I suppose every mommy blogger at some point has to write a post on yelling. Is it possible to raise kids without yelling? I'm throwing this out there: no.
I know that there is someone reading this right now with a look of indignation on their face, "What?! I would never yell at my kids!" Good for you.
Now before I get lots of mommy judging, we really put forth an effort to not be a yelling family. My husband is just naturally gifted at not yelling. His even temper is one of the things I love most about him. It genuinely takes a lot for him to lose his cool, so much so that in our seven and a half years of marriage I can count the number of times that I have heard him raise his voice at me. I mean, we are talking about a very mellow guy. Me? Yeah... I am a lot like that. Except opposite. I would describe myself as a passionate person, which is why my husband and I work well together. I bring the passion; he brings the logic.
Frustrated or angry feelings toward our children demand a different form of communication though. (Not saying I just yell at my husband, but he at least can rationalize and understand when I do. Read my blog post on "Marriage.") They aren't my peers. Their brains don't work how my brain works; they truly don't think how I do. Half the time, they don't fully understand what it is that they have done wrong or what has irritated/upset me so much. Even worse, sometimes they haven't even done anything wrong. They are just being toddlers-- while frustrating, totally age appropriate. (Read Hands Free Mama's blog post, "The Important Thing About Yelling.") Simply put, yelling at them isn't fair in those situations, nor does it actually get through to them. I can actually see the point when they have totally checked out of my message and they are just wondering when Mommy is going to stop being mad at them.
But is yelling always wrong? No, I honestly don't think so. I feel that there are very appropriate times for yelling, especially when you don't yell all the time. When all my boys are screaming over each other, one darting off with a toy he stole from his brother and the other chasing after screeching at full volume while the last is hollering it is his turn... I can try at that moment (and I do try) to get their attention. Sometimes I am able to get the attention of the bandit, but not always, especially now in my third trimester. I can't chase a child, nor do I feel that as the mother it teaches them to listen when I chase after them. So I either yell, "STOP!" or the name of the child absconding with the goods. I don't keep yelling. I'm yelling to get their attention. Once I have their attention, I speak to them. Other times I feel yelling is appropriate in some danger situations, not all. If the child is teetering towards, say, an open flame, yelling could startle the child into falling in. When our boys are rough housing as we unload the van and no one is listening to my instructions to calm down and hold hands, yes, yelling is appropriate, "STOP NOW!" Once I have their attention, I can get them to follow instructions and we can safely cross the parking lot.
I try to stick to three rules when yelling at our kids: 1. Yelling to get their attention and 2. Don't yell in anger and 3. Don't yell when it is not getting through. The first rule is what I just described, yelling a child's name or a command, "Stop!" "Wait!" "No, sir!" And, as I said, once I have their attention I speak to them. Continuing to yell completely loses the message. They are not going to listen to a long tirade. I'm not saying I don't use the "Mommy No-Nonsense Voice." I most definitely do. If the boys are pushing their boundaries and I need to get their attention and reprimand them, I'm not using the same voice I use when suggesting we all head over for a picnic at the park. No, they are hearing the voice of, "If you do not stop, we are leaving." But that is not yelling. Different tones help convey different messages and let them know where their behavior is falling. Getting their attention doesn't always mean a reprimand. It can mean a loud, "HEY! You guys need to follow me to the back porch like gentlemen and we can all have freeze pops." It all depends on the circumstance.
The second rule is pretty easy to understand. Don't yell in anger. This is where you can get into trouble yelling. Again, I've most definitely yelled at my children in anger. I've yelled out of frustration. "WHY CAN'T WE USE LISTENING EARS TODAY? IS THAT SO HARD?" It happens. We all get upset sometimes. We all sometimes say things we didn't mean to say in a tone we didn't mean to say it in. After losing my temper one day I called my mom. She wisely told me that it is bound to happen when you spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with someone. The most important thing to do after losing your temper is to own up to it and apologize. "I am sorry for yelling at you earlier. I did not handle that well and I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?" When I do yell at our kids this way, which I do not do often, I make sure that I never put the blame on them. "I am sorry for yelling at you when you spilled my sweet tea. Next time you should be more careful so I don't lose my temper like that." It is never our kids' fault when I lose my cool. I did not yell because our child did something-- I yelled because I lost control of my temper. I love watching 19 Kids and Counting on TLC. I am always impressed with how Michelle Duggar handles their household. On her blog post, "Michelle Speaks About Motherhood," she is asked by Melissa at MOPS, "How did you learn to speak to your children softly, even when you are angry?" One of the things I love about Michelle Duggar is that she is always honest, so of course she answers honestly:
I haven’t mastered this one yet. Just the other day, several of my boys made a mess in the living room. It was just normal kid stuff, but I got angry and overreacted to the mess. But I feel that by God’s grace, he is giving me some success over yelling. There are times I have to whisper to myself, “I’m not going to lose it. I am going to stay calm.”On my page tab, "How do you do it?" I have the verse: Psalm 121:1-3, "I lift my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber." I too depend on God's grace.
