Last winter, my older daughter and I fought The Sock Wars, an epoch marked by high-pitched tantrums and missed playdates because *someone* did not want to put her socks on. The final battle featured one of us yelling loudly and throwing socks at the other. Sad but true: the screaming sock-thrower in this story was not the four-year-old.
I try, like most of my mommy colleagues, to be reasonable, kind, and fair with my kids. We do a whole lot of talking about feelings in this house. I make heroic efforts to be organized about their stuff and their schedules before anyone gets stressed out.
When all that fails,I resort to throwing a mommy size tantrum. I yell, I stomp, I cry. Once in awhile a door gets slammed.
According to a recent New York Times article, I am far from alone. They reported last week that not only is yelling nearly ubiquitous in American households, it's also the thing moms feel most guilty over. For the most part, our generation of parents doesn't hit or spank our kids. We're there for their school events and soccer games. We're nourishing their minds, spending quality time, and somehow holding down jobs and doing the dishes.
But sometimes, when the going gets rough, we yell.
No one advocates yelling as a disciplinary strategy. Screaming at a child is pretty clearly the last resort of an at least momentarily desperate adult. Doing it infrequently like I do can scare kids a lot. Doing it frequently just numbs them to it; the more you turn up the volume, the more they tune you out.
So why do so many of us yell? The NYT article suggests it's a way for overworked, overachieving parents to blow off steam.
Here are my theories:
- Parents yell when they are overtired, hungry or sick. If you're not well, it's hard to be patient with people who are constantly invading your personal space, creating messes for you to clean up, and making a lot of noise. Even if they're your adorable children.
- Parents yell when they're worried about something else. I snapped at my kids for being late to swim class today. Not because I care if they're late for swimming, but because I was worrying about paying some large bills.
- Parents yell when they've been fighting with each other. Stress between spouses can spill over into relationships between every member of the family.
- Parents yell when they are out of options. This was my situation with the Sock Wars mentioned above. I'd tried everything to get my kid to cooperate with leaving the house, and finally hit a wall. A loud, immature, noisy wall.
- Parents yell when they are scared that they will get in trouble because of the child's behavior. I'm much more likely to holler at my kids when I think someone is going to judge or penalize me for their disobedience.
- Parents yell when they are drunk or on drugs. Just don't go there.
A parenting class I took years ago stressed the importance of never making a child a dumping ground for the parents' anger. Most often when parents are yelling at their kids, the cause lies with the parents and the anger or stress they're carrying, not with the kids' behavior. Finding a healthier outlet for those adult emotions is a win for everyone in the family.
There's not a lot of research on the effects of yelling in children. Most discipline research of late has focused on the bad effects of any kind of corporal punishment. Since yelling is so commonplace, it would be hard to find a control group of kids who hadn't been yelled at.
I can tell you the effect of yelling on my kids: they cry. They look scared and turn a little inward and then they burst into tears. If I keep yelling at them, they shout, "Mommy, you are not supposed to yell at me!" I've never tested what happens beyond that, other than everyone calming down and hugging till we feel better.
In a perfect world, I'd never raise my voice at my kids. I don't live in that perfect world, though, so I try to do pretty well here in reality. My strategies for that include:
- Being prepared. Getting my old Girl Scout self together and being prepared in advance for whatever the kids and I are doing takes the stress level down for everyone, and makes me less likely to shout.
- Yelling — but not at the kids. If you must yell, just throw your head back and howl like Tarzan. Go ahead and beat your chest while you're at it. You'll let off steam, and probably win a few laughs.
- Already yelled at the kids? I'm a fan of talking things through when everyone is calm, acknowledging my mistakes if I was mean or harsh, and making a plan for how we'll handle the situation if it comes up again
- Sometimes, I get a creative. After the Sock Wars, I knit up some Sock Love for the girl in question. She's never protested wearing the socks her mama made her.
What do you think? Do you ever yell at your kids? What makes you lose your temper? What do you do to avoid yelling, or to fix it?