Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s question is about how to stop yelling at my kids. A reader writes:
I yell at my kids too much. I’m just really busy and I don’t want to be this kind of mom but I find myself often yelling at them when they don’t listen to me. And I want to stop yelling at my kids, but I don’t know how. What should I do to calm down?
That’s such a common problem, and I hope I can offer some helpful thoughts!
Most of the time I yell it’s because I’m aggravated. And the reason I’m aggravated is because I have plans, and things need to get done, and other people aren’t getting with the program. So there are two elements to this problem:
1. I have plans that aren’t getting met
2. Other people aren’t getting with the program
We yell because we think the real issue is #2. But what if it’s actually #1?
Let’s take two scenarios and see how this could play out:
You need to leave to pick up the older kids from school at 3:45. Once you get them you’ll be going directly to karate lessons, so you need all their gear. Because you’ll be at karate so long, you really need to have dinner ready to go when you get home, so you have to have something ready to go. Before you go to school, then, you plan to cut up all the veggies for the stir fry you want to make, marinate the meat, and get the rice cooker on. That way dinner will only take 15 minutes once you get home.
Your younger two go down for a nap at 1. Instead of getting dinner ready, you decide to check Facebook. They wake up at 2:30, but they’re playing relatively well, and so you start browsing the news about the Olympics and other things. At 3:10 you realize you really need to get going. You jump up from your computer and start cutting vegetables. At that moment the kids, who had been playing well for forty minutes, start whining about wanting a snack. You’re annoyed. Then you realize that you never switched the wash into the dryer. You spend the next twenty minutes yelling at everybody as you run around like a chicken with her head cut off.
Here’s another scenario:
10-year-old Ben has basketball practice tonight and 12-year-old Jessica has hockey practice. You have to be at one rink for practice at 6:15 and the other one at 6:35. You won’t be home from everything until 8:30. You need to have homework done and dinner made and consumed before you leave the house at 6:05. But your husband doesn’t get home to help until 5:45, and you don’t get home until 5. While you’re making dinner you’re trying to get the kids to do their homework, but they’re being really slow. They’re whining. They’re waiting for you to fill in the answers, and you can’t do that and brown ground beef at the same time. You’re really aggravated because you’re only taking them to sports to be nice to them, but they won’t cooperate. You lose it.
Do you see what’s happening in both of those scenarios? The children are behaving perfectly normally. The problem is not that the children won’t get with the program; it’s that you have made decisions which makes it virtually impossible for the children to cooperate.
In the first instance, you chose to use time when you could have been getting things done to browse the computer; in the second, you’ve overscheduled the kids’ lives, and after a long day kids don’t always want to do homework right away.
The problem, then, isn’t that the kids aren’t being good. It’s that what you’re asking them (and what you’re asking of yourself) may very well be unreasonable.
Suggestion: Take a look at the last 3 times you really yelled at your kids. Analyze the situation. What was going on? Were you in a hurry? What was your schedule like? Can you trace it back? Is there something that YOU can do differently to prevent getting annoyed with everyone and everything?
Do You Yell at Your Kids Because You’re Afraid of Something?
Anger is often a secondary emotion. We often feel anger because it’s “safer” to feel than some of the other emotions–insecurity, fear, guilt. So when someone pushes a button that triggers a “scary” emotion, we often react in anger, sometimes without realizing what the real trigger is.
Look at this scenario:
You’ve been teaching your 7-year-old letters and phonics for several years now, and he’s not getting it. He has a little book from school that he’s supposed to read to you at bedtime, but he couldn’t care less. He won’t even try. You’re frustrated and scared that he’ll never read, and you blow up at him when he won’t put in the effort. You want him to grow up to get a good job, not be stuck in some go-nowhere job.
In the meantime, you and your husband are having money issues. Your husband never finished his education, though you do have some college. And you’re scared your son will repeat the pattern. You’re scared, and you yell.
Or perhaps the house is always a mess and the kids seem to squabble a lot, and you find yourself yelling constantly. But if you analyze your feelings, it’s really that you’re scared you’re a failure. All you ever wanted was to be a wife and mom, and now you can’t even keep a house under control. What kind of mother are you?
