How many times can you say the same thing to your children before you start yelling? Unfortunately, the more you yell, the more you train your children to only respond to yelling.
Yelling makes children feel bad about themselves and leaves you feeling regretful too. You may get your younger child to comply initially, but as he gets older, the anger and resentment from the yelling can take the form of yelling back at you. Now you have a bigger problem.
Even if you have been yelling for years, it’s not too late to change course. Remember, your children want to please you. They live for your approval. You will get much further with them by showing calm disappointment from their bad behavior than you will from yelling.
Here are some tips to help you stop yelling at your children.
1. Learn to identify your triggers
Think back on the circumstances that led to yelling. Was it because your child expressed defiance? Is it when he doesn’t seem to listen to you? Is it because she is doing something you know that she knows she’s not supposed to do?
See if there is a general theme to the things that really push your buttons? Once you recognize it, look deeper as to why that behavior bothers you so much. See if you can address the deeper issue rather than the surface one.
8-year-old Johnny leaves his Legos spread out on the floor every night. You have told him at least five times to put them away before he goes to bed. On a rushed morning you walk across the room before turning on the light and step onto a sharp Lego with your bare feet. You lose it and start yelling at Johnny.
In this example, yes, Johnny has not done what was asked of him. Yes, stepping on that Lego hurt. But why are you enraged? Let’s say with some thought you realize you really get angry anytime Johnny forgets what you’ve told him. In this case, you feel like Johnny doesn’t care about how your house looks and now he’s shown that it doesn’t matter if his laziness hurts you.
You have taken Johnny’s behavior and made it way too personal. At 8, he’s going to forget. He’s not thinking about how a messy home embarrasses you or makes you feel uncomfortable. He’s just not thinking at that level. For him it’s about living in the moment and at the moment he went to bed, he was tired and “forgot” about cleaning up the Legos. As a child, he thinks much more concretely than you do as an adult. He’s also not going to have the forethought to anticipate that you may step on his toy and get hurt.
In this scenario, you would get much more mileage from taking a deep breath, then in a matter of fact way bring Johnny to the scene of the crime and show him how you need him to clear the Legos each night. Show him how you were hurt because of the Legos on the floor and clearing is a way to keep everyone safe.
If you have already told him 10 times or he doesn’t seem to be fazed by your being hurt, then tell him you will take away the Legos the next time he does not clean them up. If he does it again, you must follow through with restricting him from using them for some period of time.
2. Adjust your expectations
Sometimes if your children don’t perform the way you expect them to, it will trigger yelling.
Example: suppose tomorrow is picture day. You want to capture nice pictures to send to family members inside your Christmas card. On the day of school your daughter decides she wants to wear a faded shirt from two years ago because it’s her favorite and she doesn’t want to brush her hair because her head hurts.
You imagine your pictures being ruined and start yelling about how she needs to stop complaining and get dressed with the clothes you laid out for her.
In this case, think about what triggered your anger. If you weren’t so invested in having beautiful pictures to send to the family, it wouldn’t matter as much what she wears. But how important is it that the pictures are perfect? I’ll bet when you look back at the pictures five years from now, you’ll still think she looks beautiful in her faded shirt and messy hair. Today it matters, in five years it won’t.
3. Make sure your emotional and physical tanks are full.
If you are run down, tired or hungry you can lose your cool much easier. You need to have some emotional fortitude to be able to control your anger or response. So if you find yourself frequently having a short fuse, see if there are areas where you need to take better care of yourself.
4. Accept that your kids are still learning how to have an appropriate response.
Just as in the example with Johnny, it takes several rounds of instructions to get children to remember to do things they would rather not do. It’s much easier to leave toys spread out on the floor. It will take reminding to get your child to clean up without being prompted. Also, children can ask frank questions that may seem as though they are being a smart alec. Your child may be old enough to be cynical in this way, but it takes maturity to be able to express yourself subtly and indirectly with cynicism and passive aggression.
So don’t assume a question like “why should I do that?” is defiant back talking. It may simply be curiosity. After all, it is a reasonable question to ask why anything should be done. That’s how children learn. But they do need to learn what is appropriate to ask an adult. So before you yell “because I said so”, remember that he may be asking just because he wants to know the answer. If you don’t want him to regularly question your authority, give him one answer in a matter-of-fact tone, then state you want him to do it now and you can discuss the details later.
5. Don’t forget to praise good behavior.
The more you praise good behavior, the more you reinforce it and reduce the bad behavior. This is a preventative measure to take when the going is good. Since your children want your praise and approval, if they get used to getting it when they do something good (or not do something bad), when you respond to them in a non-approving matter-of-fact tone, they really notice the difference. Your non-praising tone has the same effect as yelling, but without making them feel ashamed or criticized. They will want to avoid having you not be happy with them.
It’s not easy to refrain from yelling if someone touches a nerve or you’re at your wits end. It will take practice and you will relapse. But keep trying and use techniques like squeezing stress balls or taking deep breaths before speaking. Regular exercise is also a great general stress reliever if part of your problem is that you are worn down.
Challenge: If you are a frequent yeller, try no yelling for one week and see if those close to you notice the difference. If you yell every now and then, try going a month without yelling. If it makes you feel stressed to hold in your anger, work out the tension with breathing, meditation or exercise.