fact I am learning (slowly) larger issues are often best addressed incrementally. If they exist at all, which in this case maybe not. I don't know.

I guess what I'm saying is that the big flagrant behaviors like this, even though they are so frustrating and annoying, are for me not the ones you really have to worry about because they always pass eventually. It's the bad little tiny habits in your children that accrue over time so insidiously you don't even notice them. The things you don't worry about are what are most likely to cause trouble, I sometimes think (this is why I don't sleep well!). Anyway, this too shall pass. I also wonder if like me you are especially bothered by this because it's external evidence of your parenting/discipline? I am over-conscious about stuff that other people can see, and I am trying to remind myself that my children pick up on my self-consciousness about what other people think of me/us and it's not the message I want them to receive.

G-d be with you.

Mary Alice said...

I don't know if anyone is still reading these comments, but I my experience in general has been that odd years are harder than even.

The Ames and Ilg books, Your ... year old", have great info about how kids go through periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium, as well as periods of being more or less introverted/outgoing.

Individual personality and environment play roles as well, but it is amazing how these things seem to follow. I actually notice that it starts to happen as the odd birthday approaches, then tapers off by about the half year point.

My DD, who is 5 now, is super outgoing in general and very social, but right now she is going through a phase of just needing alot of alone time, or wanting to choose quiet activities like coloring, even when she is on a playdate.

I think that these differences between 5, 6, and 7 are part of what makes Kindergarten so tough these days, in my son's K class there were children of all three ages, and there were such differences in both skill and temperment, it was impossible for the teacher to manage that range of 25 kids.

linda said...

Oh wow. Do not call her ugly and stop fixing it. Her peers will will put her in check in this regard and she is the one who walks around looking terrible. Taking her straight to the hairdresser bc "cute kids" are more lovable is one of the worst comments I have ever read, on any parenting blog. It is not about looks. She might hurt herself, that is the only reason this is a big deal, not because she isn't cute afterwards.

I would hate to see what will happen if poor Gianna sneaks extra dessert, do we rush her to the gym to go running and get a stranger to humiliate her?

Sophie said...

please be curteous enough to actually READ a post before criticizing it. Red's comment was this "By your own words it is easier to be nice to our children when they look cute!"

NOT "Taking her straight to the hairdresser bc "cute kids" are more lovable is one of the worst comments I have ever read, on any parenting blog."

You have taken what she said and twisted it quite well!

Anyway...I'm enjoying the constructive comments on discipline here, as we're going through some rough times with our 5 y.o. at the moment. I appreciate his new found skill at standing by his beliefs, but not when it's leading to well thought out arguments as to why he should be playing cars instead of doing his chores!

It seems no matter what stage these children are at they are here to bring us to more complete holiness, more virtue in ourselves. It sure is a tough thing to remember though in those heated moments.

mary alice, if you have the chance sometime, I would love to know how you decided to handle this hair cutting thing and other discipline issues you mentioned. I need some resolution! :)

Rebecca Grace C. said...

I'm a mom of 9 year old and 6 year old girls, and an 18 month old son. I've really come to love this blog. It's so great to see a group of young, Christian women come together like this and offer each other support and advice. I got married and had my first daughter at the age of 20; at the time, I felt very alone because none of my friends understood, even though I knew I was ready to raise a child. You all are so blessed to have each other!

To Red:

I am a bit troubled that you blanketly label "tattoos, piercings, etc." as "ugly" and state that society simply calls them artistic, as if society is objectively wrong, and therefore, it's okay to tell your child that cutting her hair or getting tattoos are ugly things.

I for one do not find tattoos to be "ugly." Obviously, this is a matter of opinion, but should I tell my daughter I don't want her to get a tattoo because it's ugly, as if it's a fact? I have no problem using strong (appropriate) language with my children, but I find that it's more useful to explain to them why something should or shouldn't be done, rather than using a relative term as a factual one. For instance, I would tell my daughter that tattoos are permanent and she might not like her tattoo in a few years because her tastes may change, or that she shouldn't cut her hair because Mommy asked her not to and she makes Mommy sad by being disrespectful. I don't know if that's too "soft" for you, but I think it makes for a better response, especially when children get older. If you tell them that they shouldn't get tattoos because they're ugly, chances are that they might answer (especially in their rebellious phases), "No, they're not" or "Maybe you think so, but I don't."

The other thing I wanted to comment on was this: "I'm wondering if there are any other words and phrases you two would like to remove from our language. I guess we should shelter children from strong words in general. Why teach them to hate sin when they can just dislike it, right? Next thing we know that sin isn't really a sin, but a "different idea", and then before we know it, sin doesn't exist. Oh wait, I am describing our modern culture."

Aside from the un-Christian-like sarcasm, I find the moral relativism argument to be troubling. I understand the point you are making--the slippery slope idea--but sin and cutting one's hair are two wholly different things. You hate the sin, but not the sinner; but to tell a child that you hate something he or he has done may lead to problems down the road.

I don't think the anonymous posts about not wanting to use the word "hate" should be chalked up to "the word police" affecting good mothers. That's a bit flippant. We shouldn't shelter our children from strong words, but at the same time, we need to be careful when using them. "Hate" should be reserved for sins and other more egregious things, otherwise the word loses its meaning. As the bishops and others have said, all issues do not carry the same moral weight; therefore, we should consider carefully how we describe certain acts of disobedience.

I agree with Rory in that though this may seem like a big issue, it will pass...wait until your child wants want a cell phone!

Right Said Red said...


You didn't read what I wrote, and then you twisted what I did write. Sophie--thank you for clarifying this.

Rebecca Grace,

Much of what you write is filled with wisdom. I'm glad to see you think there is a place for these strong words. You are right, I was sarcastic--and that doesn't do much to advance the conversation. For that, I apologize.

I think our disagreement is a matter of degrees. We both agree we shouldn't call a person ugly (but possibly can label something ugly that they do it to themselves?). You don't think this is a good tactic with children unless the situation is VERY severe? I tend to agree. I think our disagreement lies in the degree at which stronger words can be used. I am more inclined to use strong words (I am Red after all!), and I happen to think tattoos are VERY, VERY, VERY ugly. In most instances, the word ugly is probably too strong for a bad haircut.

We obviously disagree on tattoos, but I'm pretty solidly in the position that tattoos and body piercings in strange places are ugly. Again, I think your position that some thinks these are artistic is a product of our relativistic culture. Art is not destroying one's body. Tattoos are permanent. They must be medically removed.

But this is getting off topic. The post was about hair, and children cutting their hair. I guess some of us are uncomfortable with using the word ugly here (and that I understand), but let's not be judgmental about others who feel the word appropriately describes the haircut. Judging cuts both ways ;-)