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Confessions of a Screamer


Tactic #1


Luckily, I didn't have to wait long. When I came back from the workshop, my husband, David, was getting the boys out of the tub, and they were in the throes of their pre-bedtime hyperactive hijinks. Dashiell had just tried to bite Conrad's behind, and in return, Conrad was trying to give Dash a purple nurple. Neither was actually brushing his teeth as much as banging and strumming the toothbrush in his mouth like a musical instrument. I walked into the bathroom and David turned to me and said, "Whatever you just learned, put it to work."

I was actually excited to experiment. To break the frenetic vibe, I tried the whispering tip one mom swore by when her kids were climbing the walls: I leaned down, put my head between theirs, and in my most serious whisper I said, "You two need to brush your teeth while I sing 'Frère Jacques' right now." I sang in a deep, conspiring whisper, and they were so surprised that they tilted their heads in to listen and brushed for the whole song, nearly two minutes. I was thrilled by my immediate results. I wanted to run downstairs and tell David, but instead, I kept my voice low and described what I needed them to do next: "Now go put on your pajamas and pick out a book you both like." Watching them behave so well, I realized that by whispering and using descriptive language (instead of my usual "No story!" threat), they tuned me in -- not out. My voice was soft, but they got the message loud and clear.

Tactic #2


Because I work from home, I'm usually eager to see the kids after hearing them play all afternoon. But as soon as I step my foot into the kitchen, the boys are all over me, and I find myself trying to ask them about their day while making dinner and responding to last-minute e-mails on my phone. They sense that I'm distracted, so they become rambunctious to get my attention. Their strategy works -- but I end up yelling. Apparently, I'm not the only one who struggles with the transition from work to home. At the workshop, one mom explained that this time of day is usually her prime scream time because she hasn't had a second for herself. Her trick: Unbeknownst to her children, she lets herself in a side door and sneaks upstairs to shower and eat a protein bar. The kids don't notice that she's home, and that 15-minute pocket allows her to regroup. It's not just kids, after all, who have a hard time switching gears. So Patty suggested we all try to give ourselves a sliver of time to reflect on what we really need, or what we are really feeling, before reacting to our children. When we do, we might be surprised to find out we are hungry or stressed -- or perhaps feeling bad because of something small but significant, like not having called our mother. Reflecting for just a moment frees you to be present with your kids.

The next afternoon, I knew rushing downstairs would lead to yelling. I was already frazzled from a deadline-driven day: My story was late. A source was MIA. And my sitter asked to leave early. So at 5 p.m. I let her know she could leave at 5:15. Then I gave myself 15 minutes. I tracked down my source. I e-mailed my editor to ask for an extension. I even took a quick shower. This little time-out helped me feel more organized and in control. And that helped me go downstairs and be a mommy equivalent of a push-me-pull-me without wanting to pull my hair out.