Last week, I was on the phone with the bank when I heard the twangy tones of a music box playing Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ over and over again. I couldn’t concentrate so I ended the call.
I found Grandma’s piano music box upside down on the floor of the family room. It was broken. The lid wouldn’t close to shut the music off. Angrily, I pulled out the batteries and went to find my sons.
I found my sons playing in the bedroom. My eldest explained that my youngest was play fighting and knocked the music box off of the piano. Instead of telling anyone, he ran off to hide. I lost my temper and berated my son for his carelessness. He had already broken one of his other toys that morning so the music box incident just pushed me over the edge. On and on I went, even though I knew it was an accident.
My son burst into tears and wouldn’t stop sobbing. Then, I felt bad. I had lost my temper and been far too harsh with a five-year-old boy. I apologized for losing my temper. Then, I squeezed his hand and told him I was sure Grandma would forgive him. I offered to help him explain the accident.
After that, I vowed to research ways to parent without yelling. I knew I didn’t handle the music box incident very well.
Why Parent Without Yelling?
When parents yell it only teaches children to react the same way when they’re upset. If a child sees that mom or dad yells when they’re upset or angry, a child is likely to do the same.
Alyson Schafer, author of Ain’t Misbehavin’: Tactics For Tantrums” writes, “If yelling is your main form of discipline, it can diminish your child’s sense of security and self-esteem.”
Imagine being yelled at by your boss as work. Think about how you would feel. You wouldn’t be able to process the words. Instead, you would feel embarrassed, ashamed, or angry by the loud tone of voice.
When you yell at a child he/she will go into defensive mode. An adult or child feeling defensive won’t ‘hear’ your message.
Jim Hutt, Ph.D. and creator of counselorlink writes, “If I yell at a kid, he’s going to stop processing information, and if I want him to learn why his behavior is inappropriate, I need him to understand what I’m saying.”
If we want our children to internalize our message, we must wait until our children are less upset and deliver it calmly.
As parents, we are role models for our children. They pick up more cues about social interactions from what we do rather than what we say. In her blog post, ‘Parenting With Patience‘, Dr. Gail Gross writes, “Children model what they see, and when you parent with patience you model respect, empathy, security, and good self-esteem.”
Parenting with patience seems to be the best approach for our children. So, how do we stop yelling and parent with more patience?
It’s not easy, but these five techniques may help:
Have Age Appropriate Expectations of Your Child’s Behavior
Do you remember those developmental milestones you eagerly read when your child was a baby? You couldn’t wait until he said his first word. Well, it’s time to revisit them and remember that an 8-year-old can’t be expected to handle disappointment with grace. Heck, most adults don’t handle disappointment with grace.
After the music box incident, I researched milestones for five-year-olds and found that “the development of a 5-year-old is fraught with emotional extremes and contradictions. At this age, many children are still straddling the not-too-distant past period of the toddlerhood and preschool years and the “big kid” phase of development to come.”
Much like the teenage years between childhood and adulthood, the early childhood years are full of mood swings. One moment your child might regress to toddler-like behavior and the next, he/she might surprise you with a mature reaction. This made sense.
Amy Moran, psychotherapist and lecturer at Northeastern University, describes the age of five as the perfect age to talk about “socially appropriate ways to handle feelings, like anger and frustration.”
I know I need to do more work on this with my son and to be more understanding when he doesn’t know the right way to handle his strong emotions.
Ask the following questions when you find yourself on the verge of yelling:
Am I expecting too much of my child?
Is this an age-appropriate behavior?
Where’s the behavior coming from and why?
Take Care of Your Own Needs First
Just as the safety announcement reminds us on an airplane, put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child with theirs.
In the same way, you must take care of your own needs in order to effectively take care of your children’s needs. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. Are you getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising to let go of parenting stress?
If I don’t get a full night’s sleep I’m much more short-tempered with my children. I’ve had to stop reading good books before bed because it’s too tempting for me to stay up late and finish them. Then, I’m grumpy with my children the next day. This isn’t fair to them. So, to help me get more sleep, I’ve temporarily banned books from my bedside table and I turn off my phone and computer an hour before bedtime.
Do you switch off the TV or phone early enough to get a good night’s sleep?
Do you have time to eat when you’re hungry?
Have you exercised or engaged in a stress-reducing activity like yoga or meditation today?
All of these healthy behaviors will help you let go of stress. As parents, we need to prioritize our own health so that we can have enough patience for our children.
Avoid Rushing and Allow for Unforeseen Circumstances
As parents, we’re the ones who set the tone for the day. Allowing extra time to cope with unforeseen circumstances will help our children and ourselves feel more peaceful as we go about our day.
When my sons were little, I always allowed an extra 20 minutes to get out of the house. I’ve realized I still need to have this 20-minute window for the inevitable last minute bathroom stop or the shoes my son can’t seem to put on his feet. Sometimes, I need the extra time to give my sons a cooling-off period or time-out. When I found them, have time to spare, we are all calmer. I find I can be far more patient if I’m not running late.
Don’t Get Angry Over Accidents – Keep Calm and Clean Up
This is my new mantra. It applies to any situation where my child spills something or breaks something. I don’t need to get angry with my children for accidents. Chances are, they already feel bad.
Now, I calmly hand my child a washcloth or paper towel. Then, I get one for myself. Together, we clean up the mess.
By modeling a calm reaction, I show my children that it’s okay to make mistakes. We all have accidents and spill or break things. Just this morning I dumped far too many Cheerios out of the box. They spilled all over onto the table and made a big mess. Even adults make mistakes.
The important thing is to clean up our mess and apologize if our accident affects anyone else. If we break something, we offer to pay for it. I now have my children contribute some of their own money when they break things. When it’s their money on the line, they’re much more careful with their belongings.
Have a Danger Zone Warning System in Place
One way to help all family members be more conscious of their emotional state is to teach the concept of ‘the danger zone’. Feel free to play the classic Kenny Loggins’ song when you introduce it.
The idea of the danger zone is to gently warn family members when they’re getting too angry and on the verge of yelling.
One person might say, “It looks like you’re approaching the danger zone.”
At that point, the angry adult or child can take a deep breath and try one of the following calming techniques:
· Take a few deep breaths — Try inhaling for a slow count of 5 and then exhale to a count of 8. Repeat 3–5 times.
· Take a walk (literally) — Walk around the block, the back yard, or even just around the house. Moving will help distract you or your child from your anger.
· Create a change of scenery — Move to a different room. Walk outside and observe nature for a few minutes. Or, focus on something new like a painting or decorative object that brings you pleasure.
· Cuddle something soft — This could be a pet, a stuffed animal, or a loved one.
· Listen to soothing music or natural sounds.
· Get moving – Jump up and down a few times, do 10 Jumping Jacks, or run around the yard. These movements will all help you let off steam.
When you give your child a menu of calming techniques you’re giving him/her a valuable resource for coping with stress, anxiety, and strong emotions.
Understand child development, take care of yourself, avoid rushing, don’t get angry over accidents, and be aware when you’re approaching the danger zone. These five techniques will help you stop yelling and become a more patient parent. I hope you enjoy the peace in your home that will follow.
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