Dialing Back the Decibels

Finding some alternatives to yelling

By Melissa Stefanec

My children are two of the most precious and beautiful things in my life.

They fill me with a love, comfort and hope that I didn’t know was possible before having kids. The smell of their hair makes me feel warm inside. Their smiles and laughter can turn my worst of days around. They are truly, to be cliched, a priceless gift.

They are also the source of some of my most embarassing frustration, anger, temper flare-ups and, occasionally, unbridled rage.

Kids know how to push their parents’ buttons. Before they can walk, they are honing their craft. By the time they can form coherent sentences, they have often perfected it. I am amazed by how frustrated I can get with my children when they behave like little monsters. Sometimes, when I can’t handle that frustration anymore, I choose to yell at them.

Yelling has some amazing short-term benefits. If they ignored my previous 16 requests to pick up their dirty laundry and put it in the hamper, yelling makes them seem to hear it for the first time. It also has the added benefit of them often picking up said laundry and putting it in its place, a feat the ultra-patient and kind version of myself was unable to accomplish.

However, yelling has some nasty side effects. It often results in them yelling something back at me like, “fine” or “no, I don’t want to.” It also teaches them yelling at someone is a way to get something you want. It teaches them that when you get desperate, you should solve your problems with anger and by instilling fear. It teaches them a deluge of life lessons that I find absolutely gross. So, yelling inevitably makes me feel like a shoddy parent. It makes me half the mom I want to be at twice the volume.

So, since becoming a mom, I have consulted my good friend, the internet, to find some alternatives to yelling. I’ve accumulated some non-yelling ammunition during my six and a half years of parenting. Next time you want to roar at your children with the force of a thousand “stop arguing with your brothers,” try these handy tactics instead.

• Calm yourself down, toddler-style

I have purchased a number of books for my kids that instruct them to slow down, count and breathe deeply when they are angry. Many of them have catchy little refrains. When I feel like I want to yell, I often stop, take several deep breaths and re-center. It really works astoundingly well, especially for us grownups who need help handling emotions.

• Practice some empathy

When someone yells at me, I become angry, hurt or despondent. Chances are, my kids feel the same way. If I want them to listen, I need to speak softly and firmly.

• Make sure they heard you in the first place

Kids are very much caught up in their own, beautiful little worlds. I have to remind myself that my children may not be actively screening me out. If I have something to say to them, I shouldn’t say it from the other room and wonder why they aren’t paying attention to me. I should say their names, make eye contact and communicate clearly with them.

• Remind yourself how hard not yelling is

Managing emotions is incredibly hard at any age. However, when I feel myself getting worked up, I try to imagine how much more worked up I would be if I had the brain of the 3-year-old. If I can’t tackle the problem at hand, how can I expect a 3-year-old to conquer it? I need to have reasonable expectations of my children. That will make me want to yell less.

• Don’t play into their childish games

Sometimes, kids do bad things to get attention, even if that attention is yelling. I vow to not let them best me mentally. I will stay strong and withhold the attention they crave until their bad behavior stops.

• Tap out of the ring

My husband and I have a great agreement that if we see the other losing his or her cool that we can tap them out and send in the other person to settle the dispute. This requires the will power to disengage, but it works wonders for everyone involved.

• Remind yourself of your child’s motives

When my kids are doing something to make me angry, I try to remind myself they aren’t attacking me. Their refusal to brush their teeth isn’t spiteful, they just don’t want to brush their teeth. Depersonalizing their behavior can really put things in perspective.

• Raise your arms instead of your voice

When I really want to tear into my kids, I sometimes try to give them a hug instead. Then, I redirect myself to my discipline comes from love instead of frustration. Starting off my lectures with a hug makes my lectures a lot more effective.

• Accept that you will yell (sometimes)

I don’t think anyone makes it through a week of parenting without raising their voice. When I inevitably slip up and yell, I stop, regroup and talk about it with my kids. When I lose my cool, I apologize and let them know why I was frustrated. It’s good to remind everyone in the family that yelling doesn’t solve problems.