In the corner of my family room sits my daughter’s backpack, dance bag, coat and her backpack from last year that she refuses to throw away.
Oh my goodness. I’ve asked her ten times to clean up this pile.
I feel as if a huge fist is squeezing my stomach. My shoulders knot up.
I reach down and try to make sense of the mess on the floor. Hiding underneath her jacket, I find a plastic bag with a half-eaten turkey sandwich.
OK. Breathe. Breathe. AGGGHH! I yell my daughter’s name up the stairs.
WHAT??? She yells back.
I can’t hold it in anymore.
“I ASKED YOU TEN TIMES TO PICK THESE UP!!!”
“OK… OK.” My nine-year-old daughter slinks down into the family room, snatches up her bags and stomps away.
She’s doing it, BUT…
Ugh… I feel bad.
She’s not intentionally leaving her stuff on the floor to mess with me. She’s not.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been in a similar situation.
Your kids are not doing this to mess with you. They love you. They want to see you happy. They don’t want to see you lose your sh*t.
But we’re not robots…
When something frustrates us, we get mad. It’s a natural human reaction.
Showing anger is OK. So why all this commotion about the need to stop yelling at our kids?
Why do we feel bad when we do so?
First, let’s define yelling. Let’s look at some research:
In 2013, University of Pittsburgh published a study about how the use of “harsh verbal discipline” by parents is no better than spanking.
They found that:
“adolescents who had experienced harsh verbal discipline suffered from increased levels of depressive symptoms, and were more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as vandalism or antisocial and aggressive behavior.”
Parental guilt descends on us.
But let’s be clear…
Harsh verbal discipline is NOT simply yelling instructions in a louder voice. Rather, it’s yelling at a child with the intention of demeaning them or making them feel shame for their actions.
When you show your frustration about your child not picking up his room or not doing chores or acting like the purple minion in public, that’s NOT harsh verbal discipline.
The danger zone comes when you attach those feelings of frustration to statements about your child’s character, such as:
- “You never do anything right”
- “Are you stupid?”
- “You’re inconsiderate and don’t care about this family”
Those are phrases that children internalize and use to describe themselves – which leads to depressive symptoms.
Yelling and losing your cool doesn’t.
But it does hurt us. Yelling:
- makes us feel powerless
- increases our blood pressure
- causes us to sprint for the nearest bottle of wine every evening,
Oh Cabernet, take me away…
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And although yelling works in the short-term, it’s not effective long-term.
When we yell, our kids’ brains immediately sense a threat. According to Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, authors of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, kids have an “upstairs brain” which controls logical thinking and a “downstairs brain” which controls all of our animal impulses.
Our goal as parents is to help develop our kids’ upstairs brain.
However, when kids sense danger – such as someone yelling at them – they shift into their downstairs brain of pure impulse and reaction.
When I yelled at my daughter to pick up her stuff, she reacted.
She glared at me.
And she picked up her stuff…
BUT… she didn’t internalize the reason for why I wanted her to pick it up. She didn’t see how an uneaten turkey sandwich could grow mold, invite a tribe of ants to invade our family room and send her mom straight to the psychiatric ward.
Instead, she reacted to my emotional outburst.
To keep your patience around your kids, you need to
Know your triggers.
Your mental state has everything to do with your patience.
You’re more likely to lose it. How do you control it?
Imagine Hannibal Lecter.
Oh, I am serious. I use this trick all the time
When you want your child to do something without losing your temper, go for creepy, psycho calm.
You’re mad. You’re thinking evil thoughts. But you remain eerily calm.
It’s a great channel for inner rage.
Think about it this way – except say all these as if you were Hannibal:
- “Oh… you left all your stuff on the floor. Please pick that up.”
- “Tantrum? In the middle of Target? Not a good idea”
- “You’re standing on your chair. It’s so nice to have children for dinner”
Your face goes flat, betraying no emotion whatsoever.
Then, just like Hannibal attacks when his victim least expects it, you’re going to do the same… (except without eating anyone)
Take immediate action when the task isn’t done
Instead of yelling at my daughter, I could have acted.
Such as, take all the bags and hide them in the garage.
If she doesn’t pick up her stuff, she no longer gets immediate control over her stuff.
Whenever I take this sort of action, I immediately feel better. Evil genius sort of feel better, which I rather enjoy.
With the area clean, I look forward to her discovering everything is gone. When she figures that out, she’ll need to work to get it back.
“Mom,” she’ll ask, “What happened to all my bags?”
“Oh, You didn’t have time to pick them up so I did and put them someplace safe.”
“Where are they?”
“Oh… they’re fine. Don’t worry about them.”
Am I being passive aggressive? Uh huh. I don’t end our conversation there. I’m still mad. I’m aware I’m still mad so I can’t react yet. I turn to her.
“I’m frustrated I had to ask you so many times to pick up your stuff. We need to talk about how to handle this problem. But, I need time to cool off.”
This will give you the time to launch into a problem-solving mentality instead of a reactive state.
When you cool off, use these positive discipline steps to solve the problem in a way that benefits you and your child.
And won’t make you run for the nearest glass of Pinot. Or carton of ice cream. Or Pinot and carton of ice cream
We’re not perfect
But this time… I lost my shit. I yelled.
After my daughter put away all her backpacks, I walked into her room and sat down beside her on her pink bedspread.
She scooted away from me.
“I’m sorry for yelling. I was mad.”
She makes a sound and turns away. I hug her and she tenses up. Now she’s the mad one.
“I’ll let you cool down and then we’ll talk.”
We did eventually. She apologized for leaving her stuff downstairs. All is fine.
Even when we lose it, we can turn the experience into a teaching moment. Like how to apologize when you lose your temper.
Kids need that lesson too.