Sunday, November 28, 2010

More On Yelling

Can yelling at your kids be damaging to them? You bet.
Is all yelling damaging? No way.

My friend Jen recently posted about striving to become a "Yes" mom; saying yes as often as possible, and reserving No for truly important non negotiable situations. This idea came up in the comments on The One Where I Talk About Spanking, where we try and phrase as much as possible in positive terms, and try to create an environment where Yes is possible much of the time. I love this idea, because it keeps the No as effective and enforceable as possible, while maintaining a reduced conflict, positive environment for kids.

In the context of yelling, this helps set up an environment for the parent where there will be reduced frustration and incidences of yelling (or *other* strong tools we want to either reserve for dire need, or avoid altogether, depending on the parenting philosophy: wink!).

Here's the confounder: I have this kid who lives for putting his toe over the boundaries we have in place, just to check if they are still there. He pushes until he hears No. [anyone care to guess which of my children this might be? No great mystery there =) ha ha] So I've redesigned the Yes mom approach to fit this child, and it looks like this:
"Do NOT ____. You can do _____."
As much as possible, I outline what CAN be done, what is permissible, what is okay, what is good, what is kind, respectful, and within the boundaries. I do this as often as possible BEFORE the actual situation.
For example, we went to the Chapman's for dinner a few weeks ago, and on the drive there I said, "Child (only I used his name: I have to use HIS name to capture his attention or he won't apply what I say to himself. Generalized rules or guidelines hover in the air above his body but don't actually enter his ears), we are going to Kai and Koen's house for supper. While we are there, I would like you to be a good example of how kind and respectful you are, okay? I know you are good at playing with other kids. I want you to remember to be gentle with all of the kids and to be gentle with their house. Okay?"
Bored monotone from the backseat, "Okay."
And then while we are there, I have to arrest his wildness with No, No, No. It just has to be done. Redirection alone doesn't work. Phrasing things positively doesn't work. Saying 'maybe' or 'I don't think so,' or 'That's not a good idea,' when he asks for something doesn't work. He pushes until he hears No.

On the one hand, this is great. He's looking for security. He's feeling loved when he finds the outer boundary of what's acceptable, because we care about him enough to give him boundaries. Easy to give.
On the other hand, this is taxing. I don't want to be the No mom! I get tired of being The Police. I get tired of repeating repeating repeating those boundaries and having them pushed pushed pushed. It pushes me. It makes me tired. It makes me feel undervalued, unrespected, mean, and depersonalized.
And sometimes the No alone doesn't work. Oh yes, and explanations as to the why behind the no are always given, although when he was younger I found these were counterproductive. He was deaf half the time (literally, from the ear infections), and he's a physically oriented child, so a lot of talketytalketytalk was pretty well a waste of energy, and very useless.
NOW he's older, he can hear well consistently, and he is better able to take in explanations. But we have to keep them short, or we lose him.
You know you've lost him when he starts talking in the middle of an explanation, about something completely different. One sentence or less. That's all you get!

So sometimes I yell because I've said No too many times.

Other times, I yell to capture attention.

Other times, I yell because I'm talking over all the noisy boys and need to be heard!

I think these are okay, and although it's hard for me to be in the midst of chronic noise, I'm learning. I'm pretty well used to a higher level of noise than most people just by nature of the makeup of my family (three noisy boys!). But I have to admit to screaming "USE YOUR INSIDE VOICES!!!!" at my toddler boys (kind of a bad example of using your inside voice?) on numerous occasions in the early years.
And I'm no saint now, though I've vastly improved.

I know I've yelled too loud and too angry when my throat hurts afterwards.

On the one hand, what's childhood if you don't have a few examples of pushing your parents to losing their temper to share amongst yourselves as siblings? They make for funny family stories. On the other hand, a child who lives with this kind of chronic undercurrent of anger and unpredictable outbursts of yelling, or just maybe an example of an incredibly unhappy parent, will likely not find stories of their parents losing their tempers funny, or something to share as siblings.
Sometimes as parents we go through rough patches, and that is where Grace Based Parenting carries us. When my two oldest kids were little, I was angry a lot. I was anxious beyond measure. I was unpredictable much of the time. I still tried to be as healthy as possible, and I tried hard to be a Yes mom, but mostly I just tried to survive.
If I had stayed in that place for years, it would have damaging effects on my kids. Thankfully, with help and support and experience and reading helpful books and connecting with my village and examining and reexamining myself, I was able to claw my way out of that dark place. So I have grace for myself: I did the best I could at the time, and strove to be better. And my kids show evidence of this grace as well: they appear healthy and kind and empathetic and show signs of developing self awareness and autonomy and initiative and a sense of accomplishment, despite my more frequent yelling when they were little, and my far less frequent but by no means disappeared yelling now.

