SALT LAKE CITY — As a parent, I try hard not to raise my voice toward my children. Yet, despite my best efforts, it still occasionally happens.
In one of those weak moments — I don’t even recall why I was angry — the alarmed look on my 3-year-old’s face stopped me. I quickly ended my rampage, and his quiet little voice bravely told me what he was thinking: “That noise is scary. You scared me, Mom.”
How scary we can be to our children when we tower over them, arms flailing and veins popping.
You’ve probably been there too, yelling at your kids (I know I’m not the only one). And actually, that minute that I snap doesn’t usually have anything to do with the children in that moment. Just like a tea kettle, I’ve been agitated and stressed too long and I burst.
As parents, our stress comes from every direction. We tend to fill with anxiety when we are running out of time. The kids won’t stop fighting and their crying and yelling is out of control. We have an unexpected bill on the counter and we're not sure how we’ll make the payment. The house is in a state of constant disaster because the little humans make messes faster than we can clean them up — and then they battle us to the death when we ask them to pick up after themselves. We step on a Lego for the gazillionth time, and we just can’t take it anymore.
Parents are people who yell and they yell and they yell and they yell. And you already have the point ... and they're still yelling.
–Bill Cosby, comedian
We lose control. Clearly, we had lots of reasons to do so. We yell and criticize. And who do we belittle? Our own kids.
But even with their messes and tantrums, they don’t deserve the yelling. It was external stress that started our kettle boiling in the first place.
Comedian Bill Cosby once told NPR, “Parents are people who yell and they yell and they yell and they yell. And you already have the point ... and they're still yelling,” But even if he’s totally joking, that’s not the kind of parent I want to become. I don’t want the noise of my voice to scare my babies.
So, what can be done to curb the criticism we dish out and stop the yelling? Here are five suggestions that will stop you from releasing that stress on our children.
1. Just stop
Rachel Stafford of The Hands Free Mama wrote a moving post about unintentionally bullying her daughter. Stafford’s advice to herself was to just “Stop!” She decided to shut down the criticism then "swallowed the hurtful words and relaxed (her) disapproving face.”
2. Calmly explain our frustration
We all have stresses that can trigger an outburst, and you probably know what yours are (I’m always way more irritable when I’m paying bills or up against a deadline). But it is usually unclear to your children why their battery-operated toy guitar is driving you crazy today when you seemed fine with it yesterday, and when you smiled at their rockstar moves.
Let your children know what is going on. For example, “I’m sorry, you have to play with that toy in your bedroom. Mommy needs extra focus right now and that toy is way too noisy.”
3. Apologize if necessary
Did you already raise your voices or make a comment about something that doesn’t really matter? The words “I’m sorry” can go along way in correcting the situation — even with the littlest of family members.
4. Evaluate your needs
If we are not taking care of our own basic needs, it’s very difficult to offer our best self to our family. Do you need a nap? Are you so hungry you're angry? Hangry is a thing now.
Rather than yelling, take a deep breath and eat something.
5. Proceed with love
Follow Stafford’s advice and relax the disapproving face. Go silent if you need to, and remove yourself from the situation if you can. All of these actions help to proceed in parenting your children in love rather than fear.
Then, as soon as possible, replace frustration with love and purposeful kindness. When the stress bubbles up again (because you totally know it will) and the kids are screaming your name (or variations of your name in a high pitch), just take it back and start at the beginning.
In the next MOMentity column, I'll address five things we can do for our children to handle the stressful moments rather than yelling.
Nicole Carpenter is the founder of www.MOMentity.com and the creator of Define Your Time eCourse. is a professional speaker and mentor for mompreneuers. Nicole and her husband are raising four children, 8 years and younger, including twin toddlers.*