During the first week of the no-yelling challenge, I managed to go almost three consecutive days without yelling, pretty much right off the bat. That ended thirty minutes after bedtime on the third day, with the third time River came downstairs to ask me something. I yelled at him to get his butt upstairs immediately and that I didn't want to see him again until the morning. Ah, well. Back to square one. I've been doing the challenge for twenty days now, and am hopefully on my fourth day of no yelling! I have gone seven days total without yelling, but I start the challenge over when I mess up. I've only had a few really difficult days, as is expected. But mostly, on the days when I do yell, it's only happening once or twice.
I'm trying to pay close attention to my triggers and what's going on when I do yell. It's easy to think, "Well, obviously I yell because the kids are being loud and wild, or because they don't listen the first time, or because they argue with me!" But I'm realizing that usually my yelling has an underlying cause, one that is more personal. So far, I'm noticing it's usually one of four reasons that have very little to do with my kids' actual behavior, and more with how I am feeling.
1. I'm already stressed. This is the number one reason I yell. I can be fine one moment, and then something will happen that sends a lightning bolt of anxiety to my chest, like with what happened during the sprinkler incidence. It can be something as simple as not knowing what to make for dinner when it's already six thirty, or Austen having a leaky diaper on the carpet, or money being tight in those last few days before payday. I get stressed pretty easily, and I am awful about taking my stress out on my family -- the kids and John. They do not deserve this!
Obviously, I need to work on dealing with this stress in a healthier way. These situations takes the most self-control when I am trying not to yell. It's the kind of stress I feel bubbling up until my top blows. It starts in my heart, and whether or not what the kids are doing has any relationship to what I'm actually stressed about, I will take out my frustrations on them, if they choose to misbehave in that moment. It's not so much that their behavior is all that stressful, but that it is adding to the seemingly paramount stress in my life (you know, prepping dinner is just a really difficult thing, y'all). I haven't figured out how to let things not get to me. One thing I love from the book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, is the repeating the phrase, "This moment is as it is." I will repeat this to myself when I am really stressed. I can't do anything to change this moment -- it just is. I can either work with the moment or against it. Yelling at my kids doesn't get my anywhere; it doesn't so anybody any good. So I need to calm myself first and then proceed to handle the moment in a responsible, proactive way. Easier said than done, of course!
2. I'm preoccupied. Often, I am focused on something and my kids start trying to talk to me or fight with one another. I don't even need to necessarily be upset in the first place when I yell in these moments; it just sort of comes out. It usually happens if I am trying to read an article, email someone, come up with a menu plan, etc. In order to not yell in these moments, I really just have to suck it up and remember my kids are people too, and they deserve a mommy who is going to pay attention and listen, or take the time to discipline correctly rather than snapping at them to "just get along!" or "would you be quiet?!"
My preoccupation also comes from being in rush. I just want to get thing done without being interrupted all the time. I want to sweep the kitchen without a million questions of, "Mama, can I fweep too? Please can I fweep? When you're done can I fweep? Why can't I fweep?" instead of letting my child fweep... er, sweep if she wants to. I need to mentally slow down and take a breath. So what if it takes her triple the time to move the clothes to the wash? Honestly. I am a stay-at-home mom of two very young kids who spend their days doing puzzles and building airplanes out of Legos. My life isn't exactly lived in the fast lane. I have the time to take things slow, so I should just let it happen sometimes.
Not everything needs to get done right away. Not everything needs to be perfect. My kids want to learn and spend time with me. They need my guidance. Sweeping can wait. My blog post can wait. Reading that really interesting article can wait. Really, they can!
3. I have a bad attitude. Sometimes I just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Everything the kids do just gets to me -- too much talking, too many questions, too much noise, too much arguing, too wild, too energetic. I snap and speak harshly over the simplest things, and the anger just builds up until I explode and yell at them.
My kids are going to be annoying sometimes. They just are! And the phrase "fake it 'till you make it" applies to parenting, too. If I'm speaking kindly when I'd rather be snapping, eventually it's going to get into my heart. During these times I really have to try not to be preoccupied with things, because that just makes it even harder to speak out of kindness and understanding.
And this is something I've been told so often, that I've known for so long, but I just have a hard time following through on: if I'm feeling particularly flustered and frustrated with my kids, the best thing to do is spend time with them. Stop what I'm doing. Read them a book. Talk with them. Put other things aside (including my bad attitude) and pay attention to my kids. It works! It changes everyone... mama and kiddos.
4. I'm worried about how I'm handling it. This is one I really had to ponder over. Many times when I yell, it's because I don't know what to do in a situation. I don't know how to handle it, or maybe I do, but I am doubting myself. I'm afraid that if I'm not handling it right, it's going to get worse, and so my anxiety gets the best of me (see reason #1). I've found that many times, when I ask for advice from other moms about how to handle a situation, that I should have just followed my instinct in the first place. I honestly have to ask myself, "If I were to handle this situation perfectly, what would that look like?" And then I do it (or at least try). It may seem silly, but if I think through a situation first, including all the ways my child will probably argue and disobey, I am much more equipped to handle it without yelling.
One of these situations was with Austen when she was about a year old. She began throwing fits, and since River was never a fit thrower, I didn't know how to handle a tiny one-year-old screaming bloody murder over the fact that I couldn't let her play outside by herself! I asked for advice and was given a lot of great ideas, but in the end, I know my child best. I knew how she would react to different suggestions, and it turned out that what I was doing -- letting her cry a bit, then holding her and being her "safe place" in amid her big, confusing feelings, as well as giving her the words to say instead of screaming -- was exactly the right thing to do. I doubted myself, but only because I was worried I wasn't doing exactly the right thing. But when I trusted myself, I felt much more confident and was therefore less prone to feeling anxious about the situation.And of course, in the case of River coming down the stairs, that was just losing my patience after being patient with the previous times he'd gotten out of bed. Those times will happen, for sure! But as I've recognized these four common triggers, I've been trying to avoid them as best I can. It's not always possible, but I've yelled less the last twenty days than any time I can remember. I'm trying so hard to be proactive and actually get to the heart of the problem rather than just tell myself not to yell. And so far, it's going pretty well!