So is yelling unethical? What do you think?


Tonya said...

Many times we "prep" the kids before going places - it does seem to help. And I agree that yelling isn't wrong, it's yelling in anger that is wrong. Actually, anger is typically wrong. ALTHOUGH, as that lady with 15 kids said, there is such a thing as righteous anger! I guess it's that out of control, seething anger that is so wrong. Even if you keep your voice at a monotone and quiet, if you're seething, you're probably not being effective as a parent!

LOVE the cartoon, by the way.

I had an awesome parenting moment this morning. R hit S for something stupid (he played hide and go seek "wrong"). I was livid - righteous anger, I would say. I didn't scream, but I did speak loudly and firmly to her. As I was doing this, I was trying to figure out WHAT to do about this. I prayed a quick prayer and felt convicted to hold her. WHAT? I was MAD. She needed punished. She needed to go apologize to her brother and then face the music. Instead, I picked her up (nice that she's 48 pounds at almost 10), set her on my lap and began to talk to her calmly and lovingly. I asked if she thought she deserved to be loved on right now. She shook her head no. I asked if she had earned this kind of treatment from me. She shook her head no. Then I started talking to her about God's grace and mercy and forgiveness. How we can't earn it, don't deserve it and yet HE gives it to us. And how we all fail and need to be shown grace, mercy and forgiveness. You get the idea. By the end she was SMILING at me. I want to cry just thinking about this. She willingly went and apologized to her brother and then has had a pretty good attitude the rest of the morning.

Ahhh, I love it when HE speaks to our hearts, we hear Him and obey.

tamie said...

A few days ago I was speaking with a person about her parenting "style"--and oh, I do use the word loosely!--and she was singing the wonders of spanking.

The conversation really upset me. A lot. I want to write more about it, maybe over on the spanking conversation, in time.

But what occurred to me afterwards is that what matters in parenting is that parents do exactly what YOU are doing in this post here: that parents examine their assumptions, over and over again, ask over and over again what is best for the *child* (as well as what is healthy for them as a parent). What drives me bananas, what makes me feel so little sympathy, is when parents parent in ways that "work" (ie., produce convenient results for them) without EVER wondering whether it's healthy for the child.

It's unfair, of course, to assume that this person I was speaking to doesn't EVER wonder about her children's psychological and emotional health. Perhaps, even, she feels especially insecure and that insecurity comes out as self-righteousness. I don't know. But I do know that I really support what you're doing with this blog post, Mel: asking the question, again and again, not just deciding that if yelling is "effective" then it's fine, end of story, case closed.

Does that make sense?

tamie said...

Tonya, I want to say something about what you wrote in your comment. You asked your daughter whether she deserved to be "loved on" after your daughter hit her brother. Isn't this teaching your daughter that she only deserves to be loved when she is "good"? But I'm sure that even though you felt really angry, that didn't mean you didn't love your daughter anymore.

I feel that I was taught similar lessons as a child, and I think I internalized them to mean that when I am "bad" then I don't deserve to be loved. Often, when I am having a really hard day, or feel sad or upset inside, I don't treat others the best that I can. I am grumpy, quick-tempered, unfair. And that's when I need to be loved the *most*. That's when I need someone to say, "You seem to be suffering right now. Tell me about it." I don't need someone to say, "You don't deserve to be loved when you're being such a jerk."

I'm not saying that I would know what to do in the situation you describe between your daughter and son! It sounds like you were struggling with some intense feelings and I'm sure that was hard!

It seems that you are a person of faith, so I want to say that I feel like Jesus' message is that God's love doesn't depend on our actions, good or bad. God's love just is. We can be really really good and God will love us just the same as if we were really really bad.

Louise Chapman said...

I've been trying to think about what I think about yelling:) I do yell/speak loudly and it's usually when I've told them to do something three times. For example; `Get out of the kitchen please!' when I'm cooking. It turns into GET. OUT!)

I think my parents were really awesome. My dad never raised his voice at us, not once! My mom would. If we bugged her and bugged her (usually while she was trying to cook/bake etc), she would finally say `FINE, DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. I DON'T CARE!' in a loud voice. Not even yelling, just a loud voice. I would always feel bad and I think the loud voice was warranted. She had 5 kids in 8 years, that's a lot to deal with! That is when I knew I had pushed her too far and it took her `loud voice' for me to get it.

I know the `loud voice' stopped once we were in our teens. I think sometimes kids just respond better to variation in our voice. Plain old talking gets boring to them and they tune us out. Maybe next time I'll try singing it instead!

Tonya said...


