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Sometimes, I shout at my sons.

There, I've said it. I'm ashamed of it, but it happens. It's not like I don't also express a lot of love for them, but when they're naughty for the Nth time, I let rip with a shout. I'm sure all (or at least most) parents shout - but I'd really like to improve.

I've told myself umpteen times that I'm going to calm down and not shout any more, and today was yet another time I've promised myself I'm going to get better. I'm hoping that with the help of m4m it can last for more than a few days. (I've just had an exceedingly pleasant bedtime with the boys, which certainly helps my optimism.)

So, any tips? When your kids are completely ignoring you, knocking drinks over, eating with their fingers and wiping it down their clean shirts, hitting each other, running and being silly... how do you stay calm?

Note that this isn't really a matter of improving their behaviour, although tips on that are obviously welcome too. It's more about getting more self-control in stressful situations.

asked 06 Oct '09, 18:31

Jon%20Skeet's gravatar image

Jon Skeet
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Thanks for the honesty...great question.

(07 Oct '09, 21:12) epaga

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Calmly make it clear you won't tolerate the behavior you're talking about. Then if they continue...don't tolerate it. Employ whatever non-verbal discipline methods you and your wife have decided on and lovingly and calmly explain that they are "consequences" of their behavior (that's the term we use when we discipline our kids). After the timeout / privilege being taken away / spanking / grounding / fill-in-the-blank, always re-affirm your love for them and tell them the consequence is because you want them to learn.

Oh also: apologize if you shout. It really shows your kids you love them when you come as soon as possible after the outburst and say, "Hey, I am so sorry I yelled, I shouldn't have done that. I was angry and allowed that to take over. I apologize. Could you forgive me?" Having my parents apologize to me always completely disarmed me and showed me their authenticity.

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answered 07 Oct '09, 21:09

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+1 for the "don't tolerate it". Follow-up is important!

(03 Dec '09, 11:43) Peter K.
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Spanking?! Phew, I sure hope not! Though I guess the fill-in-the-blank could be even worse, theoretically...

(20 Jul '10, 13:42) Ilari

I have four kids and we try not to shout also, but there are times when that's the only thing that will get their attention and let them know that you mean it. I've found that they understand shouting to get their attention better when it is decoupled from anger. When it's an angry shout, they tend to focus on the fact that they made their dad angry and not on the message.

Don't beat yourself up over the shouting: do it because you're bringing your stress on to them. In my case, the times I've gotten angry very rarely had anything to do with their misbehavior—that was just the most convenient outlet for me at the time. I try not to bring work stress home with me by sitting in my car in the garage for an extra second (or on the way home) and telling myself that work's over and I'm going to try to have a great evening with the kids.

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answered 06 Oct '09, 22:12

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+1 in general, but especially for the temper often being nothing to do with the kids. I think in our case it's that we lead generally stressful lives, so the kids are just the catalyst...

(07 Oct '09, 06:26) Jon Skeet

Heh, +1 to that! It's 11:41 PM and I'm still in the office so I can make a going-to-QA deadline. (Oh, maybe "our" in your comment refers to you and your wife--not us programmers/fathers. I guess it works either way.)

(07 Oct '09, 06:42) bbrown

EDIT: I realized my previous answer was just a specific instance of a more generalized method I use to avoid letting stress get the better of me:

  1. Enumerate all the things that could go wrong.
  2. For each of those cases, think about how you could respond, and what are the consequences.
  3. How likely is it to actually happen.
  4. Is the consequence and the likelihood enough to justify a preventative measure be taken right now? If so, do it.
  5. Relax.

I learned later that for certain types of personalities this is a normal coping behavior, but it doesn't work for everyone. Reference: Defensive Pessimism

So to apply that to your case:

What could happen if they're running around and being silly?

  • Something could get broken. If it did happen, they would probably stop immediately. I would calmly get the cleaning stuff, and help them clean it up, and then have a talk with them about responsibility, and how to repay their "debt". It's not terribly likely, and if it happens it's not that bad. Breaking a lamp might teach them a lesson that prevents them from cracking up the car later in life.

  • They could hurt themselves. In this case, could there be serious injury? It's probably worth removing any possible fatal dangers, and if they can't be removed, physically stop them from doing this. If there's no mortal danger, maybe they might cut themselves or just get a bad bruise. Again, if this happens it's not the end of the world, and it may be the only way for them to learn not to do it. We all learned that way when we were kids, right?

This has helped me a lot. I hope it works for you.

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answered 06 Oct '09, 21:28

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edited 06 Oct '09, 22:44

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+1 on defensive pessimism! I do that too (and it helps at my job as a software developer). +1 on letting them do things. Let them play in the mud (good vs. allergies), let them fall and scratch their knees, don't let them fall and break their necks ...

(14 Nov '10, 18:08) Alexander

Shouting is not much fun for us parents, but it helps calm or pause those situations that you mentioned in your question. We have only one so I am not even sure whether my opinions will count for much considering your responsibility is 3 times greater! But I am going to try.

I believe that as parents, we expect ourselves to have an never ending supply of patience, energy, love, and understanding. But in reality this is not possible, and we have also learnt that sometimes raising our voices, shouting, is the only way our adamant, confident, cheeky 5 year old will pay attention. We try our best to be assertive and firm, so we can shout less, but it doesn't always work.

