Parenting without yelling can feel elusive. But we know yelling is damaging to children and does not help the listen better. Here is how to re-establish a calm household after yelling as well as strategies to stop yelling altogether.
It had been days since my last cup of coffee. And if ever there was a week I needed a strong cup, it was this one.
- Monday, I got the worst stomach flu of my life and had to nurse the baby through it.
- Tuesday, my husband left for six days.
By Wednesday night, I was a de-caffeinated shell of a parent. I decided an early bedtime was my only hope at salvaging the week and my sanity. As I dragged my tired bag of bones upstairs, I could see my four-year-old son’s eyes wide awake staring at me from his darkened bedroom.
“You okay, Honey?”
He shook his head sadly.
“It’s okay. Mama will lie with you.”
I snuggled into him and rubbed his back until he drifted off. When he was sound asleep, I tiptoed out of his room.
I could still get to bed early.
In my room, I peeled off the grimy pyjamas I had worn all day and slid into fresh flannel. Crying halted my attempt to unwind. The baby was up. I nursed him. As I slowly lowered him back into his crib, I could see he was nodding off. Ever so quietly, I headed to our master bath to wash off another sick day from my face.
But then the baby started crying again.
I sighed and comforted him. I could still salvage my early bedtime if I just got my cantankerous little boy back down. Even when he would settle, it wasn’t for long. I deduced, he must be teething and breathed deeply. I tried not to focus on the hours of sleep quickly slipping me by.
The baby was comfortable and back in his bed when my bedroom door swung open.
My daughter wanted to sleep with me. “Okay, get in bed,” I conceded. There was a momentary lull leading me to believe I could finally sleep. But the crying resumed. I scoffed when I realized it was just shy of midnight. My blood was starting to boil. My jaw clenched as I began ruminating. It’s not fair. This isn’t fair.
I was playing a version of whack-a-mole with my kids’ sleep and I was losing.
When I was snuggling into my little guy, I heard my daughter say two fateful words, “I peed.”
I gulped hard. “You peed in the bed?” I hoped I had missed her brief jolt over to the bathroom. Her brown eyes were wide as she nodded her head. Sleep was evading me. And now the prospect of sleeping in a dry bed was gone.
That’s when it happened.
I stripped the bed exasperated.
“You’ll have to get a towel.”
She didn’t move.
“NOW!” I yelled.
I flung the wet sheet into the washer and slammed it closed. Unsatisfied, I slammed the laundry room door too. At the top of my lungs, I yelled, “Are you kidding me?!”
By now, all three kids were awake. The baby stood in his crib as my two older children looked at me shocked. Admittedly, I wasn’t shocked. I was ridden with disappointment in myself. Why did I react so poorly? Honestly, I thought I had more self-control. What kind of parent acts like that?
I needed to make amends and get back to parenting intentionally and peacefully. This is how I did it.
Related reading: The Real Reason Parents Yell at Their Kids
Here is what you can do after you yell at your kids
Step 1 Apologize.
I apologized to my kids immediately after my meltdown. I told them that I was mad and made a bad choice but I wasn’t mad at them. It wasn’t their fault.
The reason this step is imperative is because it sets the stage to make amends and it models good behaviour.
Related reading: Stop Yelling at Your Kids Using One Simple Strategy
Step 2 Re-prioritize.
In the days after my adult tantrum, I have focused on getting rest, the kids, and my own self-care. It has been difficult to ignore my mounting to-do list and not worry about how much cleaner the counters and floors could be. Instead, I’m going to yoga more, getting to bed earlier and putting my phone away more. (Smartphone usage is linked to increased stress levels and is responsible for restlessness at night.)
Step 3 Connect.
After I lose my cool, re-connecting with my children is paramount. Yelling increases a child’s feelings of insecurity, fear, and aggression. Connection helps repair this damage.
With this in mind, I am getting up earlier in the morning so I can spend time with my kids before they start school. We play Trouble or do their Secret Life of Pets puzzle. Since starting this new routine, they have been fighting less and are listening better than before.
Research over many decades has shown that a secure relationship is the most important foundation of effective parenting. Children who have secure attachments [and feel more connected] tend to be happier, kinder, more socially competent, and more trusting of others, and they have better relations with parents, siblings, and friends. – Diana Divecha, Berkley.edu
These steps are a wonderful way to get back on track to parenting without yelling.
Related resource: The Action Plan to Calm Intense Emotions in Kids
Parenting Without Yelling: Can it be done?
Two days after I broke down, a message popped up in a parenting group I follow. The mother described getting a phone call from her 11-year-old daughter from school. Her daughter said she lost her expensive retainer after placing it on a napkin at lunch. The mother asked questions but refrained from scolding. When the daughter was done explaining, At the end of the conversation, the daughter offered her own money towards a replacement. The girl finished the conversation by saying, “Everyone here said you’d be mad but I knew you wouldn’t be.”
This is what I want for my family. I want to be a consistently peaceful and effective parent.
According to Dr Laura Markham, clinical psychologist parenting without yelling is possible. It takes practice, focus and forgiving ourselves. She recommends recording how many days parents go without yelling by using a sticker chart.
In kind, I’ve been writing using the prompts in The Action Plan to Calm Intense Emotions in Kids to stay calm myself. It is a resource I co-authored meant to calm children who struggle with self-regulation. However, it is chalked full of strategies for parents to be a child’s foundation for calm. Re-reading it has helped me get back on track.
A week later, not only am I enjoying coffee once again, I am also relishing our more peaceful household. I’m grateful to have more contented children that are arguing less too. This is all thanks to connecting and focusing on what my biggest priorities are.