In Part 1 we explored why parents may yell at their kids and why yelling can be a problem. Part 2 offers solutions for how to stop yelling.
How to stop yelling at your kids:
1. Get used to taking your emotional temperature. If you are feeling angry, irritated or out of control yourself, now is definitely and specifically not the time for a teachable moment. The irony of this is that the very moments when you feel most compelled to act are the same moments in which it becomes imperative that you wait before doing so. Never attempt to discipline your children when you are feeling angry. Instead, seek a quiet moment for yourself; a grown-up time out of sorts. Keep in mind that very few situations are dire enough that warrant your immediate action. Take the time to get in touch with how you are feeling and what’s bothering you. Be kind to yourself and speak to yourself in an empathic, calming and forgiving way. Begin to do this with yourself because, ultimately, this is how you want to be responding to your children. But it starts with you. Once you have calmed down and sorted yourself out, you can reapproach the situation from your calmer vantage point.
2. Prioritize. In any given situation it’s important to evaluate your priorities. In our example with Lauren, at a certain point her top priority switched from being “I won’t yell today” to “I need to get this work done right now.” If someone promised you $1 to motivate you not to yell at all on Monday, would you end up yelling? What if they offered you $100? or $1,000? How important is it to you to stop yelling? Commit to making calm discipline your top priority no matter what. Picture that you are being given a huge monetary incentive or better yet, give yourself a real incentive. Commit to not yelling for an amount of time you specify. When you reach your goal, reward yourself. Teachers do it, bosses do it, parents do it. You can do it too.
3. Have your family hold you accountable. Let your children know that you are working on not yelling at them anymore. Have a discussion with them where you let them know that you are working on yourself because you want to be a more effective parent and role model. Invite them to remind you not to yell if you slip up, and reassure them that they won’t be in trouble for doing so. Let your children know that the reminder will help you change your tune and discipline more appropriately. Very often, yelling is a taboo topic. Children often experience high levels of embarrassment and shame; they privately lick their wounds and suffer silently. Bringing the issue to the fore, talking about it and breaking the silence and the secrecy can be a healing experience for the whole family.
4. Parent as though someone is always watching. Pretend you are staring in a reality TV show. Or picture your boss, neighbor or someone whose opinion you care about following you around as you interact with your children.
5. Empathize. Why is your child misbehaving in the first place? Try to isolate the underlying cause of thier conduct. Children often display out-of-control behavior when they feel invalidated and/or misunderstood. Help your child name her emotions (e.g., you are feeling angry, sad, embarrassed). Repeat back to your child what you are hearing them say and let them know that they are entitled to their feelings. Validate their experiences, even if you don’t agree with them (e.g., “It sounds like you feel like Mrs. Douglas is really mistreating you”). Offer help and a solution when applicable. Consistently empathizing with your children when they misbehave can help them bypass their anger and become more in touch with hurt and pain instead. So instead of yelling or acting out, your child will hopefully learn to talk instead.
6. Modify your expectations. Assume that things will take longer than you’d like. Assume that your child’s room will still be messier than the picture in your mind, even after he cleans it. Expect that your teen will continue to disrespect you, even as you do everything you can to change her behavior. Lowering your expectations and modifying your assumptions will help you maintain more flexibility and be more open-minded as you work to implement changes in your children. Flexibility and open-mindedness allows for more possibilities, so your thinking is less rigid and more relaxed as a result.
7. Depersonalize. Many times, parents take their children’s bad behavior personally. While you may feel that your child’s disrespect is directed at you and they misbehave just to slight you, remember that it’s not about you. You, as the parent, are simply an easy and accessible target. Your child’s behavior is about him (his anger, his maturity level, his own frustrations) just like your behavior is about you. One way you may be able to implement denationalization is by using what I call the “the kindergarten teacher affect.” Picture a competent kindergarten teacher. No matter what is going on, she deals with it in a level-headed yet somewhat detached way. If a kid is disrespectful, she’ll speak to them about proper conduct. If a kid spills his milk, she’ll have him get a paper towel to mop it up. She is not emotionally involved and so her responses are not emotionally charged. Before disciplining your children, emotionally remove yourself from the situation.
8. Don’t react to reactivity. Many times, when a toddler begins to have a tantrum, a child begins to scream or a teen begins to yell, parents match their child’s level of reactivity. If a child is out of control, the parent can automatically join suit, matching the behavior. If this describes you, be aware of it and maintain proper emotional boundaries. Just because your child is out of control, doesn’t mean you need to be. In fact, when your child is out of control, it is that much more important for you to remain calm and level headed so that you can help bring your child out of it, instead of getting sucked in to their unbalanced emotional state.
9. Exercise damage control. If you do yell, exercise damage control by discussing the incident openly. Invite your children to share how being yelled at makes them feel. Apologize for yelling and stress that you didn’t handle things appropriately and you wish you had been calmer and more in control. When appropriate, ask your children how they may have handled the situation if they were the parent.
In conclusion, we would all like to communicate better with our loved ones. We can all do better, and we owe it to our children and ourselves to do so. If you feel you need more guidance, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Heather Feigin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Passaic, New Jersey. For appointments call 973-348-5279. Got a question for Heather? E-mail [email protected].