"If you're upset, it is the wrong thing to say or do and will only aggravate the situation. It is not what you want to say. It does not represent your true intention and is therefore inauthentic. The proof to this inauthenticity is that later you regret your words and actions and they build walls between you and your child." -- Naomi Aldort
When we're angry at our children, most of us burst out with comments we would never say if we were calm. Later, we're remorseful. We apologize. But kids react to our yelling by putting another brick in the wall between us, and dismantling that wall isn't easy.
Or, we justify having yelled: "There's just no other way to get through to that kid." (That reinforces the wall.)
Wouldn't it be amazing to simply stop yelling, even when you're angry? It's completely possible. No matter who you are, no matter how your child acts.
Hard work? The hardest there is. But you and your child will be much closer, which means he'll want to behave better. And watching you manage your emotions will help him learn to regulate his own emotions better.
The key is supporting yourself so you're less likely to lose it. Here's your ten point plan.
1. Take a public vow of Yellibacy. Make a sticker reward chart for "Respectful Voice" and put it on the fridge. Your child decides whether you get a sticker each day. Obviously, yelling is not a respectful voice. Notice you can still guide your child -- just respectfully.
Are you against sticker charts? Me too, for kids, because they teach the wrong lessons. But since parents have all the power in the family, this is a way to empower the child to hold the parent accountable. I'm not worried about teaching the parent the wrong lesson. :-)
2. Make sure you aren't running on empty. You can't act much nicer than you feel. If you're running on empty, how can you regulate your emotions? Find sustainable ways to keep your nature sunny, so you can give your child the best of yourself. That keeps you ready to rise to the occasion when your child pushes your buttons.
3. Set limits with your child before things get out of control while you can still be empathic and keep your sense of humor. Notice that by the time you're losing it, not yelling is only possible if you bite your tongue so hard you give yourself a piercing. You’re only human, so of course you’ll yell once you get pushed over the edge. It’s your responsibility to stay away from the edge!
4. Remember that children will act like children. That’s their job. How will they know where the limits are unless they test them? How will they let you know they need your help with their tangled-up feelings if they don't "act out"? Your job is to set the limits with empathy and kindness, and stay connected while they express their upsets.
5. Stop yelling and start connecting. You're yelling because you want to change your child's behavior, right? That's not actually the best way to change her behavior long-term. Instead, try empathy.
You can still set limits as necessary. But take the time to see things from your child's point of view. Empathize with her, and help her meet whatever needs she was trying to meet in a better way, whether that's
Mastery ("You're screaming because you wanted to do it yourself? Here, let's pull over the chair for you to climb up, and you can do it yourself"),
Connection ("I hear that whiny voice...this is a tired time of day, isn't it? Come, let's put you in the carrier so you can watch over my shoulder while I make dinner and stay very close.").
or some other need. If you address the need or emotion behind the behavior, you change the behavior. Without raising your voice.
6. Teach emotional regulation. Kids learn emotional regulation from our staying calm and empathic in the face of their upsets. When we say "You are so mad! Tell me in words! No hitting." to our toddler, he learns that being angry is ok, there's even a word for it, and Mommy understands how he feels. That helps him control his impulse to hit. If, instead, we tell him he's a bad boy, he may try to squelch his anger, but that only works temporarily, so his anger will burst out uncontrolled at another time.
7. Play instead. Kids respond to the "tone" of our energy. When we have an edge in our voice, they feel frightened, and move into "fight or flight" which means they start raising their own voices, arguing, or melting down. If, instead, you can respond to minor infractions with a sense of humor and playfulness, kids tend to relax and cooperate. So instead of "I told you to go take your bath right now!" try "I am the robot of the bath...I have come to carry you off to the bathroom" with a mechanical voice and lumbering gait that gets your child squealing with laughter and running ahead of you up the stairs.
8. Notice what triggers you. When we yell, it's because we're triggered. Before we know it, we're acting like our own parents. The best way to avoid getting triggered is to talk about your own childhood with someone you trust. How did your parents handle your anger? Did you get yelled at? How did it make you feel? Surface those feelings and breathe your way through them and let them go. You're deactivating your triggers.
9. When you find yourself yelling, or in the middle of losing your temper, just Stop. Even if you're in the middle of a sentence. As soon as you notice your voice is raised, shut your mouth. Walk away. Breathe.
10. Teach only love. If you're angry, don't try to teach your child "a lesson." You won't be teaching the lesson you're aiming for. Instead, just stop. Breathe. Say a little mantra, like "Kids need love most when they deserve it least." Wait until you're calm. You'll intervene so much more effectively then.
If you're still yelling, why not take a vow of yellibacy? Try it for a week. I'm betting you'll see a wonderful change in your family, one that will keep you going long after your experiment ends. In a year, you won't remember the last time you yelled. Miraculous? Yes. But this is something you can do. Which doesn't make it less of a miracle.