I’ve been guilty of doing the same: during the last several weeks before and after the twins were born, patience with my three-year-old had waned quickly. I had gone from raising my voice all of two times ever (this time and that time) to constantly taking my anger out on him. I wasn’t exactly the parenting model (“I write a parenting blog, for crying out loud!” I would ashamedly think to myself).
What is it, then, that makes perfectly normal, sane, intelligent women go ape-poop when it comes to their kids? Why do we snap so easily?
Stress. Loss of patience. Expecting too much of them. Lack of sleep. Even though yelling at our kids is hardly acceptable nor ideal, these all-too-common situations along with our own imperfections make us normal for doing so.
How then can we better manage our frustration and rein in the impulses to raise our voices?
- Remind yourself that this isn’t how it normally is. With your son complaining yet again about every little thing, it’s easy to feel like he hardly behaves, or to forget the many positive moments you have with him. Before muttering under your breath or listing the many ways your kid hasn’t been behaving, remember that these challenging moments are much rarer than they seem in your mind. The positive memories will also help temper any flares waiting to lash out.
- Imprint in your mind the worst stand-off you had with your kid. Feeling guilty for yelling so loud that your voice grew coarse and the fear in your child’s eyes broke your heart? Remember that feeling for the next time you feel your anger rising up once again. When you know the guilt and anguish that could potentially happen if you yell at your child, you’re less likely to do so.
- Be grateful for the blessings you have. Do her annoying demands matter in the bigger picture when you consider that she’s healthy and loved? Gratitude can be cliche but for a reason: it works. I’m not in the best of moods when my babies cry, but remembering how healthy and happy they are keeps me in check.
- Do something silly instead. A few months ago, my son was in a grumpy mood, crying incessantly for no good reason when I felt my anger boiling. But instead of yelling at him, I waved my arms above my head, did a funny foot shuffle with my feet and said, “Boo-billy-boo-billy-boo!” Doing so not only keep me from yelling at my son, it also made me laugh at myself and the situation (not to mention stun my confused boy as to what the heck his mama was doing). Laughter can definitely be the best medicine.
- Work on the underlying issue causing your child’s antics. Your son seems to complain about the most random topics, from keeping his socks on to not wanting to eat breakfast to insisting on finding his lost toy when in fact, the issues stem deeper than that. Maybe he’s dealing with a new baby sister and can’t fathom why things aren’t the same anymore. Or he senses that you’ve been extra busy and distracted when you come home from work. Resolve hidden issues your child may be facing to prevent his acting up in the first place.
- Remember that they’re kids, and that their fits are developmentally appropriate. Parents are in a bind because while we’re developmentally mature, we still have to interact with people who aren’t on a daily basis. Children don’t normally act up with the full intention to piss us off; instead, they’re handling their feelings in the only ways they can. They don’t have the tools to handle the influx of emotions they’re dealt with just yet. And if the kid has a lot on his plate, sorting through that maze can be even more frustrating and confusing for him.
- Give your kids a hug. Sing a song. And realize that all they want is to make sure you still love them. My son was refusing to leave the car. Stuck with two babies and a defiant three-year-old all on my own, I wanted to vent my frustration towards him. Instead, I pulled him close to me and gave him a hug. It was enough to convince him to leave the car and enter our home. Still crying, he eventually calmed down once I sat him on my lap and sang songs. He just needed to know I was still on his side.
None of these tips are easy. It’s never easy to take the longer route of halting your anger and redirecting it to something more productive, all the while the kids are at their worst. Practicing any of these calming measures won’t result in warm and fuzzy feelings and can sometimes feel unnatural (who wants to keep their voice calm and collected when the kid is yelling at the top of his lungs?).
But hopefully it will keep you from raising your voice, and more importantly, open your eyes to a potential learning moment. Yelling at your kids can sometimes “work”: they’ll obey, be quiet and leave you alone. But it doesn’t solve the problem; it can happen again and again, or worse, erect a wall between parent and child.
Instead, use these heated situations as teachable moments where both parents and children learn patience, respect, empathy, sorting through emotions, behaving in socially appropriate ways, and so, so much more.
What advice would you give my co-worker on how to stop yelling at her kid? When have you found yourself at your wit’s end with your kids, and what did you do about it?