Tag: parenting advice

5 Tips for Yelling at Your Child Effectively

When my kid was a toddler I discovered the surprising fact that I am not the calm patient person I’d been thinking I was my whole life.  I based this self image on the fact that I never got in yelling matches with people (excluding all the times I suddenly freaked out and started yelling at friends because they touched my stuff because repressed memories don’t count).  I yelled at my kid.  A lot.  I found myself losing my temper constantly.  It’s not a pretty thing, yelling at kids.  It’s demoralizing for you and frightening to them.

Unless you know how to do it the right way.  I have been mastering my yelling skills for many years now and have become so good at it that if you were to ask him if his mom yells at him he would tell you “No”.  I know this because I mentioned how I don’t like it when I have to yell at him and he looked mystified and said I don’t ever yell at him.  How can my child not remember that I just yelled at him three days ago?  How is it that he doesn’t remember that I pretty much yelled at him non-stop through years 3 through 5?*

Because I did it THE RIGHT WAY.  And now, because I want you all to have the same parenting success that I’ve had, I am going to share with you the simple rules for yelling at your kid the right way too.

1.  Never make value judgements about your child when you’re losing your shit.

When I as an inexperienced yeller I would say things like “You’re being so bad!” and “Why the hell won’t you nap you little hellion!!”.  This implies that your child is misbehaving on purpose and is a bad child.  I realized that every time I yelled at my child I was accusing him of being a bad kid or of purposely sabotaging my life by dumping the entire bookshelf onto the floor instead of addressing the actual thing I was mad about.  So I changed my language accordingly “What you’re doing is not okay!” and “It makes me angry when you won’t nap!”  This expresses how I’m feeling about his behavior rather than suggesting that his behavior means he’s a bad person: instead of yelling about who my child is by suggesting he’s an evil little cur, I’m expressing that his actions are making me angry.

2.  Don’t be mean.

Some people might suggest that yelling in itself is being mean.  I disagree.  Yelling serves a distinct function in your child’s growing up experience.  For one thing it helps teach them that people have limits to their patience.  Can you imagine what would happen if a kid grew up never reaching the limit of their parents’ patience and then discovered out in the world that people have serious limits and are much more likely to punch you for pushing too hard when you’re not a sweet little cherub?!  Kids have to learn this and it is best for them to learn this with the people who love them best in the world. Yelling is also sometimes necessary to keep kids out of danger (like when they hurl themselves out into traffic without looking, this is a great moment to yell your guts out to get their attention while you grab them back to safety).  It may scare them but sometimes this is useful for their own safety.  Yelling also helps them understand that everyone has to express their anger sometimes, that it’s normal to lose control of your emotions sometimes.

When you yell at your kid you should never be mean.  This is an extension of the first tip.  It’s not just about how you phrase your anger – it’s about not saying petty mean shit to your kid that they’ll remember long after you’ve made up.  Things like “You’re so stupid!  How many times do I have to tell you not to pee on the seat?!” or “What kind of loser kid are you to not understand what I told you?!”  The kid will NOT remember that the reason for the anger was an action that is remediable but will remember only that they are inherently stupid, which you only said out of anger, not because you really think they’re stupid.

3.  Remove the swear words from your yelling.

I heartily approve of swearing to relieve tension and to attach emphasis in language where it is needed.  However, peppering your shouting with swear words makes it much scarier and though you may achieve something like making yourself feel better, you will not have a positive affect on your kid.  Swearing at your kid is a lot like saying mean petty shit when what you really need is for them to acknowledge that they’ve done something you want them to stop doing.  I speak from personal experience.  Once you let the damns and the fucks rampant in your yelling, you’re just losing ground.

4.  When you have become calm again, talk with your kid about what happened.

Apologize for losing your cool but be clear that an apology for yelling is not giving them a pass for what actions of theirs made you angry in the first place.  In the adult world it is not okay to yell at someone and if you do yell at someone an apology is always necessary.  By apologizing to your kid for yelling sends a couple of important messages: that everyone loses their cool sometimes and this is a forgivable action but also that the proper thing to do is apologize for having done so.

Then discuss calmly the thing that made you angry.  Explain why their actions are not okay with you and if you feel consequences are required, mete them out.  If I lose my cool and yell then I usually give my kid one more chance to change his behavior before giving consequences.  But I let him know exactly what the consequence will be during this discussion, while I’m calm.  Often times these sit down talks become meaningful discussions about appropriate behaviors and sometimes they extend into great learning moments.  Take your time.  Give your kid the chance to respond with questions or opinions.

5.  End discussion with a hug

Then give them a giant hug and tell them that they are your most favorite person in the entire world and that no matter what they do, you’ll always love them.

This is the moment I usually inform my son that I’ll love him even if he commits crimes but I won’t lie for him or hide him from the police.

To be honest, I rarely yell at my child anymore.  I snap at him impatiently sometimes but the days when I frequently hauled off in a yelling fit are far behind me.  By writing this post I’m not saying that parents SHOULD yell at their kids, only that it’s natural, it’s definitely going to happen, and it matters how you do it.

*To be fair to me, raising a special needs toddler takes even more patience and energy than raising your usual hellion tiny person.  I was just discovering at that time how different my kid was from other kids.  The things that worked for other parents didn’t work for me.  Their patience was tried, mine was fried.

Don’t be an Arrogant Parent

One of the most startling and unpleasant discoveries I made on becoming a parent is how many parents indulge in flattering themselves that everything good about their children is because of their parenting prowess.  If their kid is well behaved it’s because they don’t “let” their kids misbehave.  If their child is smart it’s because they’ve been reading to their kid since birth and played intelligent music for them and didn’t let them watch any poisonous television.  If their kids eat well it’s because they wouldn’t “let” their kids be picky.