Suggestion: Next time you find yourself yelling, ask yourself: what am I really feeling here? Am I scared of something? Am I feeling guilty about something? Pray about that feeling instead.
Take Time to Talk to Your Kids
You’re trying to feed the baby and your toddler is trying to crawl up in your lap and is making the baby cry. Or maybe you’re trying to talk on the phone and your 4-year-old is constantly pulling at your leg and asking for something. It seems as if you can never get any time alone, away from constant demands!
Here’s the truth: kids like to “check in” and know that they’re secure and safe. They know that when they have your undivided attention. If you can give your child some undivided attention throughout the day, even if it’s just in short spurts, they’re far more likely to let you have some of your own alone time later, as I wrote in this post on how to prevent temper tantrums.
Suggestion: Before you start something where you need the kids to leave you alone, take some 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2) time with them. Need to nurse the baby in an hour? Pull the toddler up on your lap now and read a story. Need to clean the house today? Before you start, get on the floor and play a few games with the kids. Make it a habit of giving your kids some attention before you need them to leave you in peace.
Set Consequences for Bad Behavior, and Let the Consequences Do the Work
Yelling is not a punishment, yet when we’re mad, often the first thing we do is yell. If that’s all we ever do, though, kids often learn to drown it out. It doesn’t phase them. You yell; you vent some steam; but nothing really changes.
It’s better to have consequences for bad behaviour that are immediate, that are known, and that are obvious. So, for instance, if you tell kids to clean up, and then you give another warning, and they don’t, they lose their iPod for a week. You don’t have to yell; you just take the iPod away.
I’d suggest having three simple levels of punishments that will work for a variety of things. You could take away iPods or other electronics; you could take away video games and TV; or you could take away outings or fun things. If they’re younger, they could lose a toy. But just have three consequences for each child that work, and put them on the fridge. You can decide then if it’s a Defcon 1 situation or a Defcon 3.
When you start following through with consequences, kids usually start listening to you, and listening to the warning, better.
Practice A Serious Voice
Have you ever noticed how little kids especially are more inclined to listen when dad says something? My husband, a pediatrician, says it’s because dads have deeper, and thus scarier, voices.
We moms often have this sing-song voice. And we spend our lives saying things like this:
Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?
5 minutes later:
Guys, it’s really time to start putting things away and getting going.
5 minutes later:
I don’t see anyone cleaning up their stuff! Come on, we’ve got to get going!
5 minutes later:
(Yelling) I said to clean up!!!!! Why do you never listen to me!!!!????
But what did that sound like to a child? You’re likely using the same voice that you use for everyday conversation. Most women don’t vary our voice tones very much.
Suggestion: If you have something you really want your children to do, use a lower voice and fewer words. Instead of saying, “Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?”, try “Children, Please start cleaning up now.” In a deep voice. Change your tone, and issue a command, don’t make a statement. Let kids know you mean business, and it may not escalate like that. It will feel unnatural, like you’re being mean, but try it! Kids need to know the difference between you talking to them and you asking them to do something.
God Wants to Help You With This
I hope some of those suggestions resonate with you! We all yell for different reasons, and often different triggers set us off. Recognizing those triggers, and seeing the cause, can help us substantially.
But I also want to reassure you that God wants to help you with this. He doesn’t want you yelling at your precious children, since they are also His precious children. He says in Ephesians 4:29,
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
But He also says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. You can do this because God can strengthen you and help you! So when you feel weak, ask Him to help you be a great mother to these kids. Ask Him to give you patience. Seek after patience in other areas of your life, too. Seek after peace and affirmation from God, so you don’t need it from your kids. And know that even this struggle can help bring you closer to God, and through that He can open the window onto some things in your heart, and can help healing you and your whole family.
Now let me know: Which scenario do you most identify with? Feeling busy? Feeling fear? Finding that kids just don’t listen to you? Which suggestion spoke to you? Or do you have other ones for us? Let me know in the comments!