Mom Fears (Part Three): Am I Yelling Too Much?
A gentle response defuses anger,
but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. Proverbs 15:1, The Message
We want to stop yelling at our kids. We really do. But how? Here are some excellent tips for changing the volume and also a new way to think about misbehavior and your children.
When I was a young mother, I received from an older mother the best parenting advice I ever got. Ever. She painted a word picture for me that I could easily understand, and it really resonated with me. It changed forever how I dealt with children. Not just my own children, but also students of all ages. It helped not just with how I responded when I was in a position of having to correct behavior, but how I thought about correcting behavior. For that matter, it changed the way I thought about the behavior itself, as well as the young offender.
I was at some kind of small meeting of home school moms and our facilitator was a wonderful, wise, calm, older mother. The topic of discussion got around to, as it usually does with young mothers, managing children's behavior. This wonderful, wise, calm, older mother listened to us all for quite some time, and then she began to speak to us a parable. Like Jesus. We fell silent.
"Have any of you ever been pulled over by a policeman or patrolman?" We all nodded. So what does a patrolman say to you when he comes to your car?" We all answered with the usual statements of "may I see your drivers' license and registration please?" "Do you know why I stopped you?" "Please remain in your vehicle.' Have a nice day." etc.
The wonderful wise one listened to us. When we were through she said, "So they don't yell or rant or rave? They don't berate you for speeding or parking in the wrong place? Why do you suppose they don't?" We all looked at each other. We had nothing. I was all ears. I could sense where she was going with this, but I was really leaning in to this wisdom.
"It is because all you have done is broken a rule. It is not personal. He is not angry because you broke a rule. He writes you a citation, which you expected because this is the understood consequence, and he goes on his way. You may be very upset, even yelling or ranting, but he maintains his composure because he knows that it is only a broken rule. He has done what he is supposed to do to keep the roads safer by issuing the citation and, as far as he is concerned, the situation is over. You may take a while to calm down, but not the officer. He is calm already.
"Suppose", the wise one continued, "you took that same approach when your child breaks a rule or forgets to do a chore or throws a tantrum? What would that look like?" We all began to think. She kept speaking. "When your children misbehave, even if it is full on defiance, don't take it personally and get angry and yell. Calmly offer the understood consequence, and then go on about your business. If the child wants to rant and rave, okay. You remain calm. It is not personal. They simply disobeyed a rule. Your role in this situation is to be the police officer."
"In any conflict, if one party is yelling, that is the party that is out of control of the situation. The calm, quiet one is the one that is in charge. As a parent you must be in charge." Then she dropped the big one. "It is not only your right to be in charge of your home it is your responsibility. If you are not in charge, who do you think is?" She looked around at us. One brave soul, not me, had the courage to respond, "The children." "Of course." The wise one affirmed.
And there it was. Child management reframed. Strengthened and encouraged, I calmly claimed the authority in my home. I wasn't the one asking questions, I was the one answering them. I established order and security in my home with a few simple, fixed rules and a few simple consequences. During many years of experience, I have added some wisdom of my own to that which I received thirty years ago from the wise one. Here is some of it:
When conflict arises, and it will, your role is to decelerate and diffuse high, angry emotional responses. Yelling will not help. Even if your youngster is yelling, you speak quietly. Deescalate the situation by speaking without passion or anger. Keep it calm.
Don't continue to engage in conversation or answer questions beyond the basics. If the letter or the spirit of a rule has been broken, there is no need to discuss it. Offer the consequence and then go about your business. Stay calm, be firm, be loving.
Understand that children want and need clear boundaries. This is not debatable. A world without rules is terrifying and your children know it. When they test your rules, they are often checking to make sure that they are still there. Your job is to hold fast.
Be reasonable. Shift the rules with your child's shifting maturity. Be calm, be firm.