“I can’t stop yelling at my child!” Maybe you can relate. Here are tips on how to better control your anger when you find yourself yelling at your child.
“He whines, and regresses to acting like a baby, and I just explode,” a friend confided. “Even after spending one-on-one with him, I resorted to yelling at my child so much that he got scared.”
I’ve been guilty of doing the same. During the weeks before and after the twins were born, I lost my patience with my three-year-old. I had gone from raising my voice two times ever to taking my anger out on him. I wasn’t exactly the parenting model (I write a parenting blog, for crying out loud!).
Stress. Loss of patience. Expecting too much of our kids. Lack of sleep. These are the factors that make normal, sane, intelligent women lose it with their kids. These all-too-common situations along with our own imperfections make us normal for doing so.
“I can’t stop yelling at my child.”
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My son felt terrified of taking a bath and wanted out. He was shrieking, clamoring over the tub’s edge, and flailing around an already-slippery tub. But rather than acknowledge his feelings or even let him skip a bath, I stood my stubborn ground.
In an attempt to show him who’s boss, I refused to let him leave the bath. I didn’t have my A-game on. If I did, I would’ve consoled him and showed much-needed empathy. Instead, as they say in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, “I got mad. I got terribly mad.”
I got him out of the bath early and toweled him off. I sped through our reading and singing routine before planting a quick kiss on the cheek and leaving.
It was a bad night.
How then can we better manage our frustration when we feel like raising our voices? Here’s what I remind myself:
Your child doesn’t always misbehave.
In the moment, it feels like our kids never behave. We draw conclusions based on our anger or how often it feels like they throws tantrum.
But these moments are rarer than they seem. You forget the many times she behaved at dinner and played with her siblings. And all the other situations when she behaved well.
Sometimes, letting your child “win” can save your sanity. Letting the little things go doesn’t turn kids into monsters who take advantage of their parents.
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Losing your temper in the past has never turned out well.
Have you yelled so loud your voice grew hoarse and you couldn’t stand the shock and fear on her face? Remember that feeling the next time your anger rises. Sometimes remembering how terrible it felt to yell at your child keeps you from doing so again.
As reactive as yelling may be, it actually makes the situation worse, not better. No child gets yelled at and thinks, “Ah, now I can calm down.” No, instead they mirror our emotions and cry and get frustrated even more.
Take a step back.
When I’m lucky, I still have part of my parenting cap on my head enough for me to pull myself out of the crazy tornado. It’s almost like I’m watching myself in action. I see and feel the emotions in me without reacting to them. I realize this is temporary and better days will come, and that a calm mom is more effective than a hysterical one.
Do her annoying demands matter when she’s healthy and loved? Gratitude can be cliche, but for a reason: it works. I’m not in the best mood 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 when I felt my anger boil. But instead of yelling, I made a silly sound and laughed instead. Doing so not only keep me from yelling, it also made me laugh at myself and the situation.
We shouldn’t laugh everything off, but being silly can be a better alternative. Once you remove yourself from your reaction, you can then hold a calmer conversation.
Work on the underlying issue causing your child’s behavior.
Your child seems to complain about everything. She refuses to take her socks off or doesn’t want to eat breakfast. But think about deeper issues beyond what you see.
Maybe she’s dealing with a new baby sister and doesn’t understand why her life has changed so much. Or she senses you’ve been extra busy and distracted when you come home from work. Resolve hidden issues she may be facing to prevent her misbehavior in the first place.
Their fits are developmentally appropriate.
While we’re developmentally mature, we still interact with people who aren’t. Children don’t act up trying to make us angry.
Instead, they’re handling their feelings in the only ways they can. They don’t have the tools to handle the emotions they feel. And if your child has a lot on her plate, she can feel frustrated and confused.
Give your kids a hug. Sing a song. And realize all they want is to know you still love them.
My son refused to leave the car and go into our home. I was alone with all three kids in the garage, with no way to carry all three upstairs. I felt like blaming him for his behavior. I wondered why he’s always making things so difficult.
Instead, I pulled him close and gave him a hug. He crumpled in my arms and felt safe and loved. And later, he calmed down once I sat him on my lap and sang songs. He just needed to know I was on his side.
Take a look at what could’ve gone wrong
See the triggers that set you off so you can replace your reactions with more productive responses. And make the necessary changes in your life to avoid yelling at your child, from small ones like waking up earlier to big ones like reducing your hours at work.
Once I cooled down, I took a long hard look at what went wrong. I realized that when I get mad, I’m better off relaxing, even if it means deviating from routine. I learned that I need to pick my battles. And that holding my ground can sometimes lead to unnecessary frustration.
I also learned that power struggles escalate when I feed into the draining emotions. If he was yelling, I’m better off not yelling back, no matter how tempting and difficult it is to stay calm. And that it’s always best to be the bigger person and let it go. Nothing is so set that it’s worth this much draining energy.
None of these tips are easy. It’s harder to pause and redirect your anger to something more productive, all while the kids are at their worst. Practicing any of these tactics won’t result in warm and fuzzy feelings. They even feel unnatural—who wants to keep their voice calm when the kids are yelling?
But these actions will keep you from raising your voice and even lead to a learning moment. Sure, yelling at your child can “work”: she’ll obey, be quiet and leave you alone. But yelling doesn’t solve the problem—it can happen again, or worse, draw a wall between you two.
Instead, use these heated situations as teachable moments. You’ll both learn patience, respect, empathy and emotions. And yes, learn how to stop yelling at your child and communicate better.
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