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Confessions of a Screamer


Patty then asked us for examples from our own lives of when we screamed and regretted it. I was anxious for results, so I spoke up first. I explained that my morning routine with the boys was becoming worse by the day. Knowing that the kids are slow to get out of the house, I prepare for their dawdling the night before by laying out their clothes, getting their lunch boxes ready, and hanging their coats and backpacks on hooks near the doorway.

All the boys have to do is Velcro their sneakers, slip on a sweatshirt, and grab a backpack. But can they do that? No way. They whine and stall. They wrestle in the doorway. They throw their Crocs at each other. They ignore my initially friendly requests to stop roughhousing. And the less they listen, the more agitated I become until I shout, "Why must you make the morning so hard? Can't you boys be helpers and do anything?" The result: Conrad bursts into tears and screams back, "When you yell at me in the morning, it makes me feel yucky all day." It's only 8:30 p.m., and we're all exhausted.

Patty asked me what was missing from my well-planned routine. "An au pair," I responded glibly. The crowd laughed, but she didn't. "What's missing is teaching your children a sense of responsibility. There are no consequences to their actions. You're yelling at them because they won't do anything for themselves. But you do everything for them, so how will they ever feel confident enough to try?" she asked.

Her solution: I needed to help my children solve their own problems by using descriptive language to get them to behave. This just means using words that have no value judgments attached; you simply describe what you see. For instance, instead of saying "Why must you make the morning so hard?" I could say "I see two boys who need to put on their shoes and their coats." It's a subtle shift from blaming to emphasizing what I need them to do. Such a simple change!

As the evening progressed and more of us revealed our screaming sins, Patty helped us cook up plenty of other ways to quit our hollering habits. Two hours later, I had so many unique solutions, I couldn't wait for my kids to misbehave.