Confessions of a Screamer
One mom confesses that she used to scream and yell at her kids -- and how she learned to cool down
ACT YOUR AGE, NOT YOUR SHOE SIZE
Saturday is the day we get a reprieve from our typical fire-drill-like mornings. Yet whenever we break with routine, the kids act up. And on this particular weekend morning after the workshop, Dashiell was in rare form. I was reading a Bionicle comic to Conrad, and for no reason other than feeling bored and left out, Dashiell took one of Conrad's fairly elaborate Lego creations op the shelf and dropped it on the floor. Conrad shrieked and burst into tears. Normally, I would scream at Dashiell, "Why are you so mean that you must break your brother's things!" Or I'd just let loose a flat-out "Bad Dashiell!" as if he were a naughty puppy. But I woke up anticipating a moment like this, and now it was time to prove I could turn our family tension around.
I looked at Dashiell and said, "What are you, three years old?" to remind myself that, after all, my son is only 3. Labeling your child by his age has a magical way of giving you instant perspective -- reminding you that, no, he doesn't get it. Dashiell was 3. He felt jealous. If I'd been living on earth for only 36 months, when I got mad, I would break things, too. "What are you, three?" stopped me from escalating the situation to where I was shouting and he was having a tantrum. It's been so effective that my husband and I both use it now. And the real beauty is that it can work for any age: Your kid is skateboarding without his helmet! What are you, 9? Your daughter got her lip pierced! What are you, 16?
During the workshop, I was so impressed with the idea of using descriptive language instead of threats that I kept imagining scenarios where I could try it. Perhaps I'd discover the boys had decided to finger-paint the playroom floor. Instead of saying "Who was the genius who thought it was time to paint my floor blue?" I would say "I see a huge mess of finger paints on the floor, and it makes me infuriated that you didn't use the table. Get rags and clean it up."
But descriptive language is not the most spontaneous form of speech, and it didn't come naturally to me. I needed an incentive, so I made myself a Descriptive Language Star Chart. Every day that I was able to use it consistently, I would give myself a sticker. At the end of the week, if I had more than six, I'd give myself a reward (a yoga workshop, sleeping in late).
At first, it was tiring to be on descriptive-language alert, waiting to pounce on a misdemeanor with a flat and accurate description of what I saw. When Dashiell jumped into the tub from the edge, splashing me in a tsunami of water and nearly cracking his skull, I shouted, "What are you, nuts?" then recovered with, "Sweetie, when I see you jump like that, it scares me, and the water splashes everywhere. Get a towel and dry the floor." But the more I did it, the easier it became. When Conrad kicked his brother in the back for knocking over his block castle, I was able to turn to him swiftly and, in a whisper, say, "I see a boy expressing himself with his body when he should use words, and it makes me upset." After a week, I had seven sparkling stickers. The following Saturday, Dashiell woke up just as the sun was coming up, and I nudged my husband to get up with him. I had earned my right to sleep in, and I had the stickers to prove it.