You know how your parents or teachers could silence you with a look? One well-placed, silent-but-deadly eyebrow raise or icy glare, and you’d freeze. You’d put down your fist or the projectile you were about to throw, or you’d stop in your tracks, or never finish whatever word you were about to call your brother. That’s the parent glare.
How about the way your mother’s tone, the simple way she modulates her voice or stresses a few words, could chill you to the bone? The way your father could simply say your name and you’d know it was game over? No raising of the voice, no hysterics, just calm but tightened words. That’s the parent voice.
Those are skills that every seasoned parent has in their arsenal. But they don’t come with parenting, they come with practice. They need to be cultivated, and it takes time.
I don’t quite have those skills yet. Now that I’m nearly six years into the gig and am raising two kids, I probably should. And I’d better get a handle on them soon. But I don’t have them yet, so I rely on a different skill, one that requires little training, one that we’re all equipped with.
I yell — a lot. And it works. It scares my son a little. (Before you freak out on me, be aware that Elmo scares my son a little. I’m not going Sam Kinison on the dude — I’m just barking a bit.) It makes me hate myself a lot, but it works. And so I’m gonna keep using it.
Look, I don’t want my son to be scared of me. I just want to startle him, knock him out of his rhythm a little, so he stops doing whatever dumb thing he’s doing. I don’t want to be the guy that raises his voice at his kid all the time, but sometimes that’s all I’ve got.
The dude’s 5, and not only does he require being told something five times before he hears it once, half the stuff he does he’s doing without a single thought in his head. He head-butts his infant brother. He jumps on me when I’m holding hot coffee. He screams at his mom to play a song while we’re in the middle of watching something else we’d just put on — at his request! Five-year-olds don’t know how to behave from forethought or ramifications. They are pure, unbridled id, and sometimes that id needs to be reined in. Sometimes getting loud allows me to regain some measure of control.
Are there others way to do it besides yelling? Sure. I mentioned the parent voice above, and I mentioned the parent glare as well. But not only do those take years to truly rely on, such tactics are also hard to wield when the subject is always on the move and always making noise. Sometimes you need to overcome distances, you need to overwhelm sounds, and you need to override impulses. A little bit of yelling accomplishes all three of those things.
Until it doesn’t. Eventually, especially if you rely on it too much, the yelling becomes white noise. If your voice is always raised, the raising of it ceases to register. I realize this. I want to prevent this. But I also want to prevent my son from hurting his brother, or himself, or his mom, or himself, or me, or himself, or my liquor cabinet, the TV, the iPad, or himself. Force is often required with 5-year-olds, and in lieu of putting a leash on my son or putting a belt to him, my best bet is raising my voice.
Right now, it’s basically a race between the waning of the yell’s efficacy and the maturation of my son. Hopefully, he’ll calm down just enough and come to understand the consequences of his recklessness soon enough, so I’ll be able to begin reserving the yell for special occasions.
Until then, I’m going to keep yelling. My son hates when I yell because it freaks him out a bit. I can get loud! But it also stops him — maybe just for a minute, but sometimes that’s all I need. And sometimes that’s the best I can ask for.
Besides, he totally ignores me when I don’t yell, and a dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do.