Most parents shout. We don't even notice ourselves doing it half the time. Our voice just gets louder and louder. Or we do know we're doing it, but at that moment it seems completely justified. After all, did you see what that kid did?!
But we all know that our kids respond better if we don't shout. Shouting escalates a difficult situation, turning it from a squall into a storm. And really, how can you expect your child to learn to control his own emotions if you don't control yours?
If, instead, we can stay calm, it settles everyone else down. We model emotional regulation. We're able to intervene more effectively to solve the problem. Our child learns how to move herself from upset to calm. Our relationship with our child strengthens. He cooperates more. She starts to control her own emotions more.
And if we're honest, we know it's our own stuff that's making us shout. Some parents (truly!) would look at the same behaviour and be able to stay empathetic or joke about it.
Because no matter how bad your child's behaviour, it's a cry for help. Sometimes the behaviour requires a firm limit, but it never requires us to be mean. And you can't help your child while you're shouting.
It isn't easy to stop shouting. You can desperately want to and still find yourself screaming. If you were shouted at it takes tremendous work not to do the same thing. But if you know that you want to stop shouting, I assure you it's completely possible - no matter how ingrained it is.
It's not rocket science. it takes about three months. Like learning to play the piano, you start playing scales today, you practise daily and soon you can pick out simple tunes. in a year you can play a sonata. I've seen hundreds of parents do it.
Will it be hard to stop shouting? Yes. It doesn't happen as if by magic. It takes constant, daily effort. no one can do it for you. not shouting may seems like a miracle, but this is something you can do.
If you keep working at it, some day you'll suddenly realise that you can't remember the last time you shouted. Want to get started?
Research shows that when we consciously, verbally 'commit' ourselves to a course of action, we're likely to achieve it, especially if we work at it daily. By contrast, simply 'wishing' something would be different, or even 'regretting' things we've done, doesn't usually change a thing.
So write down your intention ('I will speak respectfully to my child') and post it in a place where you'll see it frequently. Picture how lovely it wlill be in your home when you don't shout. Imagine yourself responding calmly - maybe even with a sense of humour! - to the things you shout about today. Keep revisiting that image.
Make the commitment to your family.
Here's the catch. You have to commit yourself to someone else. Specifically you have to commit to your child that you intend to stop shouting, because your child is really the only person who will be there to keep you honest.
A bit scary? Yes. But you're role modelling and if you want a child that doesn't shout at you, this is the way to get there. So explain to your kids that you've decided to stop shouting. Make a sticker chart to reward yourself. At the end of every day your child decides whether you merit a sticker. This is what keeps you accountable.
(Are you against sticker charts for kids? So am I, because they teach the wrong lessons. But since parents have all the power in the family, this is a way to empower the child to hold the parent accountable. I'm not worried about teaching the parent the wrong lesson. Just don't give in to the temptation to impose a sticker chart on your child for not shouting at the same time. He's got less self-control than you do while he's angry and he'll learn best from your modelling.)
Stop, drop and breathe.
Do this every time you notice yourself raising your voice or about to raise your voice.
Stop talking, as soon as you notice yourself losing your temper.
Close your mouth. Can't stop making noise? Hum, if you must, but close your mouth.
Really. Let it go for the moment. It's not an emergency, (If it is, get everyone out of danger and then come back to this process). Just step away from the situation.
Breathe deeply 10 times.
Shake out your hands. This shifts you out of your 'reptile brain' - the fight, flight or freeze response - and into conscious presence. Now you have a choice about how to act.
Remind yourself: You're the grown up and your child is learning from everything you do, right now.
Look at your child and say, 'I'm working hard to stay calm. I don't want to shout. Let me calm down and then we'll try that again, okay?'
Do whatever works for you to calm your body's fight-or-flight response.
More deep breaths, say a mantra, splash cold water on your face, look at your sticker chart. Remind yourself that your child is acting like a child because he is a child. Remind yourself that there's no emergency.
When you're out of fight-or-flight, you'll know because your child will no longer look like the enemy but like your own beloved baby, the one you've promised to cherish, love and guide positively so she grows into a loving, wonderful person. Now start the interaction again.
Hard, right? Very hard when you're swept with neuro chemicals that tell you to attack. But simple. You just delay the interaction until you're calm.
What if you find yourself shouting, despite your best efforts?
You will to start with - more than once. But it isn't a mistake if you learn from it. Use each time you miss the mark as an opportunity to change something - about your routine, or your attitude, or your self-care - so you can do better next time. Support yourself so you can change.
This extract is taken from: Calm Parent Happy Kids: the secrets of stress-free parenting by Dr Laura Markham, (published by Vermilion, priced £12.99).
More on Parentdish:
Shouting at your children
Smacking is out, but are we more verbally vicious than our parents were?
Why I've had it with pious parents