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Yelling at your kids

We love to hear from the rest of the mamas out there, and we particularly love to hear from urbanPapas.  An urbanPapa recently emailed:

As is becoming more common, our three-year old often ignores us when we ask him to stop doing something. The other night it happened when he was banging two tomatoes together (over the living room furniture/carpet). After a few quick requests from both parents, I yelled his name very loudly, which got his rapt attention. He was so stunned by the volume and looking up to see both parents unhappy that he became genuinely sad, got up, and went to sit on the bottom step of the stairs. I am pretty sure he was just going there to be alone and away from the situation, not to punish himself. As I have pondered the whole thing I keep thinking that while yelling certainly worked in the narrow context of not having tomato guts all over things, it was probably a failure as far as communication goes. 

It later came out that he had just discovered the little egg shaped maracas at a music class earlier in the day, where he had begun banging them together to get a double sound . . . so of course he was probably channeling that and meant no harm and doesn't know what happens when you bang together tomatoes . . . all adding up to more certainty that I did the wrong thing. Ay carumba.

What would you have done?  Now that you've yelled, now what?  What other communication techniques could you have pulled out of your mama/papa sleeves?  What other self-calming tricks would you have employed before ratcheting up the volume?


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The Kindergarten teacher in me probably would have taken the tomatoes and helped him search for other things he could bang together , blocks , toilet rolls, paper .

Children this age are very explorative , they are testing smell , sight ,touch , sound and even physics !

Majority of the time what seems like being destructive is in fact simple exploration , if it is something that isnt appropriate like squashing tomatoes into carpet try redirecting their attention to less messy ideas .
Next time try removing the situation and simply asking your child "i wonder what we can find to *bang together * that wont make a big mess lets have a look " you could also ( if you want ) explain that messy games are for outside .

Hope that helps .

I we all sometimes get frustrated and yell at our kids no matter how many techniques we know and try to implement. So that is a very good question: "Now that you've yelled, now what?" I have apologized to my kids before for yelling at them but was told by a friend (who is a nanny) that I should not "apologize" because it confuses the child about authority and puts me on the same level with them but rather I should talk to them about it and state that I should not have done yelled and I will try not to do that again.
Does anyone else have thoughts on this?

I believe that apologizing to your child is the best way to teach by example. Also to show them that even Mom and Dad make mistakes. We use this alot at our home and I have noticed our kids are quick to apolgize to eachother :)

yes, yes, yes - it is always good to apologize to your children - always remember that they learn by example - so set a good one! Alfie Kohn's book "Unconditional Parenting" has a great section on this. We should be much less concerned with "keeping authority" over our children, and more concerned with loving them, and deserving their love - then our children will WANT to please us and love us in the best wayK

I don't claim to have the answers, but my instincts tell me that apologizing for yelling is a way of showing my daughter that I respect her and that I make mistakes too. The other day she screamed "NO!" at me and after she'd calmed down, she walked up to me and said, "I'm sorry I yelled at you". She's two. I understand the authority perspective, but it just doesn't feel like the right track for me, personally.

When I'm at my best, I manage to channel a deep calm by focusing on my breath. That's really the absolute best I can do, LOL (and I'm lucky when I can channel that! I just keep trying!!)

If his normal experience is to be told something a few times by both parents before being truly expected to respond, then he has probably learned that he can safely ignore the first few times he is spoken to. I would suggest telling him once, then physically redirecting (take the tomatoes, hand him an appropriate toy) if he doesn't respond right away. This way he learns that you mean it the first time, and you aren't going to sit around repeating yourself until he decides he wants to do what you are asking.

We're human and we're parents... so sometimes we yell at our children. But I love the comments above about taking some time out later and talking with your child, apologizing and explaining why you were frustrated - setting a good example of social problem solving.
But (on my good days) I really try to act vs. react - think about what I will do about the situation instead of what I will force my child to do - and also try not to repeat a request more than 2 times - ask once, ask twice, take action. In this case I hope I could have kept my calm and walked over calmly and simply taken my child by the hands, gently removing the tomatoes and taking them back into the kitchen - "Tomatoes are for eating." Then brainstorm what we could do instead - eat, cook, find other things to bang together...

