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The Day I Stopped Yelling at My Kids

yelling, parenting, temper, anger

*Record scratch* OK, let me be more realistic with that title:

The day I stopped yelling at my kids AS MUCH. 

Because there was a specific day, and a specific moment that changed me. 

First, can we just admit that we ALL lose our temper with our kids, even though we wish we didn’t? I’m think it’s in the all-time Top 5 list of mommy-guilt smash hits, somewhere between “Fast food for dinner” and “Letting them watch the third Paw Patrol in a row.” All classics. 

A lot of moms think it only replays in their lives and no one else’s. If that’s you, I hate to be a jerk you just met who tells you you’re wrong, but, well, you’re wrong. About that anyway.

A friend traveled with me to a moms-in-leadership conference a few years ago and went to a seminar about anger. As she told it, she thought it would be her and a handful of other moms sitting in a circle sheepishly saying “Yeah, I get angry at my kids too much. I yell too much.” And the other attendees looking at their feet and nodding, “Us too.”

Nope. She got in there and it turned out to be a PACKED HOUSE. That seminar and the other moms in that room did an amazing thing in her – it freed her from thinking that losing her temper was some unfortunate flaw of hers and not the universal parent struggle that it is.

She made it a personal mission to help other moms get out of that shame and work through anger. Because when it comes to supporting moms there are hardly any two words more powerful than “ME TOO.”

So, me too. On this specific day and time I was in a power struggle with my then-four-year-old daughter, my oldest child who entered this earth with a temperament of steel that steamrolled every expectation of how I expected my child to behave and respond to me. 

She was about 20-30 minutes into her standard full-tantrum approach, basically: RATCHET THIS BABY UP TO FULL BLAST TAKE NO PRISONERS IF I AM GOING DOWN I AM TAKING THIS WHOLE SHIP WITH ME. Bless it, I can’t say that child has ever lacked in passion or determination.

I know these will turn out to be her strengths one day. But as a parent looking down at a petite four-year-old tyrant terrorizing the house with a screaming fit the strength of a small tornado, it’s a little much.

I yelled, probably a lot. I yelled for her to hush, stop it, go to her room -which, naturally, she took as an invite to double down – and then I opened my mouth to yell about that. 

But something stopped me. Something made me pause and look at my two younger children in the room, my two-year-old on the couch and my infant in his baby seat, and see what they saw. 

They only saw yelling. Their mom, their sister: on both sides there was only yelling. 

If anyone was going to show them another way, it wasn’t going to be the four-year-old.

It was going to have to be me, the adult.

I owed it to all of my kids to show what calmness under pressure looks like; what taking a minute to cool off looks like; what circling back to an issue when tempers fade looks like.

I started verbalizing my feelings for their sake, so they knew anger is normal but doesn’t always lead to screaming.  Something like: “I can tell I am almost out of patience. I either need you to stop yelling or I am going to have to leave the room for a minute until I can calm down and get some patience back.”

And OF COURSE I still did – and do – lose my temper and yell sometimes. But I try to apologize for it, and at least in doing so can show what humility and grace look like. Not in self-defeat, just as a lesson in being human – because I believe what we model now sets them up for the long run. My kids need to know the value of both patience and forgiveness in their future relationships, so fortunately (or unfortunately?!?), we have LOTS of practice runs around here. 

It wasn’t a perfect change. I still had a strong-willed child who would tantrum her little hiney around the house until she burned through every last ounce of energy. There was still screaming and yelling, but it was much less often mine. I stopped the head-to-head power struggle. I stopped the shouting matches. Because that moment was imprinted: Someone had to show my kids a better way to handle anger, and it wasn’t up to them to do it. It was up to me. 

This moment of simple clarity changed me, even though my circumstances were the same. I share it only for encouragement and as an account of hope in the endless struggle for parenting patience; just a way to raise my hand and tell my story in a full room of mamas here saying “Me too.” 

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