A couple years ago after totally losing my shit on Number 3 and 4 in the car on the way to a swim meet, I made the decision to stop yelling at my kids.
I did this because I felt like an out of control psycho when I yelled at them, because they laughed at me when I lost it, and because it was happening over and over again. I was yelling at my kids about the same things. It was the classic definition of insanity.
I wanted the kids to change their behavior. But yelling wasn’t doing that.
Instead the yelling was causing the kids to completely tune me out. That reaction is why we so often feel like we have to yell louder or longer. We have to increase the yelling in order for our kids to know we are serious.
So either our kids don’t take us seriously, or they retreat. They fear us. And they are afraid to let us know when they are in trouble or have made a mistake.
And that is dangerous. That’s when kids start doing stuff secretly. It’s when they start to feel shame.
Shame is not good.
I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want them to feel shame. I definitely don’t want to be the cause of it.
When they do stuff that’s frustrating, what I really want to do is help them find a solution to the problem so that it doesn’t keep happening over and over and over again.
I fall off the wagon every once in a while. Bot not very often.
Number 4 reminded me of how far I’ve come just recently.
Last week, Number 6 and 7 got into a fight up in their room. Their room is on the third floor, and when I am down in the kitchen, I can’t really hear anything that goes on up there.
It wasn’t a physical fight, but they were arguing. And ultimately, Number 7 came down stairs, crying hysterically.
I couldn’t tell if she was hurt or what was going on because she was crying so hard.
“Are you hurt?” I asked her.
She shook her head no.
And then, through sobs she said, “I sob I sob I sob really sob need sob to sob talk to sob you!!!”
And she grabbed my hand and pulled me into my bedroom, closing the door behind us.
Eventually she calmed down enough to tell me what was wrong.
She had gotten so mad at Number 6, that she took his piggy bank and smashed it on the floor into a million pieces. Number 6 had left the room before this happened, so he didn’t know what she had done.
Clearly she felt bad.
She continued to cry and she asked me if I could clean it up and lie to Number 6 and tell him that she had just hidden it.
I told her we weren’t going to lie to Number 6.
I let her sit with me until she calmed down. I gave her a hug, and told her it would be okay, and that I would talk to Number 6 a little bit later.
I could have yelled at Number 7. I could have screamed What were you thinking???
I could have taken something away from her or punished her or threatened her.
But it was evident that she felt terrible.
And punishing her or yelling at her wouldn’t have solved the problem or prevented something like this from happening again in the future.
Number 7 didn’t need to suffer. She was clearly already suffering.
What she needed was a way to deal with her anger without destroying other peoples’ stuff.
She wouldn’t learn that in a time out, and she wouldn’t learn that by me taking a privilege away from her.
If I could help her practice some strategies that didn’t involve breaking things when she got really pissed, then I’d help her to avoid this situation again in the future.
I wasn’t thrilled that Number 7 smashed Number 6’s piggy bank.
But I was really, really, REALLY happy that she had fucked up and her first response was to tell me.
Number 4 was in the kitchen with me when this whole thing happened. Later that night when I was driving her home from swim practice, she asked me if I had told Number 6 what had happened to his piggy bank yet.
I told her I had spoken with both him and Number 7, and that everything was fine.
And Number 4 looked at me and said, “How are you such a good mom? How did you not get mad? You stay so calm. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that when I’m a mom.”
It’s always nice when your kid tells you you are a good mom (cause let’s face it, that doesn’t happen very often).
But that comment from Number 4 was really more of a reminder that your kids are watching. They are learning. They are definitely paying attention to how you handle situations. Not only did I show Number 7 that it’s okay to mess up and that I am a safe person to talk to, but I also showed that to Number 4.
Then next time your kid does something that pushes you to the edge, take a breath.
Remind yourself what it is that is making you angry.
And rather than jumping right into attack and punish mode, think about what will help you and your child come up with solutions to the problem.
And then, sit down with them and use that super frustrating moment, that mistake, as an opportunity for both of you to learn.
The more you practice this, the less you will feel that urge to yell.
And when you can get to that point, parenting becomes a little less challenging, and a little bit more enjoyable.