Spanking children has been on the decline for years. But ask any parent if they yell at their kids and most will admit they do. Many parents raise their voices out of sheer frustration even though research shows yelling is as harmful of a discipline tactic as spanking. As much as we love our kids, we aren’t always the calm parent that we thought we’d be. Whether a toddler refuses to put on their shoes when you’re already running late, a grade- schooler leaving a mess in the kitchen, a teenager avoiding responsibilities, or any number of reasons, the struggle to maintain a calm, peaceful home in the midst of stress often means parents lose their temper. When they do, guilt and other emotions follow for the parent and negative, long-lasting effects follow for the child.
The truth is yelling is counterproductive and doesn’t do much except leave the child and parents feeling upset. Unless parents find the deeper reason why they are yelling or seek alternative solutions to shouting at their children, the cycle will continue. If you are reading this, you are probably searching for ways to get control of your anger, discipline your child without yelling, and find ways to simply calm down so you don’t feel like you’re at level ten all the time. Keep reading to discover solutions that may work for maintaining a happier home.
Parents and Anger
We all get angry and we know that our children are not going to behave well every minute of the day. They are learning, exploring, and driven by curiosity, often at the expense of our stress levels. As parents, we never intentionally think that if our child misbehaves, we will blow up at them, but it happens for many reasons. After all, we aren’t just parents. We are spouses, employees, friends, family, and so much more. Many of us are trying to do too much while also holding so tightly to patience, that we wind ourselves up to the point where we can’t help but explode. The secret is finding a way to get control of your emotions so they don’t control you – even when your child is throwing a tantrum in aisle 7 of the grocery store.
Understanding Why We Yell
The most obvious reason why parents yell is they are frustrated. Of course, sleep deprivation and the stress life constantly throws at us are a nasty combo, and easily ignited by misbehaving children. As parents we have an overwhelming sense of responsibility to achieve all that is required of us on a regular basis. We not only need to remember to cut the crust off our child’s sandwich but to meet Tuesday’s deadline at work, pick up our spouse’s dry cleaning before the shop closes, and call our mother who hasn’t been feeling well. There are bills to pay, there is loneliness, there is what we expected, what we get, and what we completely missed.
When our emotions overwhelm us and our heart rate is escalating, thanks to evolution, our body naturally goes into fight or flight mode. Although we are standing in front of a screaming 3-year-old and not a saber-toothed tiger, our gut instinct is to save ourselves, not to negotiate the subtler challenges of modern parenthood.
Know Your Triggers
Just as hunger and needing a nap are prime reasons for a toddler to throw a tantrum, it’s important to know what triggers you as a parent, too. We all have different triggers and pet peeves that set us off. Being aware of the tiny triggers that build up as well as the big ones that turn you into a raging, crazy parent who can’t think straight because of anger, is a good first step. Once you become aware of what is making you angry, you can identify the triggers and better control your actions. Although everyone has their own triggers, here are a few examples:
- Talking back
- Not listening/ignoring
- Eye rolling
It’s also important to be aware of when the triggers upset you. For example, when you are relaxing on the couch on a Saturday afternoon and a child rolls their eyes, it may annoy you but not cause you to yell. But if the child does it when you are rushing to make it to work on time or after a long exhausting day, it could set you off. It may help to make a list of your triggers as well as marking down when you find yourself yelling the most. Being aware of the pattern can help you target underlying agitations and avoid rising to a level of anger.
Stop the Screaming Cycle
By taking your triggers into account and tracking them, you will become more aware of your emotions and the physiological signs of knowing when your nerves run hot. From the rapid breathing and tightness in the throat to rising within you, you will become more thoughtful instead of relying on your knee jerk reaction.
As those feelings rush in, try to remember the acronym STOP. Stop. Take a breath. Observe. Proceed. You may even find that doing something such as putting your hands on the kitchen table and concentrating on the feeling of your feet on the floor, can help bring your mind and body back from the flight or fight response. As you feel your chest tightening and your blood pressure rising, find one thing to do or say in these moments to get calm.
If all else fails, and your child is not in danger, walk away. Maybe you need a time out. Stepping away from the situation before you let yourself get too angry is a way to stop being reactive, calm your breathing, and focus on what is happening. Regularly practicing meditation and mindfulness will make it easier to get to that calm place faster.
After You Yell
When your best efforts at staying calm fail, what you do next is crucial. Talk to your child and apologize that you got so angry. Explain what made you angry and acknowledge that it was a mistake, but you will work on doing better next time. Children are generally forgiving and have an incredible ability to move on. But, for the sake of you and your child, you need to make a concerted effort to stop the cycle.
Seek Professional Help
Yelling is a learned behavior that can affect your child’s development. Being frequently yelled at as children changes how we think and feel. If you have tried numerous tactics to avoid angry outbursts and nothing seems to work, then it’s time to seek the help of a licensed therapist. A trained professional can help you get a hold of your anger once and for all, which will ultimately keep your child healthy. Don’t be so quick to overlook therapy either – it can be one of the most powerful tools out there.