No mater how consensual or democratic your home runs... there are times when someone has to "take charge" and bring things back to order. So we can't spank, time outs are sometimes frowned upon and I refuse to bribe my little ankle biters... sometimes a little volume can get the point across with only a smattering of hurt feelings. Obviously, we try not to do it too much because we have to be good role models on top of everything else.

Oh, and I'm with M. Don't repeat a request more than twice.

Who ever said this was easy? Was she living in the 60's and had little yellow pills to make it through her day?

In our house my partner and I differentiate between "parenting from across the room" and "parenting within arm's reach." When we're parenting from across the room, either literally or figuratively (engrossed in a task or a conversation, for instance), we're more apt to talk/repeat/yell. Our challenge is to remember to do more parenting within arm's reach, so in this case it would be notice the tomatoes, walk over to him while saying "those make a big mess when we bang them together," squatting down to look him in the eyes, taking him by the hand to find something else to bang together or a place to put the tomatoes, etc.

At least for us, getting close in to the kid means 1) we're more likely to grab our daughter's attention and 2) we're less likely to yell.

And by the way, I love that urbanMamas/Papas exists as a forum for questions & discussions like this.

I agree - apologize. It shows that you make mistakes to and you respect your child enough to admit when you are wrong. That said, I'd apologize very calmly and in simple terms. "I am sorry I yelled. It's not nice to yell. I was frustrated because you weren't listening to me. I'll try not to yell again."

Enough said. Move on.

Everyone has days in parenting that they don't do their best. Mine are the days I yell or find myself saying no to everything instead of redirecting. The good thing about parenting is that even on your worst days, there is always that unconditional love, hugs and kisses, and the ability to "make it up to them" tomorrow -- by setting a better example.

I have two very energetic and vivacious boys. I make the mistake of yelling at times and feel like the wicked witch of the west. My mom yelled(not at all an excuse for me to repeat this pattern), I try very hard not to but when it is a safety issue and they ignore my instructions I lose patience. I like the idea of talking at arms length. I have also noticed that when I talk at arms length in an intentionally very quite voice they actually do listen. I believe in apologies as well and trying to forgive myself so I don't continue the shame cycle and actually do better with my boys.

I yell more than I should. And I hate yelling. My mom, a kindergarten teacher, told me one time that if you really want a kid to listen you should speak in a very quite voice, like you are telling them a secret. It actually works! now if only I could practice what I preach even when I am losing my mind.....

I always want to rule out everything. Have you had your child's hearing tested?

We surely yell more than we should...but sometimes..arrgghh! what to do. we have three little girls 2, 4 and 6 and sometimes when they are fighting or arguing over something...that is the only way to get their attention or physically move them. At bedtime....after asking my 6 y/o to go back to bed 956,009 times...I yell at her "go back to bed!"...then I followed her and asked her why do i have to yell....i dont like it and i dont think you do either...nighttimes got a bit better after that. It boils down to communicating effectively with your children, but when the fighting starts! Oh it is hard....
i liked the post about parenting within arms reach. i will give that a try! so nice to have some support and suggestions sometimes, because I am not sure about your kids, but mine did not come with a manual.

I think our issue has a lot to DO with our urbanpapa.
I'm prego, exhausted from doing everything, and HE fights with the kids. Like a kid. I mean really.......
I end up losing my temper at everyone, when really it's him I'm annoyed with.
It just seems like everythings great until he gets home from work, and then chaos ensues!
So yeah, if we could get this co-parenting deal down better and actually work as a team, you know......let the other parent take a break once in awhile and trade off.......maybe there'd be a lot less stress. I hate having the kids see us bicker all the time too. It's not good juju for anyone.

Excellent post. It makes me realize the energy of words and pictures. I learn a lot, thank you! Wish you make a further progress in the future.

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