Reframe Bad BehaviorMy two boys know exactly how to press my buttons. Or do they? So often, we take our kid’s bad behavior personally when really it is their way of communicating with us. The other day, for example, I was desperate to do some deep cleaning. The house was a mess, and as the laundry piled up, I could feel myself becoming more and more overwhelmed. So, I made a batch of playdough, set up some loose parts play, and got to cleaning. But my kids had other ideas. They wanted me. Despite my best efforts to create engaging activities to keep them busy for an hour or two, they insisted on being wherever I was. That also meant making a mess as I was trying to clean. It’s almost like they knew I was trying to accomplish something, and they were doing their best to thwart me. Yes, thwart, like some evil villain in my story. So I yelled. I shouted at them to go and play. I may even have slammed a cabinet. As I watched their eyes fill with tears, I began to feel guilty for my outburst, but I was still frustrated with their behavior. But were they really doing anything wrong? Were they intentionally trying to sabotage my cleaning efforts? No, that was just the narrative I had created. They weren’t really trying to foil my cleaning plans or irritate me. They just wanted to be with me. You see, we had had a rough week, and everyone was feeling disconnected and dysregulated. My kids weren’t misbehaving; they were searching for connection. External behavior is a reflection of internal dysregulation, and we need to see it as a form of communication. Related reading: The crucial difference between positive and permissive parenting
How To Stop Yelling at Your Kids – Helpful TipsWe yell at our kids because we are tired, overwhelmed, touched out, burnt out, and need help. As much as we try, we can’t keep our cool all the time. Sometimes, our children’s behavior is extremely triggering, and we react to it rather than respond to the emotions behind the behavior. But harsh verbal discipline is harmful to our kids. We need to understand our child’s perspective in order to have the self-control and emotional regulation skills to stay calm. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves a time out.
The Power of the PauseStepping away from a triggering situation before you have a meltdown can be a game-changer for your parent-child relationship. Yelling is not going to make your child listen and only shows them that you feel out of control which can be scary for them. Explain to your child how you are feeling, move away, and take a few deep breaths. When you talk about your feelings, you are taking responsibility for them but also teaching your child healthy emotional regulation. You can’t help your child deal with the feelings behind their behavior without first addressing your own emotions. Teaching your child emotional literacy is a critical part of child development and has positive long-term effects. When you are reactive and yelling at your child, you are participating in their dysregulation.
Use “I” Statements“I” statements are another great first step to yelling less. Instead of, “You are making me feel angry.” Try, “I am starting to feel angry, so I am going to go into the other room for a minute to calm down.” Using “I” statements is one thing that helps you reframe how you see your child’s behavior and also avoids the blame-shame game. Your child is not responsible for your emotions, and when you blame your feelings on their behavior, they internalize that criticism.
Stay PositivePositive language can make a huge difference when it comes to yelling. When you focus on good behavior, you encourage your child to do more of it. Positive reinforcement is a powerful parenting tool that can help you focus on all the things your child is doing right rather than on what they are doing wrong. Be sure to make eye contact and get your child’s attention while you recognize and reinforce the behavior you want to see more of. Connection is one of the best ways to make your child feel seen, heard, and valued.
Clear BoundariesParents yell when they feel like their kids have violated a boundary and send them to a time-out. But do you have realistic expectations of your kids? Have you explained the boundary to all the family members and given them a good reason for setting it? Is a time out where they are isolated and emotional really the best way to approach “misbehavior”? Kids feel safe and secure when they know what is expected of them. When you have firm, fair, and consistent boundaries with logical consequences, your kids won’t keep testing your limits all the time. Respectful and loving boundaries help guide your kid’s behavior which means less yelling for you. Also remember that positive reinforcement goes a long way in helping make healthy boundaries a household habit.
Conditional LanguageKids have a harder time following instructions when they are unclear. Try using the “when-then” approach. For example: “When you finish your homework, then you can have 30 minutes of screen time” “When you put your coat and shoes on, then we can go to the park” Conditional language helps guide your child’s behavior while establishing consequences. It gives them control because they know exactly what they need to do, which means less yelling and nagging from you.
Other Helpful Tips for Calmer Communication
- Engage in preventative maintenance – regular self-care is needed to become a calmer parent.
- Make it a family goal to stop yelling – chances are the kids raise their voices too. Getting everyone on board to communicate in a calmer, more respectful way can be encouraging and more motivating too.
- Use visual aids – Dr. Laura Markham recommends creating a calendar to cross off each day you haven’t yelled. Not only will it help you see your progress, but it can also help you get back on track. Dr. Daniel Seigel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson recommend putting parenting quotes around the house and in the car to act as reminders.
- Remember that what looks like defiance often isn’t deliberate – when we change the way we evaluate our children’s behavior, it’s easier to stay calm in the heat of the moment. Ask yourself if your child is having a hard time, fearful, anxious, overwhelmed, or feeling disconnected from you.
- Take a deep breath before responding. Make your exhale longer than your inhale to calm yourself in the heat of the moment.
- Know your triggers. Some behaviors will make you feel more reactive than others. Identifying the actions that trigger you can help you be more responsive and aware.