It’s great if you’re looking for your child at a Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday party. It’s not so great for expressing disappointment with your mother-in-law for bringing Jell-O to Sunday dinner for the ninth week in a row. And it’s never good when it’s directed at kids—mostly because kids don’t listen anyway, so all yelling does is make them not listen, with tears.
Now, I’m not criticizing anyone or their parenting; I’m confessing. I’m admitting that I’m guilty of this on plenty of occasions. When I hit my patience or frustration limit, that’s what happens. I turn into a cartoon steam whistle until my head explodes into a yell. It’s not good for anyone.
In an effort to try to change this, I recently decided to go a week without yelling, and this is what happened:
1. When I stayed calm, my kids listened.
Sure, they were pretty confused at first—so was I. They looked at each other, then around the room for a hidden camera to see if they were being pranked. They seemed to understand instructions better without fire shooting out of my eye sockets.
2. I talked to myself a lot.
To keep myself from yelling, I simply went crazy. I wandered around muttering a lot of feelings to myself about the fact that no one would ever have their shoes on again, ever. That if they can’t put a shoe on in 15 minutes without getting sidetracked by a Fruit Loop on the floor, how would we ever survive a zombie attack? We wouldn’t. We will die because shoes.
3. No one got upset when I asked them to pick up their toys.
Probably because the gigantic vein in my forehead wasn’t throbbing and writhing like an alien baby ready to burst forth with a vengeance.
4. My yells were converted into epic dance moves and weird noises.
When I felt a yell coming on, I started to stomp around the room like an empowered chicken, and my kids were on board with the crazy gibberish noises that flew out of my mouth. I turned a potential scream-fest into an odd interpretive dance of frustration and struggle in celebration of the fact that, after 45 minutes, no one under 4-feet tall still had any pants on. And I stayed cool because it was kind of fun.
5. They were receptive to apologies when I slipped.
“That’s OK, Mommy,” someone would say. “Next time, just ask us in a regular normal voice.” There are few people more forgiving than small children; they make it so easy to implement changes—as does pinot grigio.
6. I took a lot of deep breaths.
I took so many deep breaths that I could have swum to the U.K. and back.
7. I got on their level.
When I felt that familiar frustration starting to climb into a yell, I dropped to my knees, looked them directly in their eyes, and explained what I wanted them to do. They, in turn, informed me that my eyes are brown, and I have a freckle on my chin.
8. I did a lot of counting.
Counting to 10. Counting to 20. Sometimes, my kids even counted with me and made up a dance so awkward it belonged on public access television. I counted softly and fiercely. I counted like a crazy person with maniacal laughter like I was some kind of evil mad scientist on the brink of losing my mind. I counted until I couldn’t count anymore or until a welcome distraction came along—like the baby eating a four-day-old chunk of banana pasted to the wall. Hooray for never cleaning!
9. I left the room.
Some moments, I just needed to find a nice, quiet, dark room to get my shit together.
10. It brought my children and me closer together.
It might sound corny, but it has. No one likes to sit next to a fire-breathing dragon. So, when I transformed myself into a less abrasive teddy bear, it was a much-welcomed change and a better place to snuggle.
Not yelling is a constant work in progress for me. It’s a daily effort to remember that my communication toward my kids is the communication they learn as “normal.” Yelling is a lot less effective for my family and my parenting—unless my end goal is to create the human equivalent to a barking dog that just doesn’t shut up. Learning to respond instead of react has been much easier for all of us.
It still takes everyone forever to get their shoes on though. So when the zombies come, we’ll see you on the other side because shoes.