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Stop Yelling: Here's How

The only parents who have never yelled at their kids are those who are: A. never around their kids, B. never ask them to do anything, C. aren't bothered by destructive behavior, or D. never have to be anywhere with them on time. We don't intend to yell, in fact we promise ourselves (and our kids) over and over that we won't do it again, but then we do.

Yelling comes from being frustrated. Being frustrated comes from what may seem like our kids' stubbornness, but it's really our own fault. It's caused by our own hesitation to say what we really mean and back it up.

We don't want to sound demanding, bossy, or harsh, so we speak to our kids in an upbeat, encouraging voice in the hope that they will willingly and cheerfully obey ("Hey guys! Let's get our things together, it's time to go!") After "telling" them the same thing seven different ways ("C'mon you guys, I mean it! We're gonna be late!" "Sven! Sven, do you not hear me?" "This is the third time I've told you to put your shoes on!" "Stop playing and put the toys away! If I have to tell you again, you're going to go straight to your room!" etc., etc.) we explode in frustrated anger.

Let's face it, for your kids, there aren't any real drawbacks to ignoring you; they get to continue doing what they want because you won't do anything about it except yell, and they know from experience that there's a good chance you'll cave and change your mind if they argue with you.

You have actually trained them not to pay attention to you! Read that again: You have trained your own children NOT to pay attention to you!

You need to change what you're doing.

  1. Your expectations aren't clear:

    1. You haven't told them exactly what you want

    2. You've used words they don't know the meaning of

    3. You've used too many words--blah, blah, blah . . .

    4. You haven't taught them how to do the thing you want them to do

  2. You aren't fully present: You may be there physically, but you are distracted. When they ask or tell you something, you don't make eye contact and don't really pay attention; it's amazing what a kid can get away with when mom is texting or checking email!

  3. It's past their meal/nap/bedtime: Not an excuse for bad behavior, but don't make obedience harder than it needs to be.

  4. You have unrealistic expectations: Make sure what you expect fits their current physical and cognitive level of ability--don't expect a 2-year-old to tie his own shoes, or a distracted four-year-old to be ready to leave in five minutes, for example.

  5. You haven't practiced: Behavior that you don't engage in every day--for example, sitting quietly in church--has to be rehearsed before it becomes natural. Kids need to be told and shown in advance what you expect them to do, then they need to practice this behavior at home before being put into the real-world situation.

Here's what usually happens. You wake up with an agenda, an expectation of the things you want and need to do today. You start moving forward assuming you can just DO stuff, like a normal adult; if you happen to remember how miserably this failed yesterday, you engage in magical thinking: "Today will be different!" Somehow, you think, your kids will not engage in any of their normal childish behavior, but will instead pay attention to you, do what you say without fuss, and fully cooperate without bickering or throwing tantrums!

If you had honestly taken two seconds to look at these assumptions, you'd realize that--Duh!-- you can't just do things like a normal adult! If you want to get even ONE thing on your agenda accomplished, you have to take your children's childishness into consideration! But you didn't, so you go barreling through your day, barking orders on the fly, repeatedly nagging your kids to get moving, and becoming more and more frustrated.

At some point everything grinds to a halt. Someone is refusing or unable to do what you want them to do because--see the above list of five possible reasons. You don't think about this, because it represents a massive interruption in your agenda, which makes your frustration boil over into yelling something like, "Peggy Sue! (you have to use both names for yelling to work) I have told you three times to put your shoes on! I want those shoes on and you ready to go in ten seconds!"

And there you are, yelling again. You feel release for a second or two, then you plow ahead, often yanking and dragging small people where you want them to be, or forcing them into car seats, slamming doors, etc. You continue to fume for a good long while. You eventually get your errands or whatever done, and you may even call a friend to tell her about your frustration and commiserate with her about "kids". But later--usually when you're trying to go to sleep, you start to feel remorse for losing it again.

It doesn't have to be this way!

Slow down. Plan ahead. Be realistic. Teach and practice the behavior or skill you're looking for. And when you give an instruction, don't do it on the fly, in a hurry--you have to connect in order to be heard and obeyed.

First of all, THINK! Plan your day realistically! Your children aren't capable of adult speed, they're new at following instructions, and frankly, you probably haven't trained them very well to pay attention to you--am I right? You just need to slow the heck down--stop cramming your schedule so full for one thing, and then when you have a more manageable schedule, consider the following:

  1. Make your expectations crystal clear:

    1. Make sure you've already taught them how to do what you're asking of them and are able to do it on their own.

    2. Use as few words as possible

    3. Use words they know

    4. TELL, don't ask, and only say it ONCE

  2. Be fully present:

    1. Stop moving!

    2. Make eye contact

    3. Speak calmly and directly

  3. Account for food and rest in your planning

  4. Know and remember your child's capabilities: is what you're asking realistic for a child this age?

  5. Prepare and Practice ahead of time

a. Act out the behavior you want them to learn

b. Create a "pretend" situation that they can act out

c. Throughout the day, stop every now and then, set the scene, and


Slow down. Plan ahead. Be realistic. Teach and practice the behavior or skill you're looking for. And when you give an instruction, don't do it on the fly, in a hurry--you have to connect in order to be heard and obeyed.

I can't promise you'll never again be frustrated, or that you'll never yell again. But I can and do promise that if you start living this way, you'll be far more likely to accomplish your agenda, your kids will be more obedient, and everyone in your home will be happier and more relaxed. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!

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