Yesterday I spoke too sharply and unkindly to Ella after repeated efforts to keep her from climbing all over my office chair and desk while I was doing work. Her climbing was one thing. Her ignoring my requests to stop was another.

After my outburst, she immediately wilted like a flower on a scorching, sunburnt day.

I should note that Ella’s propensity to wilt is a well-played strategy, but I also know she’s particularly sensitive.

Nevertheless, it was too early in the morning to let this kind of funk hang around (but to be honest, funk should never be allowed to hang around).

I knew I had to make it right.

After the wilt occurred, I recalled an article I read ages ago that said for every negative criticism, you need to follow up with at least six positive affirmations or interactions to balance it out.

Did your eyes pop out of your head? Mine did too the first time I learned it.

So why is this? Why does it take so many positives to counteract a negative?

Because bad emotions are stronger and have more of an impact than good ones.

So I got to work.

1. I said I was sorry and I asked her if we could start over.

2. I took her in my arms and hugged her tightly.

3. I told her how I her behavior made me feel and why I got frustrated.

4. I asked her if we could apologize to one another – (after all, her choices weren’t acceptable and she was still on the hook).

5. I told her how much I love her.

6. I told her how excited I was to spend the day with her.

7. I did something silly/goofy to make her laugh and show her that I was past the altercation and there would be no more punishment or hard feelings.

This series of deliberate actions seemed to do the trick.

I should be clear: criticism is a necessary thing. I’m not advocating never criticizing your child. But, I do think how we criticize and how much we criticize matters very much.

That is: constructively, sparingly and with patience.

It’s the with patience part that got me yesterday.

This entire interaction reminded me of of something a college professor in a writing class once said:

‘Hurriedness is a form of violence.’

For some reason this quote always stuck with me. Not in a ‘Oh, yes, I get it and totally agree’ kind of way, but a ‘Yeeeeeah, I get what you’re trying to say, but life it too nuanced for that to really be true’ kind of way.

Nevertheless, it stuck in my brain like a persistent little worm.

Fast forward to yesterday and I finally grasped its meaning:

Hurriedness and haste equal carelessness. And carelessness is dangerous. And enough dangerous carelessness can turn into downright violent consequences, if gone unchecked for a long enough period of time.

This sounds extreme, but let’s consider for a moment, a million tiny interactions between a parent and a child that are carried out in haste over years and years. What kind of violence might that turn into? Self-harm? Bullying? I’ll let you fill in the rest of the blanks.

In my hurried, careless reaction to Ella’s behavior, I criticized her in a way that was damaging, rather than constructive. Had I not followed up with enough positive interactions, I could have easily continued the cycle of negativity throughout the day.

The bottom line is: our children are never not learning. Everything we choose to do as parents is teaching them something.

If we scream and yell and react in haste, they will learn to scream and yell and react in haste.

If we are patient, they will learn patience.

I we respond thoughtfully, they will learn to respond thoughtfully.

If we apologize for our behavior as much as they have to apologize for theirs, they will learn to apologize without being asked to do so, and it will be authentic.

None of us is perfect.

I know that I’m going to lose my cool in the future. I know I’m going to act in haste, I know I’m going to react, rather than respond. And I know I’m going to have to make up for my non-perfection using the positive-to-negative ratio.

But, I also believe myself to be a non-violent person. And being a non-violent person means taking the time to really think about how my words and actions impact…well, everything.

…another person

… myself

… my family

… my friendships

… the earth and the environment

… I’ll let you fill in the rest of the blanks.

If we really take the time to think about it, hurriedness permeates every inch of our contemporary lifestyle.

We must ask ourselves: what has that done to our relationships?

And how are we going to balance it out?


  • Sad Flashbacks while reading this to my reactions 30-35 years ago when you and your siblings were Ella’s age. Practicing patience is still much needed in my life, but you Emily are often a model of patience as I observe you with your children and husband (and with your parents!). We all fall short in our relationships when other things distract us from what we long to be and need to be.

    • Well I’ve also learned it from you, watching you with Ella and Ethan! You are being too hard on yourself. My memories growing up are overwhelmingly positive. I Love you.

  • Emily you should write a book on parenting!! I could have used it when Val and OL was small. So proud of the mother you are. Love Aunt Joyce

    • Oh, thank you, Aunt Joyce! That is very kind. Haha, and, I don’t know — sometimes I think I just end up with more questions whenever I write about parenting! I am so thankful for you.

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