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Ask PSL: I’m Tired of Screaming at My Kids — Help!

May 29, 2009 by

“I hate screaming at my kids, but they make me so crazy, and I just lose it!” — If this sounds like you, trust me, you’re not alone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say this on the Parental Support Line. As James Lehman says, kids watch us for a living — which means they become really, really good at pushing our buttons. By the teen years, your child is probably an expert!

Many parents fall into the screamer role when they start taking their child’s behavior personally.  While that’s very easy to do, it really goes against what you want to accomplish. And parents often magnify this by adopting an outlook that the behavior isn’t fair or right.  This can sound like, “I do so much for my child, why can’t they just do what I’m asking?,” or “It won’t take them much time to do this, so what’s with the horrible attitude!”  Parents who personalize behavior don’t think it’s right for a child to have a poor attitude when they’re being told to do something.  That’s the thing with personalizing your child’s behavior: somehow you make it about what you’re doing as a parent or the values you hold as a person.  You take your child’s choices and directly tie them into  your own skills as a parent or your worth as an individual.

What’s important to realize is that being a screamer is ineffective because it’s extremely destructive to your parental authority. If you’re yelling, throwing things, slamming things, or name-calling, then your child is getting the message that no one is control. The flip side of this type of behavior is the silent treatment.  You may be avoiding your child and refusing to communicate with them because you’re angry and want to show them that you’re hurt or mad.

Just like your child may have a low tolerance for frustration, you may be learning that as a parent, you have a low threshold for experiencing anxiety and frustration. But I think it’s vital to share with your child — verbally — that you you are frustrated when your child behaves a certain way. (Listen to this month’s One Minute Transformation where James talks about this technique, called “Self-disclosure to the Child”.)

It’s not necessary to scream or ‘shut off’ your feelings when it comes to parenting struggles.  An error that some parents fall prey to is thinking that if you share how tired, angry, frustrated, or confused you are then your child will change their behavior out of empathy.  Not so.  James Lehman emphasizes that the most effective way to get the behavior to change is to teach your child the skills they need to be successful.  Expecting that your child will change either out of gratitude for your parenting efforts, or because they see you struggling is setting yourself up for disappointment. That feeling will just complicate the emotions you’re already experiencing.

Instead, try sharing with your child how their behavior affects you and your ability to help them solve their problems differently; the simple act of putting a voice to how you’re feeling can help to take quite a bit of steam out of emotions so they don’t crescendo to a fevered pitch.

If you’re viewing your child’s behavior as a personal attack, you will most likely respond to the situation and behavior by retaliating and fighting back.  Whether or not you think it’s right or fair, the reality is that your child is acting out. Fighting back only takes you further away from the original problem and how to help your child solve it.  The best way to combat personalizing behavior is to develop a positive way to talk to yourself — and a plan for dealing with the behavior.  Try coming up with a list of things you could say to yourself when you’re frustrated or anxious about what’s going on with your child.  That could be, “I’m working really hard at this and I can get my point across without fighting,” or “This is not about me being a failure as a parent. My child just needs more practice at this.”  Remind yourself that you can take some time to yourself to calm down before you deal with a situation!!!!  It’s okay to leave the situation and take some space. It doesn’t mean you lose, it just means you have to cool off so that you can communicate effectively and prevent it from turning into “who’s going to win this fight” instead of asking your child “How are you going to solve the problem differently next time?”

Tina Wakefield is a Parental Support Line Advisor for the Total Transformation Program. If you are a Total Transformation customer, you can access the Parental Support Line for help with these and other challenges you’re experiencing with your child.

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