The third rule trumps the other two rules. If we are out at the park and I keep having to yell at the boys, "Stop!" "Wait!" "Hold on!" It is time to go. If my instructions are not getting through and they are immediately disregarding what I'm saying to them, it is time for a complete change of activity. If we are at home and I'm trying to get ready and the boys are all ignoring the house rule of "no rough housing in the family room," I will probably holler from my bedroom, "Boys! Calm down!" That usually will get them to stop. If I have to holler again, I come out and calmly issue a warning, "You guys either need to sit and watch your show or go play in the playroom." The third time I come out, I turn off the television and tell them it is time to go play somewhere else. Sometimes they will happily go play in the playroom or back porch and I can finish getting ready. Sometimes they just move from being way too rough in the family room to being way too rough in the playroom or back porch and I'm constantly interrupted (and thus unable to finish getting ready) by tears and arguments. This is when I know that I'm not getting through to them and they need to go sit on their beds. This is definitely a time where I start feeling frustrated. I feel like I'm giving them great options-- watching shows, playing in the playroom, splashing in the water table on our back porch-- and instead they want to fuss and fight and yell and scream. It is frustrating. It's been really important for me to figure out a solution that doesn't upset me because when I am interrupted every thirty seconds by yet another fight, it gets exhausting. That is why I have them sit on their beds in their own space and I can take the 10 minutes I need to pray, refocus, get ready, and face the day still fresh without feeling like we got off on the wrong foot (which, as every mom knows, has a tendency to affect the outcome of the rest of the day). This third rule also helps when I break the second rule. If I feel myself getting frustrated and raising my voice too much, it really helps to remind myself that this is not getting through to them. All I am doing is yelling to hear my own voice, let out my frustration. It is time for a different plan of action that is less frustrating for everyone. If I am feeling frustrated by how they are behaving, they are probably feeling frustrated with our current activity. If a free-for-all in the playroom is making them fuss and fight, they are probably needing something more structured. If our outside play time is dissolving in tears and toy battles, it is probably time to switch activities. Getting angry and yelling at them will not make them get along better if they themselves are done participating in our current activity.
For me, my biggest obstacle is feeling frustrated, especially lately. We've really been focusing on our household rules now that we are rapidly approaching the arrival of baby #4. We don't want baby #4 to arrive on the scene with a bundle of new rules that suddenly all his siblings have to follow. Some of the rules have been our rules for all time-- such as no rough housing in the family room-- but are harder for the boys to follow now that they are 5-years old and 3-years old (the couch is more fun when all the pillows are on the floor and you are jumping on them...). Some of the other rules are new but will be sanity savers when baby #4 arrives, such as playing quietly in their room until a certain time each morning. Feelings of frustration are normal in parenthood. It is hard not to feel frustrated when you get every one out of the house for a fun day at the park and all your toddlers want to do is cling and whine. It is hard not to feel frustrated when Daddy gets home from a long, tiring day at work to walk into a house of screaming, fighting children who are whining that they aren't tired. It is very hard not to feel frustrated when I really need to rest my almost 32-weeks pregnant self and the boys are screeching for help in the restroom or battling to the death over a toy in the playroom; it is hard not to feel like, "Don't I ever get a break?"
Times like that are when I turn to God. It sounds cliché, but I remind myself of the verses on love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.I can't create that type of love on my own; that kind of love comes from God. Knowing that this is the love that he puts in my heart to share with my children is how I humble myself to stop when I realize how I'm behaving is wrong. Would love feel this angry over a lost Croc? Would love continue to yell at 3-year olds who were being more curious than naughty? Would love remind our 5-year old how he failed earlier that day? No, when I think of these verses, I am reminded that when our boys are feeling frustrated with each other and fussing and whining, sometimes they just need a hug. When I am having a day where I just really feel frustrated and short-tempered, love is what motivates me to talk about it with my girlfriends because it really helps to have someone pray for me, offer sweet words, or simply relate. I'm far, far, far from perfect, but I love, love, love these children that we have been blessed with and I hope and pray that every day we show them how big God's love is.