I’ll admit it — I yell at my son more than I’d like. Take yesterday, for example. We were on our way out the door (it always seems to happen when we’re in a hurry) trying to make it to Alex’s first Parent-Teacher conference of the year. Getting out of the house is challenging for us, but it all started out well, with me laying down the ground rules: “OK, I need your cooperation so we’re not late today.” This swiftly devolved into shouting at the top of my lungs, “Come on! I said we needed to hurry. I’m starting to get angry now!”? In fact, I went from the Calm Mother voice to the Crazed Mother voice in, oh, about 30 seconds.
Ugh. I’m not proud of it, and I always feel bad afterward. I apologized to my son on the way to school, and said (again) “I’ll try harder not to yell.” But boy, that trying harder thing is really…hard!!
As it so happens, an article came out in the New York Times on this very subject this week. In the article, it’s pointed out that while many people don’t spank anymore, they have taken up yelling as a substitute. Not surprisingly, this is not good. As James Lehman once told me, “If yelling worked, I’d just sit your child down in my office and yell at him for an hour and then he’d behave appropriately.” Of course he’s right — it doesn’t work, and it just makes your child tune you out eventually — but when your child pushes the exact button that makes you lose it, it’s hard to remember to keep calm! For me, that trigger is trying to get out the door and be on time. For my husband Joe, it’s meal time. Joe comes from a big Italian family, where sitting down to eat is nearly a sacred act. Meal time is fun, but his cardinal rule is that everyone has to “respect the food.” (If you’ve ever eaten with a young child, you know that respecting food isn’t always on their agenda.)
OK, here’s the deal: in my heart of hearts, I know there are more effective ways to parent than to yell. So today, I sat down and came up with a new game plan. I hope these ideas might be helpful for other parents out there, too!
Know your Temper Trigger: Is it being late, homework time, right after school? In our case, I think by preparing ahead a little more, I can probably avoid losing my temper by having everything ready before we head out the door.
Leave the Room: When you’re feeling like you’re about to yell, take a deep breath and leave the room if necessary. This one really does work if you can remember to do it!
Talk in a Soft Voice: I just got this one from my son. He said, and I quote, “When you’re about to talk in the big-mean-voice, just talk in a nice-soft-normal voice.” Easier said than done, but I have noticed that sometimes when you use whispering instead of yelling, you get more attention from your kids! (And you feel better afterward, too.)
Think about How You Want Your Child to Remember You: OK, this is a hard one. I did some soul-searching on this and realized that I really don’t want my son to remember me as a crazed mother who was always yelling and rushing him from place to place. This will probably take a superhuman effort on my part, but I think I can do it. I’m going to keep in mind how I want our departures and transitions to go, and try to live up to that image. No more frantic struggling to get out the door — I want to be relaxed and in control. (Yeah, right! But as my mom always says, it never hurts to try.)
Wish me luck — and I’ll let you know how it goes!
Are you a yeller? Do you have any advice on how to stop yelling? Please leave your comments here.
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.