It became immediately apparent to me as a new mom that what was troublesome about my child was troublesome because I wasn’t parenting him well and that all his amazing qualities were due to my good parenting.  Or, at least, that’s what other parents constantly implied.  It struck me that many parents I met had what I almost think of as a god-complex; that it is by the grace of their own hands that their children are good or bad, smart or dumb, sweet or mean, sinners or saints, well adjusted or a psychological mess.  All the recriminations of other people’s parenting styles and the self congratulatory comments on their own methods made me feel like I was sucked down a worm hole of unreality.

There are so many things that influence a human being’s development that I think it ridiculous for parents to believe that they raise their children in a bubble in which the only influence is themselves and that their methods, if they work on their own children, will work on all children universally.  It ignores the fact that children are as much individuals as adults.

Other influences on a child’s development:

Their own personality.

Their individual temperament.

The environment they are raised in.

How that environment works with the child’s personality and temperament.

Their physiognomy (brain function, neurological wiring, body function)

Other people.

Sibling dynamics or the effect of being an only child.

Culture.  The world outside.

Just because you made a baby doesn’t mean you are automatically a great parent and equipped to handle the challenge of parenting.  I know that I am ill-equipped for this challenge and I do the best that I can but  being a mother doesn’t make me some kind of god of wisdom.  Some women start off with temperaments better suited to dealing with the constant needs of children and others have to adapt to it more.  Just because you are doing well with your own child/children in no way means that you are capable of parenting all children well.  Just because you’ve found methods that work well for your own kids doesn’t mean you know anything about parenting other people’s kids.

Just because your kids seem well adjusted and happy now (and well behaved and good eaters and not overweight and completely mentally healthy…) doesn’t guarantee that they will continue to be so.  The totally well behaved 7 year old may turn into a pregnant substance abusing 15 year old.  There is no guarantee that you are raising a prodigy just because your kid is smart at 11 years old.

Arrogant parents do a great disservice to other parents, especially ones seeking advice or help.  The arrogant parent will give absolute advice and let it be known to you that if you try their advice and fail it’s because you failed at carrying it out.  This is an awful way to set up new parents.  I know, because I was there so many times and it turns out my kid is, as I knew he was from the beginning, not the least bit usual and doesn’t respond in any of the expected ways other parents implied he should and I spent so much time thinking that my kid was struggling because I was a shitty parent.  I know better now.  I realize that anyone reading this blog on a regular basis knows that periodically I write an “I suck at parenting” post.  These posts are inevitable because I am NOT arrogant.  I question myself constantly.  I ask myself “what am I not doing for Max?” and “Why is this method not working?” and “What shortcoming of my own is resulting in all of us banging our heads against the wall?” and asking these questions of myself is an important part of my parenting process.  Raising an unusual kid means that I never get to rest on my laurels (mostly because I don’t have any) or be smug about my parenting prowess.  My kid has special needs and they don’t allow me to rest for a second as a parent.  I have come to understand that part of parenting a special needs kid is to let off steam from time to time.  So I do.  Sometimes I need to thrash myself to get it out of my system.  Any regular readers also know that I come to the same conclusion over and over again: I am the best person I know to be parenting Max.  There are many “better” parents out there but I don’t know any in my acquaintance who could handle my son’s challenges better than I am doing.

What makes a good parent?  Obviously opinions on this vary wildly.  I don’t think any parenting method is inherently better or worse than any other (barring abusive parenting, obviously).  I don’t believe that my parenting methods are better than yours.  In fact, I’m sure they’re not.  In the beginning I might have looked at your kids and judged your parenting based on their behavior but that was a long time ago when I followed everyone else’s cues.  I know better now.  I know that how your child behaves is not necessarily a direct result of your parenting ineptitude or greatness.  It might be, but that’s not something I can know unless I know you very very well.  Even then, it’s not something I can be sure I know because I don’t parent your child.

What makes a good parent, in my opinion, is a parent who chooses their parenting methods based on who their child is as an individual.  A good parent will recognize when the boundaries and ideals they’ve set aren’t working well for their child and will try different methods and set different boundaries.  A good parent will not flog their child with ideals they think they SHOULD be following and blame the kid when it doesn’t work.  A good parent will recognize that if their own methods are working well it’s because they’re using methods appropriate for their child but if a sibling comes along and doesn’t fit the same mold, a good parent will adjust.  A good parent, like a good spouse, is flexible and evolves and seeks to make a life appropriate for the individuals in their family and not try to fit their family into some general ideal of family life.   A good parent doesn’t view parenting as a power struggle or as an autonomy in which your child must be made to be the person you want them to be.  A good parent sees their child’s strengths and builds on them.  A good parent sees their child’s challenges and stretches to meet them, to find the best way to help their child through them.

Arrogant parents give dangerous advice because they fail to acknowledge that what worked for them with their own kids might be disastrous with a different kid.  I keep this very much in mind when I find myself advising anyone on parenting, which, I don’t often do in the first place.  If asked my opinion I will tell another parent what has worked so far for Max and I try to emphasize that my methods may be worth trying in their own family but their kids aren’t Max and so it may not be as effective for their kids.  Parents need each other’s support and I think it’s truly valuable to discuss parenting methods with each other to get new ideas and to help us get through parenting challenges.  However, it is important that all parents acknowledge that kids are individuals and there is no one method that will work for all kids and for most of us there is no one method that will work for one child and that our best bet is to put together a unique set of boundaries, rules, routines, consequences, and rewards that suit our wonderfully different children.

As a parent of an almost-eleven year old, my best advice to new parents is:

Trust your gut over everyone else’s advice.

Have some humility.