I don't think that you should restrict yourself in saying that you are not going to shout anymore, because there will be situations, but what I do suggest is that once the shouting has taken place and has had an effect and given you the result you needed, you could talk to the boys about it, particularly if they have been upset by it. Try telling them that you also do not like shouting, and that you would prefer not to have to do it.( This could work better with the older one ) but I would suggest that you try it.

If you can, try to reduce the number of times you are forced to shout, and situations where you would normally raise your voice, you could try being firmer and extra assertive.

During frustrating situations, my husband is able to remain much calmer and cooler than me, I have learnt to adopt his approach. Its hard, it really is but it's certainly easier than trying to get my point across. For example,

"Mummy will not be washing that t-shirt, you can wear it like that, with the ketchup pattern"

We also talk about behaviour, we reverse roles and ask her how she would feel if we were to do some of the things that she does, this is a good situation calming method too!

I hope this helps a bit!

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answered 06 Oct '09, 19:57

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+1 for the reversing roles idea.

(02 Nov '10, 02:56) Emily

+1 for epaga's answer of "Calmly make it clear you won't tolerate the behavior you're talking about. Then if they continue...don't tolerate it."


If you can manage to (temporarily at least) remove any negative emotion from the situation and say:

"If you do ABC then the consequence of that action is XYZ."

...they will probably IGNORE you the first few times. Stick to your guns and do XYZ!

Over time (usually a surprisingly short period of time) they'll discover that mom says what she means and means what she says.

Its nothing personal... you did ABC... I did XYZ... I love you... let's move on. :-)

The universe is cause and effect. Kids get that.

I've had OTHER parent's come to me and say, "How come my kid listens to YOU more than they listen to ME?"

The answer is pretty simple... I've never given them a reason to DOUBT what I'm telling them is 100% truth.

NOTE: Just to be clear... I'm not a robot/monster... the kids totally love me. We'd even talk about the time they did ABC and XYZ happened. Discuss it in an intelligent (for kids) manner, explain the reason(s) why ABC was done and the reason(s) XYZ was done, etc. Sometimes they think that XYZ was soooooooooooo UNFAIR! When this happens I ask them what THEY think should have been done. Sometimes the answers are PRICELESS! A lot of the time they're MUCH more harsh then XYZ actually was! Start having conversations like that with your kids and they'll surprise you. ;-)

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answered 08 Oct '09, 06:41

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could hardly agree more.

(09 Oct '09, 07:01) epaga

In theory, I totally agree. In practice? Apparently my oldest does not understand cause and effect. When he does ABC and I do XYZ, he flips out because I'm being SO MEAN and SO STUPID and he just HATES THE UNIVERSE. One consequence ends up being six because of it. So...what do you do if the kids don't shape up even when you follow through?

(02 Nov '10, 02:55) Emily

Usually I try to act before actual shouting. Whenever I am tired and I feel that anything would get me angry, I say it calmy to my 3 years old child, I tell him that I am not feeling as well as I would like with him, and that I would love if he cooperates. Only saying this helps me to lower down my nervousness. Moreover my son is able to understand and is happy to take care of me.

Sometimes, when I didn't anticipate, I try to explain why I am upset. Not in terms of "you must ..." but in terms of "I need ..."

I am in the very first stages of experimenting nonviolent communication.

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answered 12 Oct '09, 13:51

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Jon this great article was published today on NY Times and I thought of your question. The author suggests, "Experts suggest figuring out ways to prevent situations that make you most prone to yell. If forgotten homework sends you into the stratosphere, make sure the children have their books and notebooks packed and waiting by the door before they go to bed. If you’re stressed and hungry after a long day at the office, make sure you grab something to eat in the kitchen before you tackle, say, a brewing disagreement over Legos."

Hope this helps! It was a good read, at the very least.

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answered 22 Oct '09, 02:38

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Thanks - I'll check it out. It seems hard to "avoid" the situation where the kids need to go to bed but they're deciding to be silly, mind you...

(22 Oct '09, 05:26) Jon Skeet

In high school, teachers who shouted weren't incredibly common but also not unheard of. What really made my blood run cold though was my Spanish teacher from Puerto Rico. She had a short fuse but would never yell. As she explained, where she grew up, yelling was not how they expressed intense anger. She had this way of dropping her voice into this slow deliberate staccato-ed speech that was so low it was barely audible. My goodness it was scary and we straightened up like you wouldn't believe.

If you're a shouter, especially being one who doesn't want to be, I imagine trying something like this would be very difficult to harness, but if you can pull it off, it might be worth it.

Quiet does wonders sometimes with kids. Our energetic nieces can be quieted by whispering to them when they get loud. If we make our voices dynamic and exciting yet quiet, they'll see that they're missing something and get quiet and lean in close so they can hear.

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answered 16 Oct '09, 20:35

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When I get really annoyed with my kids I find it helps to say, under my breath, "You are just so childish". It just reminds me that, yes, they are childish, because they are children.

Just a small idea, but I hope it's as helpful to other people as it is to me.

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answered 29 Oct '09, 14:43

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If you are looking after your kids don't do anything else at that time: don't quickly finish an email, or a code fragment, a UML draft, whatever...

I don't know if you do that, but I know I try it sometimes and it's always then that I lose my temper too quick.

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answered 19 Nov '09, 10:54

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edited 19 Nov '09, 11:35

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But what if you're the Mom and everything you do has to be done when you're around the kids?

(02 Nov '10, 02:58) Emily
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Asked: 06 Oct '09, 18:31

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Last updated: 20 Apr '10, 03:31