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Reality Check: Putting a Sock in It

Q. How can I stop yelling at my kids? I grew up amid lots of shouting, and I don't want my children to remember me for this.

A.
You're already a step ahead of the last generation of yellers -- you know it's a problem and you want to change. And the fact that you're concerned about your behavior shows a level of caring that's probably getting through to your kids. So go easy on yourself while you reform. As a (mostly) rehabilitated yeller, I humbly submit the following five-step plan:

1. Change the content of your yelling. If demeaning or threatening language tends to slip out in the heat of the moment, stop it now because this does more damage than the yelling itself. Don't worry about your volume for now, but drop the nasty words and try rote phrases like "I'm so angry about this!" -- which lets you vent without using cruel words.

2. Have your spouse or a friend tape-record you during a yelling jag. You'll be ashamed of what you hear, and it will stick in your memory the next time you're about to lash out.

3. Identify the real reasons you yell. It's not just that purple yogurt squirted out of one of those tubes and was left to dry on the wall. It's also that your spouse is working late again, your toddler woke you up at 3 a.m., or you haven't eaten since that half bagel this morning. Not all problems are your kids' fault.

4. Notice what yelling does to you. You don't just hear yourself screaming, you feel it. It's physically and emotionally draining, in part because of the guilt that usually follows. It's also futile because children tune out their parents' annoying behavior.

5. Speak softly. The summer I lost my voice from yelling, I decided I could change only by going to the opposite extreme -- reprimanding very quietly and seriously. It worked. Madeline and Ellie didn't magically stop misbehaving, but they were much more likely to stop and listen, and I felt less drained.

Even once you vow to stop shouting, you'll still slip sometimes; when you do, be sure to explain to your kids why, whether or not it's their outrageous behavior that set it off. Above all, remind them often of how much you love them. This is what you'll be remembered for.

Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to PARENTING magazine and a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk.

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