‘I’m too scared to tell you because you’ll get mad.’ They’ve been cowering every time I ask, ‘what happened here?’ They’ve been lying!’: Mom implements ‘safe zone’ for kids after realizing she’s been bullying them for bad behavior

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“I grew up in a family where some members had very short fuses and some had the patience and understanding of a saint. Obviously as a child I gravitated towards the latter. Lately, in parenting my own 6 kids, I’ve heard those short-fused family members coming through when I am disciplining my own kids. I can hear the short fuse. I can hear the bully I am being to them. I can hear the lack of understanding and the lack of empathy. I can hear the tone of my voice.

I’ve been losing my patience. I’ve been overreacting. I’ve been saying things I later regret. I’ve been yelling and not being fair. In return there’s been a lot of lying in our home. Our kids are lying about who did what and when something happened. They’ve been lying about the simplest things. Of course they’ve been lying! They’re terrified to tell me something. They’ve been cowering with shoulders hunched every time I ask, ‘what happened in here?’ They don’t want to get the big angry mama they’ve seen me be the last few months. One even told me, ‘I’m too scared to tell you because you’ll get mad.’

Maybe it’s the holidays and maybe it’s partly sleep deprivation. But even I have been annoyed with myself. Even I have noticed how mean I’ve been. Even I have realized I’m being unfair. Every time I hear ‘that voice,’ my brain has to retract statements I’ve already said out loud.

For every ‘you’re bad,’ you need one hundred ‘I love you’s’ to make up for it.

I needed a change. I needed something quick. When you know better, you do better.

A friend of mine uses a code word that her kids say as a safe zone to talk about any and all topics. But I knew I needed something else. A code word wouldn’t be enough for me. I’m such a tangible person when it comes to learning and right now, I needed to relearn patience. I needed something physical to hold to remind me that my kids, are in fact, kids.

So I got on an app to design a very simple piece of paper as a reminder and found a star. I decided this would be our ‘Safe Zone Star’ and the kids would be able to pull this piece of paper off of the fridge and bring it to me. They would do this when they feel like they’ve done something wrong and need a safe place to admit it.

The mantra of the star is this:

I will not get mad.

I am here to support you.

We all make mistakes.

We can fix this,

Together.

This is 100% more for me than it is for them. This is the reminder I need to approach any and all situations with a clear head and an open heart.

Molly Schultz/Tried & True Mama

If you aren’t a fan of a star, you could literally print off a picture of anything from a heart to a bear to even a plain colored square. Just the physicality of it helps you snap out of the attitude you might have in that moment. It helps you to not project your own emotions onto your kids when they mostly don’t deserve it. It’s a ‘check yourself before you wreck your kids’ hearts.’

We implemented it 48 hours ago and it’s only been used two times. One time was when one of my twins colored on the art table with dry erase markers. This is the third time this has happened and every other time I erupted like a volcano, spewing anger at her tiny 4-year-old body. In hindsight – it’s such an easy fix since you literally just use a baby wipe to wipe it up. But in those prior two moments all I saw was a child who was just trying to make me mad. Dumb, right? So dumb. Eye roll worthy.

She brought me the little card and we sat down next to the table and talked it out. I asked her why she did it and she shrugged her shoulders. I asked her if she thought it was fun and she shrugged her shoulders. Then she matter-of-factly said, ‘I was too scared to ask you for a piece of paper so I colored on the table instead.’ The very first thing I said was, ‘thank you for telling me the truth,’ and I explained that dry erase markers are for the white boards and can’t be used on anything else. I then told her I understood why she colored on the table. We talked for a bit about how ruining our nice things means we can’t have nice things in the future.

Molly Schultz/Tried & True Mama

Will she do it again? Maybe. But my hope is that my calm reaction to her doing it this time would be enough to get through to her for next time. The second time it was used was by my 5-year-old daughter when she finally felt like she could tell us that she was the one who has been stealing all of the candy from the candy jar. When talking about it she explained that she ‘just has a sweet tooth and can’t help it!’ So we worked out a plan to do better. We worked out how we can implement a little bit of treats over a period of time instead of eating eight pieces of candy at once. What would I have done had I found out that she was the one stealing? I would have lost it because I would have been so upset.

Yelling never works. Kids shut their brains down. They don’t hear us. They aren’t listening when we are going off. It’s zero percent helpful one hundred percent of the time.

My hope with this tactic is that my kids will confide in me more. I think this will help us build more of a connection and keep me reasonable, chilled-out, and self-controlled. My kids deserve to learn from their mistakes, not be continuously punished for them. They deserve to have a mom that wants to help them work through their mistakes, instead of one that throws them to the wolves to figure out.

Too often I have mom guilt about the interactions we have. Too often I lose my crap over things I really need more patience for. Too often I make mistakes when they’re just being a kid. Too often I regret overreacting.

So here’s to better parenting days with a simple piece of paper that reminds me to do better. Here’s to 2020.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Molly Schultz of Tried and True Mama. You can follow her on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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