You know the drill: Your child is screaming at you, ignoring you, being irresponsible or hurtful. Suddenly, you’re yelling at the top of your lungs, matching him decibel for decibel. Later, you think, “Why did I fly off the handle again? I’m so tired of letting him push my buttons so easily.”
Yelling is a natural response when your kids are rude, not listening, engaging in irresponsible behavior or treating you poorly—or in any other situation that triggers your emotions. Even though you know it would be better if you could stay calm, it’s hard to always do that emotionally. Or you may even argue that yelling and making our kids afraid of us worked when we were growing up, so why shouldn’t we do that today?
Yelling or “losing it” transmits the message, “I need you to behave so that I can feel calmer; I don’t know how to be calm and in control of myself unless you are behaving the way I need you to.”
It was good enough for me…
When our parents were raising us, adults used threats, intimidation and fear to scare us into better behavior. The value prized was obedience. Some parents hit and others withdrew love to get their children to submit to authority. And kids were much more obedient than today’s kids—but it came at a price. Although today’s parents value obedience, we also put a high value on long-term connections, fostering independence and self-reliance, building trust and on our kids’ emotional wellbeing. The old way of parenting might help kids fall into line, but it works against some of today’s parents’ values.
So the question becomes, “How do we get our kids to behave without yelling and screaming, while also building a good relationship with them?” It’s important to remember that losing our temper may make us feel better in the moment—it’s a way of managing our distress—but it doesn’t feel better later. It does not enhance the relationship with our kids that we hope to achieve over time or help them to develop successfully into responsible adults.
The message you send when you “lose it.”
There are many ways to influence your child’s behavior, but yelling is not effective. The message that it transmits to our kids is often, “I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do to get you to act the way I want you to act. I feel out of control.” Of course, the message we want our children to pick up is, “I’m in control of myself; I know what to do and you do not control me.” Yelling or “losing it” also transmits the message, “I need you to behave so that I can feel calmer—I don’t know how to be calm and in control of myself unless you are behaving the way I need you to.” What happens is that your child feels that he is in charge of your emotional wellbeing—and that’s not a good position to put him in.
Although we want our children to be self-directed and independent in their thinking, we are putting them in a position of acting in reaction to us. This is the opposite of “self-directed.” Now your child must either do what youneed in order to calm you down, or go against what you need if he doesn’t want to be in charge of your emotional health. Neither behavior will help your child think for himself, be self-directed or learn from the natural consequences of his own actions.
How being calm changes the game
Remember, anxiety and upset are contagious—and so is calm. If you can operate from calm, you will help model for your kids a lifetime skill that will help them do well in their own relationships. Bonus: when you recognize that you are not responsible for the ultimate choices that your child makes, you will feel calmer—and when you feel calmer, you will be able to think of better parenting strategies to help your child to make better choices.
Here are five ways that will help you stop yelling while guiding your child toward more desirable behaviors.
Being a calm parent is important to your own health, and the health of your family, as well as to all good relationships. By not yelling and by staying calm and level headed, you will be more credible and respected by your child, and therefore more deeply connected. These are the big gains that will help you stay on track while you’re doing the hard work of parenting during your kids’ younger years—and later, when they’re grown, you’ll have a firm foundation and framework upon which to build your adult relationship.
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.