“Mommy, you yelled at me. You said, ‘Get back in your bed!’ and you put me in my bed and walked away. And it made me sad. And I wanted to walk away from you. And I yelled at you and cried and cried.”
I was stunned. Partly because I couldn’t believe my tiny little boy could be so articulate about his feelings, but mostly because I didn’t even remember this happening.
Sure, I remember dozens of times when he kept getting up after repeated warnings to stay in bed. I still have parenting PTSD from those months after his baby brother was born when I would be bouncing the newborn on my yoga ball outside his room, trying to multi-task getting the baby to sleep while also blocking the toddler from getting out of his room, and bribing my older daughter to just stay quiet. I will never forget desperately pleading with the sleep gods to please not let one child ruin the sleep of the others.
But which night was he remembering?
Why did it stick with him?
Is that how he will remember me, yelling and angry?
Thinking back on those challenging nights, I realized that yelling has become a pattern I’ve fallen back on all too often, and it made me wonder: Was my yelling effective? Did it result in changed behavior? Did it result in a changed relationship? Did it result in a changed home climate? I think the answer to all of these questions is yes, but not in the way that I wanted, and certainly not in a positive way.
This realization opened my eyes. So I made a New Years Resolution: No more yelling.
It may seem like I am overreacting. You may be thinking that it would be dangerous to put so much weight on the thoughts of a tiny preschooler. But this one small conversation with this one small child opened my eyes to a broader picture of my parenting strategies, and showed me that what I thought I was doing was not having the effect that I expected or wanted. I thought I was using my voice to show that I was in charge. I thought I was conveying to my children that their behavior was inappropriate–the louder my voice, the more they were missing the mark and needed to adjust. But what they were really learning was that people yell to get what they want. The more you want it, the louder you yell. When things go wrong, you use your voice and your emotions to manipulate others.
The truth is, I was not using yelling as a tool. I was using it as a weapon. I was using yelling to scare and intimidate my children into compliance–not because they wanted to listen, not because they respected my authority–but because they were scared of how I might act if and when they didn’t. I chose to be scary and mean, hoping that they would be fearful and compliant.
I don’t condemn yelling, nor do I judge those who do it. I am one of them. But I’m hoping that this year of removing it from my tool belt helps me become more skilled at using the other tools available to me. What will I do when my child disobeys? What will I do when I’m at the end of my rope? What will I do when I am pushed to my limits and my authority is questioned?
When they hurt the baby? No yelling.
When they are running through the kitchen and driving me crazy? No yelling.
When they ignore my words for the 10th time? No yelling.
When they are about to run into a busy street? YELL. Yelling is a tool for making yourself be heard across long distances or to get someone’s attention quickly in dangerous situations. If someone’s about to get hurt, go ahead and yell. But in all other cases of normal childhood misbehavior. No yelling. It’s time to think of a better way.
I hope that I model the behavior that I want my children to copy. I hope I “use my words” and “take a breath” and “count to 10” and “ask for what I need”. I hope I treat my children the way I would want to be treated. I hope I choose positive parenting tools that are pro-social, relationship-building, fair, and respectful.
I have no idea if this year will be successful. I have to admit that there is a part of me that fears becoming a doormat who allows her children to behave like animals and walk all over her. I am not so naive to think that just because I don’t yell, my kids are all of a sudden going to be perfect angels who jump at the chance to please me. I know it’s going to be hard. My willpower and self control will certainly be challenged to their limits.
The bottom line is, when I respond to my children’s challenging behavior, I don’t want to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I want to be able to honestly and proudly tell them, “This is how you act when you are angry. Please, do what I do. Learn from me. Let me show you the way.”
No matter how this year plays out, I believe that this resolution will teach me to control my emotions and think before I act, and those are two lessons that I desperately hope my children DO remember.