Ever tried to keep yourself from yelling at kids when you’re really, really mad?
Having good intention is one thing, reality is quite another.
You can think all you want that the next time your kids provoke you, you will not react angrily no matter how mad you are. But seriously, when you are really mad, can you even think straight, let alone control your reaction?
The devil is in the details.
Unless you have a solid plan of action under your sleeve, you will probably just end up yelling at your kids, feeling guilty, possibly apologizing and then repeating the whole behavior all over again.
If anything, that just erodes your connection with your kids further. That’s certainly not what we are going after here.
If you really want to give your good intentions a fighting chance of success and ensure that you will indeed not yell at your kids no matter how mad you are, you need to act now.
Assuming you are not angry at the moment, now is the time to decide how you will respond at a later time when you are angry. Making a list of possible responses and then reaching out to your pre-committed choices when you are angry substantially increases your chances of success. There is a whole body of research to support this.
Research consistently shows that the more in advance you make a decision — irrespective of whether it is about your money, exercise or even which movie to watch — the more likely you are to make better choices. The closer you are to the decision point, the more short-sighted your decision gets with spot decisions made under pressure being some of your worst ones. Additionally, if you make a choice and commit to it, and when a situation arises, you completely bypass your brain and reach out to a pre-committed choice, you can avoid the detrimental outcomes of short-sighted decisions.
It is a deceptively simple technique and this week, let’s put that to test to ensure that no matter how angry or frustrated we are, we will not yell at our kids. What we’ll do is, we’ll take some time today to just think of what to do instead of yelling at kids when we get angry and mentally commit to pull out one of these responses when we do get angry.
I’ll get the ball rolling with the list of 8 things I rely on to get me through a rough patch without yelling at my daughter. Here we go!
1. Get out of the situation
If I am at home, I will ask my husband if he can take over and I just walk out of the room for a few minutes. Yes, that means I literally dump the situation on him. From past experience, I’ve noticed that most often since he was not in the middle of it when the storm brewed, he is in a much better situation to handle it without yelling and I get a break to cool off.
Of course, this works vice versa too. When I notice that my husband is starting to lose it, I’ll step in and scoop up, so he can step out.
As for my daughter, just the change of scene, where one parent steps out and the other steps in, seems to help a lot to diffuse the situation.
2. Let my daughter know that I’m angry
Again, from past experience I know this one works. Instead of just snapping, I take a deep breath and tell her “Mommy is getting really mad now, Sweetie”.
Sometimes, she will stop the offending behavior, but more often than not, she counters back with “I am mad too” or “No, you CANNOT be mad” (She is 5 years old and that is a valid argument in her book).
Either way, a channel of communication is established.
After that I just walk away and let her be for a few minutes to calm herself down. And I take my time to calm myself down.
Or I hold her in my lap and say, “Let’s both be very quiet for a few minutes until we calm down”.
I got this last step from the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. I felt really hokey the first time I tried it — I mean, I was hopping mad, and she was bawling at the top of her lungs! But then, quite unexpectedly, my daughter visibly calmed down, and when I was setting her down from my lap she said, “I want to hug some more, mama”.
So, we just sat there for some more time, in a sappy scene I wouldn’t have imagined possible just a few minutes before, her sniffling and me trying to calm down, rocking each other. And then she declared “I’m done now” and hopped off and started playing as though nothing ever happened.
Ah, to be 5 and be able to forgive and forget so easily! 🙂
3. Set a time limit to end the hostilities
The scariest thing about getting mad is that there is no clear boundary to when things will settle back to normal again. I’ve found that intentionally setting that boundary helps a lot to get the situation under control.
I remember, once when I started getting mad, I hissed out, “I am very mad now, so I am going to go wash the dishes and try to calm down. When I am done with the dishes, I will be done being mad”.
My daughter pitifully cried “I don’t want you to be mad at me, mama” and I said as calmly as I could “I am not mad at you. I still love you. But you have not finished eating yet and it’s getting very late. I am tired and feeling crabby (a term she understands). I need some time to calm down. And you need to finish eating. I will be over here washing dishes.”
She started whining at first and when she got nothing out of me, suddenly (and very surprisingly!) there was silence on her end. All I could hear was the sound of spoon on the plate and a declaration a few minutes later that she was done.
I rinsed and dried my hands, walked over to her, inspected her plate and gave her a big smile. And she gave me a big hug to make me feel better. All was well with the world again.
One more dinnertime explosion avoided. And one more trick in my parenting toolkit that works!
4. Put things in perspective
Sometimes all I need to do to diffuse myself is to put things in perspective.
If it is the morning and she wants to play instead of getting ready, and it’s really late and driving me nuts, all I have to do is think back to a time long, long ago – same situation, different child. I suspect I wouldn’t have wanted to stop playing either.
Kids are kids. They want to play. That’s that. No point yelling at them about it, right?
Sigh. Take a deep breath. Think of an alternate plan to get her to do what I want her to do.
5. Start counting
I don’t think this one will exactly fit in the “positive parenting” paradigm since it uses threats and fear of punishment and bribes. But I will put it out there since this works for me.
