As the year winds down and I look back, almost idly, at this blog’s presence, it’s with a bit of pleasure I see that sidebar with my ‘yell-free’ counter. I’ve gone 821 days without yelling at my daughter. My intention is to take that counter down once it hits a 1000 days. By then, I am hoping that this practice I’ve developed will have become an integral part of my parenting.
But today’s post is more of a reflection plus a way to share the lessons I’ve learnt on this journey. Why? Because I received an e-mail last week, from a reader of my blog. Her words touched me, more than anything else did in the last year. She said that my posts inspired her. She shared that each time she yelled, she remembered something I’d shared and would catch herself. The counter would get reset, she’d start over again, but each time made it easier than the last.
For one, it’s important not to let the guilt of failure stop you. You’ve started on the yelling less journey. That’s the good news. For another, we learn from our mistakes. When we stay aware of this, we move forward. Even if it’s one step forward for every step back, it’s still movement.
The key to maintaining consistency, in anything, is doing it daily, tracking your progress, learning what works and discarding what doesn’t. And so, today, I am sharing 5 tips with you that will help you work on that little devil in the head that says yelling will get the job done.
Be completely present
So easy to hear; so tough to put into practice. But it’s the most effective method, I can assure you. Kids are these incredibly vibrant beings, bursting with the need to share every single detail of every single day. When Gy was younger and began talking, non-stop I might add, I could feel the hackles on my neck go up each time I had to be subjected to the repetition of the same nursery rhyme, sometimes 25 times on loop. Other people told me, ‘Oh, it’s just a phase. She will outgrow it.’
At 11 and a half, I can assure you she hasn’t. But now, instead of being annoyed, I am delighted. As they grow up, this need to share is what will keep them coming back to us, when they want to talk. Be it non-essential or critical, they know you’re there for them. You will listen.
How to do it? Tune in. Set everything aside and be present for the full 10 or 15 minutes that they want to ramble. Stay in the moment and forget about your chores, your work, your other commitments. If you know they have a routine, make sure that your time with them is sacred. No compromises. If you’re working and in the middle of a deadline, gently explain that you will be with them soon. And stick to your word. Kids take things at face value.
When kids have a meltdown or a tantrum, they need you to understand why they are going through it. It’s the easiest thing in the world to ask them to get over it and stop crying. Yelling is counter-productive in these situations.
Why? Because they know you aren’t listening. Their cries grow louder, your decibel levels match theirs and ultimately, nobody wins. As tough as this may be to do, let them know that you are there. Speak in a normal tone, even as they are yelling. Explain that you can’t understand them when they are shouting.
Engage with them
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the present of time. To date, Gy loves it when I narrate a totally ridiculous story about a fictional elephant I made up for her when she was 3. She knows now that the elephant doesn’t actually exist, except in our imagination. She listens wide-eyed, holding her sides in laughter, as I make funny noises, work myself into a frenzy and keep her completely engaged.
At that time, I know I am creating a deeper connection with her than just the story-telling. It’s the understanding that I am there for her when she needs me. She is also aware that if she wants competitive play, she can count on my husband. Being an only child can get lonely at times, but she has finally found the balance between being with us and being by herself. That wouldn’t have happened, were it not for some effort on our part. Do this regularly, so you can get messages across without having to yell.
Be the parent
In all this, we shouldn’t forget a crucial concept: we are the parents. As much as I can be present, engage her in play or storytelling, I cannot only be her friend. In addition, we need to make it clear that the way she responds to her friends will not work when she interacts with us, the parents.
So, yes, there is a need for respect and we aim to cultivate that by laying down the rules. We explain that negative actions will have consequences. My husband made it clear to her that there are rules which need to be followed for us to work cohesively as a unit. This means that a consequence will follow and there will be no arguments.
How we do this is by being gentle, but firm. There are no negotiations and there are no lectures. While it was a struggle at first, we’ve found the middle path that works, without yelling to make ourselves heard. I confess my husband is better at this than I am, since I tend to get into rambling, lecture mode at times. Her glazed look and loss of attention reminds me of this tendency of mine.
Operate from a space of love
By far, the best thing I have learnt and it’s one I cultivated after watching my mom with her grand kids is this: Always do everything from a space of love. It’s easy to get into power struggles when you assume that a child is acting out or defying you for the sake of disobedience.
I recall being totally frustrated after one incident and asking my mother, ‘Why does she always do this? Why can’t she understand I have her best interests at heart?’ My mom explained,’It’s not that she is doing it out of anger. She has all these large emotions struggling to make space in her mind and she doesn’t know how to deal with them. So she gets angry or upset or irritable and takes it out on you. Don’t take it personally.’
Don’t take it personally!
This made all the difference once I began to see why she did what she did. So today when she is upset, I try and find out what is the trigger behind the behaviour. When she lashes out, I stay calm and wait for the storm to pass. When she comes home and doesn’t do her chores, I just give her a single, one-sentence reminder, ‘Your chores need to be done.’ And let me tell you, this works.
Understand that these tips work, but they take practice. They require something more than willpower. They require that you make a conscious mental shift in your outlook. This will take time, so don’t try everything all at once. Pick a tip, work on it, get good at it and watch that yell-free counter rise.
And with baby steps and consistent effort, I’m sure that you’ll be beating my record hollow in no time at all.
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*Recommended Reading: How to talk so your kids will listen
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