There was an article in the NY Times titled “For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking” on Oct 22, 2009. Following a link to the article that someone posted on our holistic mom’s e-list, a discussion ensued that sparked my attention. I sit with countless families every week, who are dismayed at their tendencies to yell. (This article does not make much mention that many times the kids are yelling, too.) In most of the families I meet with, everyone is yelling. Unfortunately, even in my family, we all yell. There are many consequences of yelling; Throat pain, headaches, tension and stress, guilt, poor self image, doubt, feeling unappreciated to name just a few. Families are desperate to stop this way of interacting because it does not match how they want to be as a family: loving, supportive and uplifting.
Some of the women discussing and commenting were being gentle with themselves, not expecting perfection in their parenting and knowing; number one, that we make mistakes, and number two, that everyone can recover from them as long as we stay intentional and keep heading in the preferred direction. Kudos to them! But more often, I meet with parents who are blaming themselves fiercely for everyone’s yelling.
Parents say to me: “I just didn’t do this when I was young. I couldn’t do it. I would have never gotten away with it.” This leaves parents perplexed, stammering, “What is wrong with me that I can’t stop yelling?” or “How did I raise my child to yell?” We have some significant expectations that we do this a certain way. The “right” or “normal” way. We don’t know what this is exactly but we think everyone else knows it so we better strive for it anyway. This is how self doubt begins to take over, because there is not “one way”: parenting involves guesswork, trial and error. I argue that the self doubt causes more problems for parents because it exponentially increases the stress levels.
Many people wanted suggestions or tips of things that will work because this self doubt is so pervasive. But we already have these skills! Self doubt just wants us to believe we don’t. These are some skills families have mentioned that they use: Take a break, think, take a deep breath, do a “re-do”, leave extra time to transition, validate feelings, use natural consequences, evaluate your busyness, be flexible, be patient, compromise, etc, etc. It is remembering to do these things when we are angry that is the problem. Desperation has a way of messing with our priorities. We are in such a rush to not feel desperate anymore, we go for the most powerful action: yelling.
The other invitation to doubt happens when we use these skills and our children’s response isn’t what we hoped for. So we must ask ourselves, by what do we measure the success of our attempts? The effects of our attempts may take, dare I say it, up to years to show themselves. By then we’ve abandoned our skills and beat ourselves up because we can’t do it, and resorted back to yelling. So how do we keep our eye on the long run and not judge our attempts by the immediate response? I believe wholeheartedly that a well thought out, validating, intentional, caring attempt to solve conflicts, like those mentioned above or anything else you are trying will affect our children in preferred ways at some point. Even if we don’t see it right away, it has effects- always.
In the meantime, there are a few ways I help families in these situations. One is making this desperation visible and talking about the contexts to this frustration. From this perspective, family members can understand where everyone s coming from and all family members’ feelings are validated and they feel more appreciated. (People report feeling connected and relieved by this). With tension replaced by good will, the next thing we do it is create a document of a family’s skills, commitments and values. I request to families that they read it often, especially when they are calm and happy. When these skills and values are visible that often, they are less likely to be forgotten when one is frustrated.
Here is an example of such a document I created with my own family. Feel free to try this at home and write a comment to let us know how you are doing. I will write a follow up blog on our family’s progress.
Aman Family Peace and Kindness Skills and Knowledge’s
We know we love each other.
We know that we like have time to play together.
We can negotiate when we want something.
We get more when we negotiate than when we whine and complain.
We discover new ideas to help us feel better when we negotiate.
Asking nicely increases our chances.
We do not like when anyone is angry at us.
We don’t like losing things or having to go to our room when we yell.
Yelling doesn’t feel good in our throat.
We love being talked to nicely; we know how to speak nicely.
Hugs help us calm down faster.
We check in with each other when we have a bad day and like to do something nice for that person.
Cuddle time makes everyone feel happier.
Looking forward to something gets us excited.