So, basically, instead of yelling at her, I tell her in as much of a calm voice as I can muster up – “I am going to count to 5. If you don’t start picking up the toys, they all go into toy jail.”
And then I start counting. 1… 2….3….4…. Generally, by the time I get to 3 and my voice starts to rise she starts picking up. I will start helping her out as I continue counting, adjusting the pace of counting so we can finish up cleaning by the time I get to 5.
I have no idea why this works, but it does work really, really well to the point that a lot of the time I just say, “You need to do <something> before I count to 5” and I just start counting. I don’t even have to mention the consequences/punishment.
I had picked this tip from a colleague, and I remember her saying “One of these days she is going to call my bluff and let me finish counting. I have no idea what I will do then.” So, when you do say you’re going to put the toys in a place where your child can’t play with them (i.e., toy jail), it’s a consequence that’s reasonable and you can follow through without bribes or threats that you can’t follow through on!
6. Turn it into a fictional story
My daughter loves stories. And ever since she was born, I have honed my storytelling skills to the point that I can turn any situation into a story (can you tell how proud I am of the fact?).
Last time we went to India, there was a little servant boy called “Heera” who had left a strong impression on my daughter. For almost a whole year after we got back, I have told her “Heera Boy” stories to diffuse all kinds of situations.
For instance, when she wouldn’t want to go down for a nap, instead of arguing/pleading/yelling, I would start out with “Do you know what happened when Heera boy did not take a nap?” Before the story was done, she would be in bed with eyes starting to slowly close shut.
I have summoned Heera boy to get her to drink her milk, get dressed, brush teeth, take medicine and so many other things!
The stories all have the same structure – Heera boy did (or did not) want to do something. This would result in some very terrible consequences. Then either his grandma or his fairy godmother would come and tell him what he should do to avoid the consequences. And then he changed his ways. And everything was well with the world, and he lived happily ever after 🙂
A good thing about trying to make up a story is that my brain is too busy thinking what I should say next, and hers is too busy imagining it, and neither of us has room in our brains to yell/rebel anymore.
7. Use humor
Frankly, this doesn’t come naturally to me, especially when I am mad. But when I do manage to pull it off, the results are quite awesome.
Instead of getting mad at her, I turn it into a fun game. “You want to eat M&Ms before dinner? Before dinner? That makes me so mad…so mad that I’m going to eat you up”. And I start chasing her around the house.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But the times that it works, we have both run around all over the house and are tired and giggling and the rebellious moment is most often forgotten.
8. Visualize the aftermath
Finally, here is one for those days when I am just not in a good place. All of us have those nasty days where things start going downhill from the moment we wake up and keeps going downhill all day long until we reach a point where we almost wait for a chance to start yelling at kids. Or the husband. Or the dog.
You know what I’m talking about?
This last one is my final attempt to hold myself together on such days.
One thing about not starting out being a patient mom (unfortunately) is that I’ve been there, done that. I know the dark places you can go to when you don’t get a hold of yourself.
I am all too familiar with the sick feeling you get at the bottom of your stomach when you drive all the way to the daycare without a word and leave your child among strangers without so much as a smile on your face. Or the nasty taste in your mouth when your child finally falls asleep because she’s cried so much there isn’t much energy left in her to do anything else. Or the real panic in her eyes when she senses that you really are over the edge, and this could potentially be the time that you really lock her in that closet.
Those are not my proudest moments, and I would never want to go back there. So, when I sense that I really am getting out of control, I grab hold of one of those images and keep telling myself over and over, “don’t go there”.
In a very negative way, it works.
Maybe it’s the tears stinging the back of my eyes. Or the shame that numbs my anger… whatever it is, I manage to not let loose.
You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, right?
So, there you have it – the good, the bad and the ugly of how I try to control my reaction when I am too angry to think straight. Now it is your turn. What can you do to keep yourself from yelling at kids when you are hopping mad?
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take a quick inventory of your toolkit – do you have a quick-access list of what to do instead of yelling at kids?
Think of the last time you got mad and lost it – what could you have done differently?
Like I mentioned before, there is huge amount of scientific evidence that shows that making decisions ahead of time, and reaching out to your pre-committed resolutions during critical moments significantly improves your chances of preventing the detrimental outcome of a short-sighted response.
As always, I urge you to write it down — feel free to use the comments section below. Whether your tricks are similar to the ones I listed or completely different, riffing off of each other will help both of us (and all the other readers) figure out ways to be better parents. Putting things out in the open (especially in the written form) can be incredible for your accountability and pre-commitment. You spent so much time reading this long article so you can really get some benefits out of it for your own family, didn’t you?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Hustle all you can this week to beef up your toolkit with tricks you can pull out when you get mad. That is all we will focus on this week: finding tricks to rely on when you are too mad to think straight and putting them into action in our dealings with kids to figure out which work, and for which specific circumstances. Before you know it, you will be a cool cucumber who can keep yourself from yelling at kids no matter what the situation/provocation is.
Isn’t that awesome?