Thanks for your comments! That was actually the point I was trying to make to her. That we do screw up - all the time - I told her that I am constantly screwing up. And that, in that sense, we don't deserve to be loved. BUT, GOD loves us even when we act like idiots! So, I totally agree with you! And when I picked her up and held her, I wasn't angry anymore. It was amazingly gone. I held her gently, stroked her face, loved on her. I was trying to point out to her that she IS loved, even when she's messing up. This child feels everything VERY strongly. She feels horrible when she hits (which she actually does frequently - it's her reaction to being hurt - which happens frequently too because she is so sensitive - does this make sense?). She FEELS like she is unlovable. She FEELS like she can never do anything right. I was trying to tell her it's true that we screw up all the time, all of us do, and yet Christ loves us and died for us even when He knew how we would behave. Am I making myself clearer? All that to say I agree with you on this!!! I'm not always great at explaining things. Hope this clarifies for you. I didn't tell her "you don't deserve to be loved", I was trying to help her understand that despite FEELING like she didn't deserve to be loved, I was loving her anyway and God always loves her.

tamie said...

Hey Tonya,

Thanks for responding! I think we need to have this conversation in person because I think maybe we're not 100% understanding each other, but some things you can only understand by talking in person!

You said at the top of your comment that "in this sense we don't deserve to be loved." But I guess I don't understand what you mean? Why don't we deserve to be loved when we're "acting like idiots" or "screwing up"?? That's what I'm confused about, I guess.

I'm curious about why your daughter would feel that she doesn't deserve to be loved when she hits or does something else like that. It seems very intense for a small child to feel that they don't deserve to be loved!! I can really identify with being sensitive and feeling everything intensely; I was like that as a young child (and still am). I wish I could go back and remember what was running through my head in those days!

Thanks for responding, Tonya.


Tonya said...


Ack, I don't explain well. I guess I was trying to explain grace to her and maybe I didn't do a good job. Undeserved merit, undeserved favor. The undeserved part is what I was trying to explain. Just in the sense that we all fail, we all mess up and yet Christ still loved us enough to die for us. Does that explain it? Argh, probably not. I'm soooo not good at explaining!!!

As for R, she is 9, and she feels guilt very strongly. So she doesn't feel lovable when she acts mean towards others. She feels like we can't love her, that she can't measure up to our standard. I was trying to tell her that it didn't matter what she did, I still loved her. That even when she was being mean towards someone else, I loved her. And how much more Christ loves her! Why does she feel that? I don't really know. She's always been a very very difficult child - which I misread for a long time as her being just stubborn (which she has a fair amount of!), but now I realize she is stubborn when she's trying to put up a wall of defense. As in, I hit this kid (she hit a friends 12 year old son last week), if I sincerely apologize and show him how sorry I am, I will cry and he will make fun of me. NOT that he would have made fun of her, but she thinks he will. Again, not sure I'm making sense!!!

Tamie, maybe you have to trust me. Ha ha ha. I was making an attempt at explaining grace and mercy to her - how when anyone acts in an unloving way to us, we are still to love them, to have grace and mercy to them, just as Christ has for us.

Ugh. Still not sure I've explained it. I AGREE with you and yet can't seem to verbalize it correctly.

tamie said...

Aha! Tonya, I think I understand where you were coming from now, and what you're saying. I think!

I suppose I am always nervous around the kind of theology that says, "Humans are deprave" or "We don't deserve to be loved but God loves us anyway." But it sounds like that's not the kind of thing you were saying.

Anyway, it sounds like you're striving to really understand your daughter and where she is coming from! Thanks for hanging in there with me and explaining several times!

tamie said...

Mel...I was you think there's a chance that there's something else going on with your dear son, besides just pushing boundaries? I'm clearly no child psychologist, but do you think maybe he needs to feel empowered, or that he...I don't feeling insecure or scared but expressing it in weird ways...or just has extra energy...or I don't know. Anyway, just an idea. I'm just wondering if his *constant* pushing against boundaries maybe has more to it than just wanting to know where the boundaries are? But like I said, I don't know, just wondering.

Tonya said...


I had a thought after I wrote all that that might explain it. I guess I am trying to get far far away from the legalist mindset - ie, you have to DO something to earn God's favor. NO NO NO!! We don't have to do anything to earn His love! We CAN'T earn it! He loves us NO MATTER WHAT. So, same thing you're saying. She feels so badly when she messes up, internalizes it, feels guilty over it. I so badly want her to understand that God loves her even with her beautiful flaws. He created her. He knows her. He loves her. He has GRACE for us. And am I ever thankful for it. She's most like me. :-) A violent temper that you regret the second it explodes and yet, you've done it. Sigh. I *get* her so much now.