Yelling at your kids takes different forms.
First, there's the holler because you're worried they'll hurt themselves or someone else - like, "Get off the barn roof!" Or "Don't chase your siblings with a knife" (my 2-year-old had a penchant for knives for awhile - we eventually had to instal a magnetic strip 7 feet off the floor above the stove, and have all knives in the house stuck to it).
Then there's yelling to command attention. To make oneself heard. To rise above the noise. Like when there is a van full of scouts coming back from a meeting, and you need them to quiet down enough to stay on the road.
Or to move them along. To insist forcefully that your kids need to get with the program and do what's next on the list. With six little minions to push along to the next thing in our house, this one is relatively common.
From there, you can graduate to retaliatory yelling. Like screaming at the top of your lungs, "Will you quit yelling?" This is rather pointless with one young enough not to be bartered with. But try telling that to a parent who hasn't slept more than 4 hrs a night for a month and is dealing with a toddler refusing to go to bed. I've done this quite unphased by the irony when at my wit's end.
At its worst, yelling is a form of violence. Used to intimidate, scare, and make the other feel small and broken - those scars will run deep. Coupled with insults, you've got some toxic stuff that will stay behind long into the adult years. Losing control in anger and saying things that ought not to be said regardless of their truth can leave lasting wounds.
Now I'm not against yelling completely. If used sparingly only on the rare occasion - usually involving trying to keep the kiddos from bodily harm - it's an effective parenting tool. But it's not pleasant for you or for them.
Here are different key realizations and progressions that can help us move forward in this battle.
1. Is it worth it?
That's where I start these days. There is a reason that the youngest kid often is the least rebellious. The older ones have worn the parents down, and parents have lost the need to fight. Some parents approach things - with kids as young as 1 - as a competition. There's a right and wrong way, and you need to convince them to do it the 'right' way. This usually leads to yelling. We fail to realize that it's less about the "how" or "what" that the kid is after, and more about the feeling of conquest. Like Columbus and the new world, they're out to conquer and bring you into submission. I've learned to be a lot more nimble. To negotiate and pick my fights. Today, I cooked a bowl of shreddies in the oven for a few minutes before serving it to my 3-year-old because he insisted that he wanted to cook breakfast. Sometimes it's much easier to let them win and get along than continually dig in for a fight. I notice that if they win sometimes, their feelings of agency go way up. They want to feel a bit of dominion over their little worlds. And if they do, they’re more likely to go along with what’s required when really necessary.
2. Talking about your emotions
is a potent parenting tool. Kids can understand and appreciate more than we give them credit. "I'm tired right now. I want to go to bed." "I want us to have a good day together, and I feel frustrated that we are late." Learning to voice your own emotions calmly creates a bond that increases trust. It's straight out of the hostage negotiation handbook - which is surprisingly relevant to most little terrorists that roam our houses. The clincher in this - and quite a happy byproduct - is that they learn to state their own needs and emotions. This, in turn, gives them a lot of freedom, helps them reduce their need to be heard by yelling, and opens up new ways of expression for them.
3. Learning to love yourself
- this is the hard part. But also the good part. Self-love is all the rage these days - but what does it mean? Many of our parents were more concerned with meeting needs than self-actualization and self-love. It's a bit of a luxury - having time and space to become reflexive. There are 'wells' that we all need filled.
A reasonable amount of purpose.
What are the good things we would want for a friend?
Do we ever stop to think - if I were a friend, what would I want for me?
As much as we want to give, give, give as parents, we don't realize that unless we take care of ourselves and treat ourselves as we would treat a friend, we're not doing anyone any favors. When we do what we need to meet our own needs or take a leap and do what excites us, it's not just for our good. There's a reason the Bible says to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Loving oneself comes first because then we are in the right space to love others out of freedom and generosity - not a sense of duty or guilt. When we take care of ourselves, we are less likely to become rats caught in a cage, screaming to get out.
My bunch and I have a lot more fun together now. A lot less battle of wills and conflict about every blessed thing. Unfortunately, in parenting, older kids are an experiment, and it takes a while before you get closer to doing the job of parenting justice. Having the first two kids was excruciatingly hard. Numbers 5 and 6 have been a dream in comparison. But, through a lot of focus on the process, learning what works and what doesn't, and honestly just getting to a better place in my own skin, we have been able to get along a lot better these days.
The father sets the tone in how you communicate as a family. Hearing yourself in your kids as they bitch at each other is a humbling experience. I've learned that how my gang speaks to each other, comes mainly from the father's lead.
But, leading with kindness, by first being kind to yourself - that, I think, is the recipe for a happier household.
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The latest addition to my kids’ books with strong father figures can be pre-purchased through this Kickstarter in time for Father’s Day.