How to Get Your Family to Listen without Losing your Sh*t

How do I keep my patience with my kids when they drive me to the brink of crazy? These two tips help me calm down without a mantra or deep breathing - which never work for me. Great ideas for every mom who feels like she is losing her mind. What one movie villain can teach you about parenting.

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.

Deep breath.

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.


“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,

Read: 5 Simple Tricks to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling

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 stomped.

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.

Read: Stop Yelling At Your Kids by Asking Yourself these 3 Easy Questions

To keep your patience around your kids, you need to

Know your triggers.

Your mental state has everything to do with your patience.

When you’re:

  • Stressed
  • Hungry
  • Tired
  • Angry
  • Sick

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.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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  1. Oh man, this is all too familiar. I don’t have much patience, neither did my parents. I tell my son the definition of insanity and explain to him that me repeating myself, literally makes me want to freak out and I don’t want to freak out. At the beginning of the school year, we wrote down what he has to do every morning before school and what he has to do every night and then some things that only need done once a week and/or month. Basically a “chore” chart but with other things mixed in that need done every single day as a living, breathing human. The deal was that I wasn’t going to speak a word as to “do this”, “you forgot that”, etc. And if I had to, then he’d get things taken away. We did really well with that for quite some time…and then as life goes, we forgot about it and next thing you know I’m yelling within the first hour he’s awake. So again last night we had the talk of, please do your part in this home because I don’t want to go psycho. So…guess what…this morning he did every single thing he was supposed to do without me telling him and he still had 45minutes before he had to leave for school. I acknowledged what a pleasant morning we had not having to prod him to do what he needed and he had proud written all over his face. Gosh, sorry that was so long, but I relate to this deep in every ounce of my being. Thanks for the post and making me feel human.

    1. Hannah, I can relate to the feeling of not wanting to feel like a psycho. I may have used a phrase similar to that with my kids before 🙂

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