“Why won’t you shower?”
“Because Daddy didn’t ask me nicely.”
I was stunned. My nearly 9-year-old sat half dressed on the bathroom floor refusing to get in the shower, and his reason was that he wasn’t asked nicely. To be fair, I’m certain my husband told him “nicely” several times to go shower, but he definitely yelled probably around the fourth of fifth request.
I took a deep breath and looked at my unclean and shivering son, and said calmly, “I’m asking you nicely. Please get into the shower; you’re dirty and cold.”
He got into the shower.
While he was washing the grime of the day away, I was thinking about the way we communicate with our kids. So many times, a first, second, even third request goes ignored, and often, the fourth is given at a higher volume.
I thought about the times I’ve been on the receiving end of a “yell.” It isn’t fun. It is actually humiliating, and certainly doesn’t motivate me. And I don’t particularly enjoy being the yeller either. It actually makes me angry, it hurts my voice, and I’m not sure it even accomplishes anything. I never thought of our house as a big yelling home, but it does happen — more often that I’m sure my younger, pre-three-kids self ever would have predicted. By the time he came out of the shower, I had made a resolution to myself: no more yelling.
I decided that even if I needed to repeat myself 20 times, I would do it calmly and with a smile. If an action warranted a consequence, I would calmly state it and then move on. I was going to be calm, unflappable, zen. If I didn’t want to raise kids who would easily lose their cool, I decided I’d have to be the very picture of it. This was easier said than done in a home with three kids under the age of nine — all on school break.
He got out of the shower.
“Get me my sweats,” he said to me.
I smiled, “They are on the foot of the bed, please get dressed.”
And then I left the room.
Five minutes later I had not seen my child, so I walked back to the room. He’s half-dressed sitting on the foot of the bed reading something.
I said, “Oh good, you’re getting dressed. Please finish getting dressed because dinner is ready.” I walked out, and about one minute later, so did he…dressed.
For days, this was the pattern. I asked, calmly, nicely, sometimes four or five times, but never yelled. We made it through break, two plane rides and a four-hour car ride. The next big test was the first morning back at school. I tried to do some prep work, all clothing laid out the night before, bags by the door, socks, shoes and coats lined up just waiting to be stepped into.
That Monday morning, I woke the kids, got them through breakfast, even got their teeth brushed and weather appropriate clothing on them, and we walked out the door right on time. No yelling.
It’s been two weeks, and now I have my husband on the path as well. I can’t say that my kids listen any better. They have been far from perfect, there have been fights amongst them, refusals to eat dinner, disputes about their bedtimes, and even consequences handed down.
We often still ask the same thing over and over again, but now the fifth time a request is made, it’s made as calmly as the first, and my patience has been tested to the max.
But, what I can say, is our home is calmer and generally more pleasant. This experiment is still in the early stages, we’ll see if it makes it to puberty — but for now, it’s making our home happier and it is here to stay.