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.
By Amy Wilson
"Within each of us, ofttimes, there dwells a mighty and raging fury." —The Incredible Hulk
I don't consider myself an angry person. I can count on one hand the number of times I've shouted at my husband, and I wouldn't dream of raising my voice at a rude salesperson. In fact, in all the world, there are only three people I ever get veiny-necked at: my children, ages 7, 6, and 2.
I'm not proud that I couldn't imagine treating a line-cutting stranger the way I do my own flesh and blood on a daily basis. But strangers don't tend to work my last nerve like my own kids can. What I actually say when I yell at them tends more toward "I don't care how itchy it is — you're wearing that scarf!" than anything truly damaging, but nonetheless, I've been meaning to stop. Two years ago I gave up yelling at my kids for Lent. I should've known it wouldn't go well: If I couldn't last 40 days without dark chocolate, I'd never be able to abstain that long from my primary means of discipline. I went 10 days without chocolate. Without yelling? Four hours.
Recently, however, I've sensed that all my sound and fury is losing effectiveness. As I railed at my children one morning for fighting over Silly Bandz, I saw them cast furtive glances at one another — Here she goes again. That day, I gave myself a new challenge: no yelling at the kids for a week. Only seven days. At summer camp, when I was 9, I didn't brush my hair for a week on a bunkmate's dare. By the end, I could have happily worn a baseball cap for the rest of my life. Would a break from yelling be similarly liberating? I needed to find out.
Day 1: The challenge begins
I send Seamus and Connor, my 6- and 7-year-old sons, to brush their teeth after breakfast, knowing that they can't peacefully coexist for more than 30 seconds. I hear them hollering through the floor. Then a thump that sounds like somebody's head. Then howls of rage.
Any other day, I'd take the stairs three at a time, shouting that they'd better cut it out if they ever want to see Scooby-Doo again in this lifetime. But today I just stand there, taking cleansing breaths, and after a few thump-filled minutes...silence. To my astonishment, their fight ends without my intervention, and no one loses an ear either.
I'm not yelling! I think, terribly proud of myself.
Problem: My kids are. Lowering my own voice has made it glaringly clear that my children live their entire lives at the top of their lungs. I stay out of their scuffles for the rest of the day, just listening to the din around me. Where did my children learn to go full-throttle like this? Sadly, the answer is obvious.
By saying almost nothing at all, I avoid yelling for the entire day — but this tactic won't work for a whole week. Is there a way to execute firm discipline in a kinder, gentler way?