My name is Andrea, I’m a yeller, and it’s been 163 days since I last shouted at my kids.
By no coincidence, it’s precisely 163 days since I had a blow-out shouting match with my six-year-old. She is a chilled out child – my easy one. But unlike her siblings, who are more used to getting in trouble and are quick to apologise in a bid to smooth things over, my middle-child digs her heels in. On the rare occasions in which she is in trouble, it tends to escalate. And the deeper her heels, the higher my blood pressure. So 163 days ago, after one such heel-digging stand-off, I sent her to her room and told her not to come down until after Christmas (yes, my parenting medal is surely on the way for that one.)
She came down a while later, and I sent her back up, but went with her. Still cross, I told her to stay in her room until we’d both calmed down.
Then she said it. “Can we just talk about it?”
I could physically feel the tension and anger diffusing – fizzing out of me like a popped balloon. I sat down on her bed. Of course we should talk about it. Of course that makes more sense than shouting and grounding. I nodded. We talked. I explained why I was mad. We both apologised. We hugged. I felt guilty for shouting. Same old cycle.
I thought about how I could have done it differently. What if I’d taken her advice at the outset? What if I had talked instead of shouting? I could have asked her why she was yelling “No!” at me when I asked her to do something small. I might have got the answer (that she was tired or cross or just didn’t want to do it for some good or not good reason).
I decided there and then to take her advice for the rest of the day. If anything escalated with any of the kids, I’d talk instead of getting cross. Just for one day to begin with – I wasn’t thinking past that. Could I do it? No matter what they threw at me? I was curious to find out.
And to a large extent, on that first day, curiosity was the motivator. I’m a moderate shouter. It was never an everyday thing, but it did happen regularly enough, and though I’m not proud of that, I was never hugely worried either. I did think about it a bit, and came up with a theory that shouting has probably been part of parenting for millennia. Not a good thing, but reasonably normal and human.
I’d like to tell you that I’d be able to stop shouting because that would be better for the kids, but that didn’t seem to work as a motivator. To me, it’s a bit like saying I’ll only eat healthy food from here on in, because it’s better for my health. Or I’ll go running lots because I’ll be generally fitter. As goals go, they’re too broad – the opposite of the SMART goals we used to set at work, which had to be attainable and measurable, and crucially, specific.
I’m a task oriented, list-making, project-y person. I need specific goals. So although I’m ashamed to admit it, simply saying “try not to shout because your kids will grow up to be better, happier people” wasn’t successful.
But “don’t shout today, just to prove you can do it” – that was worth a try.
And it worked. Any time things started to escalate, I stuck to my guns – nothing was going to make me shout. I’d set myself the challenge, and I was determined to prove I could do it. The next day, I decided to see if I could do a second day, and I did. And it went on from there. And it became a thing – a stand-off between me and my shouty side, and I’m refusing to let her win. I’ve certainly raised my voice to call them from downstairs, and I absolutely still do get cross with them. And sometimes the cross words that come out in a quiet hiss are worse than any shouting – this is not a perfect transformation by any means.
But what I have found, is that by not shouting, situations don’t escalate as much as they did before. If I can’t shout, albeit out of sheer stubbornness, I’m forced to find other solutions – like taking a child aside to talk about what’s going on. Eruptions are simmering down more quickly than before, because I’m keeping things quieter on my side.
And wonderfully, the guilt is vastly reduced. At the end of any altercation, I’m not asking myself that awful question – “Why did I shout? Why did I lose it?” And all thanks to another question – “Can we just talk about it?”
High five to the six-year-old.