I used to be so calm. People would remark on it. They’d say, ‘Bec, you’re so calm!’ I would be able to deal with irritating housemates and impatient customers and at the end of the day, shrug it off, and sleep soundly. I could even be the voice of reason, sometimes. Or, a voice with a reason, just so as not to appear too full of myself. In any case: I was calm. And I didn’t yell.
Then I had children.
I didn’t set out to be one of those parents who yells. I set out to be a calm parent, who would listen carefully to her children’s concerns, and who would explain gently, the reasons why she needed her children to stop what they were doing, or to listen to her.
Obviously, I found that method lacked something in its execution.
Yelling can be effective. I am bigger and so I can be louder, which also cuts through their noise — noise which is considerable, because there are four of them in a small house, and only one of me. What’s more, they yell at me. And I’m not about to be yelled at without having the opportunity to raise my voice in response, right? Especially by someone who’s one third of my height.
I yell because it seems like something you get to do when you’re the grown up. I remember people yelling at me, when I was a child, and I always figured that it was the way to behave when you really wanted people to listen, and take you seriously — when you wanted to appear to be powerful and in control.
I want to appear powerful and in control. I want people to take me seriously. I want my children to take me seriously. And the only way to do that is surely to yell. Because it is serious. Tracking mud into the kitchen from the garden? That’s serious. Slamming the door? Serious. Giggling and splashing each other when they should have been washing their hands? HEAR MY WRATH.
All of these things are of the utmost world-will-end-if-I-am-ignored importance, and it drives me crazy (quite literally, in fact, because I feel like I am definitely not of sound mind when I am yelling about these things) that they don’t see that. I mean, how old are they? Three?
Well, no, they’re six, four, and two (the baby’s almost one, but I don’t yell at him). And it seems that when I yell, they don’t take me seriously at all. It raises my blood pressure and gives me a headache and disturbs the peace, but it doesn’t have the effect for which I was hoping. They are so used to my raising my voice, that they turn the other cheek, and the other ear, and zone out. I might get a token shrug or a remorseful expression, but when all is said/yelled and done, next time they come in from the garden, they track mud through the kitchen — AGAIN — and all the other transgressions continue, and I am somehow more powerless than ever
I yell because repeating myself becomes boring and exhausting and I just want action. I tried to make gentle suggestions. This is how that turned out:
Me: Please put your jumper on.
[pause while child plays with a toy]
Me: Please put your jumper on.
[pause while child looks at me with a blank expression]
Me: Hey! Please could you put your jumper on?
[pause while the child either shows me a sock, or runs away giggling]
Me: OH FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD IN THE WORLD, WILL YOU PUT ON YOUR DAMNED JUMPER?!!
[child is fully dressed, as if by magic]
Just writing that out made me tired.
So you see, I have such good reason to yell, yet still, it does me no good and I decided recently, it was time for a rethink. This is not just because yelling wasn’t working — it occurred to me that just because they yell, doesn’t mean I have to. After all, I’m the parent. And as I learnt back in the days when I was teaching high school students: someone in the room should be in control, and it should probably be me.Therefore, instead of yelling, my new approach is to wait (patiently or not) for the tantrums to reduce to a low rumble, and then making quiet suggestions about what I want or why the behaviour isn’t appropriate. What a simple solution! How is that going? I hear you ask.
OK, so it’s not as if this works like magic, either. They still yell, and they still choose to do things which have me shaking my head and wondering how we’re related. But putting their behaviour into perspective, asking myself if it’s really worth raising my voice, if it’s really worth raising my blood pressure and my stress levels, I’m yelling less. I may have legitimate reasons to yell. I mean, they can be annoying! But the excuse ‘but she did it first!’ sounds a little hollow when the comparison is between a toddler and a thirty-seven-year-old.
I yell because I care. And I’m trying to stop, because I care. Because I want them to listen, properly, and because I’ve realised that being grown up and being taken seriously relies on consistency, and calm. I have also discovered that not yelling at my children has the pleasant side effect of reclaiming some tranquility in my life, at a time when that can be quite hard to find.
Who knows? Perhaps by showing them how results can be achieved by not yelling, my children will turn out to be more confident, self-assured, polite and well-mannered young people?
Haha. Or they’ll grow up to be rude and noisy, just to rebel. Either way, my yelling about it isn’t going to change anything! So I might as well just sit back, remain calm, and hope for the best.