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Could You Go a Week Without Yelling at Your Kids

For every mom out there saying, "Sure, no problem," there are thousands more shouting, "Impossible!" Here's how a confirmed yeller got through seven whole days using her inside voice.

Day 2: Speak softly and...

My plan for today is that I will interrupt their fighting, but each time I want to get louder, I will get quieter instead. Just like Supernanny does with her recalcitrant charges.

"Shut UP!" my oldest shouts across the kitchen table.

"No, YOU shut up!" his brother bellows back.

These words are forbidden in our house, but I'm tempted to yell them myself. Instead, I murmur so quietly that they have to ask me to repeat myself: "The next person who says 'shut up' has to do 10 push-ups."

The military-style threat quiets everyone down — except for my 2-year-old daughter, who says, "The next person to say 'shut up,' dem do 10 pushers?" Her brothers, suddenly sticklers for rules, insist she drop and give 'em 10. Maggie doesn't mind, but she's kind of vague on what push-ups are, exactly, and in the ensuing battle over whether her attempts count, my oldest accidentally uses the "S.U." words again, then refuses to perform his own punishment. Soon I'm standing over him shrieking like a demented drill sergeant because he won't do the push-ups I'd prescribed specifically to avoid yelling.

"How's your experiment going?" my husband asks when he gets home that night.

"I yelled at Connor this morning," I admit (on the defensive), "but he disobeyed me to my face!" David listens to my story and proceeds carefully. "Okay, he didn't do his 10 push-ups," he says gently, "but that was just a silly thing you made up. I mean, he wasn't running into traffic."

He's right. I was yelling about the push-ups, but the boys' fight was long over. To stop screaming, I need to learn to quit while I'm ahead.

Day 3: The stress test

I take the kids out to dinner with my friend Susan and her brood. Between us, we have five children ages 7 and under, which makes for a big, boisterous table. As our kids squirm and talk at top volume, the woman in the next booth gives me the fish-eye over the rim of her wine glass.

I want to say: If you're looking for a peaceful, child-free meal, lady, don't go to a pizza joint at 5:30 p.m. But I internalize her judgment of me as a bad mom who can't control three children. To prove her — and myself — wrong, I grab Seamus's arm and hiss under my breath: "Use your inside voice now, or I'm taking you right out to the car, mister!"

This quiets him down for a few seconds, then I have to threaten him again, then his brother, then him, then his sister. I'm in a full sweat, while Susan just sits there, enjoying a garlic knot as her daughter bounces on the banquette.

"That lady's shooting us dirty looks," I explain.

"Really?" Susan says. "I hadn't noticed."

"Maybe we should get the pizza to go," I say.

"Why?" Susan asks, genuinely confused. "They're not running wild. They're just being kids."

She has a point. I'm disciplining my kids to meet a stranger's standards. If their behavior isn't bothering anyone else in the restaurant, then the wino lady is the real problem.

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