It had been one of those days. It was Saturday, and I wasn’t feeling very well, the kids were all just a bit whiny, and it was raining outside. Not a light kind of rain that we could still go out and play in or even make a trip to the library in. No, a lightning and thundering, keep away from the windows kind of day.
Just like my mood.
And then my oldest two children began arguing about something small, and I just lost it.
“Can’t you two get along for five minutes?” I yelled. “Just sit down, be quiet, and don’t move.”
As I looked into their hurt little eyes, the familiar guilt washed over me. Yet again I had yelled at my children.
A Turning Point
If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that for the past couple of months I have been really working hard on not yelling at my children. Wow. I feel guilty just writing that. Hello, I’m Sarah, and I am a yelling mom. Not the identity that I want to claim.
So, I decided to work on it. I told my husband, and we’ve been praying together about it. I have been praying on my own, reading various parenting articles and books (some far more helpful than others), and doing my own “field research.” Basically, I’ve been spying! I have been watching mothers at church, in the store, in the park, etc. to see how they interact with their children.
And, it has all been helpful. However, the most helpful moment came when I realized that my day job can actually help me become a more calm parent.
You see, I am a teacher. Over the past ten years I have taught well over one thousand children, and I have yelled at less than a handful of them. One of my fellow teachers actually labelled me “The Zen Teacher” because I appear to be so calm and quiet all the time.
What teaching tips can help me–and moms just like me–learn to control our tongues?
5 Things Teachers Know That Will Help You Stop Yelling at Your Kids
In teaching, as in real estate, it is all about location. The closer you are to a student, the less likely they are to act up. And, the more likely they are to listen to you. That is why we place students who have trouble behaving well up in the front of the class or by our desks. It is also why I crouch down beside a student to talk to them if I want to correct a behavior.
Parent Application: Get into the habit of standing (or crouching down) next to your child if you want them to follow directions. Instead of yelling across the house that it is time to leave and they have better get down right now, find your child and actually make eye contact. I tried this with my daughter who tends to dawdle and found that it made a big difference both in her response and my stress level.
2. Get Quieter Instead of Louder
It’s one of the oldest teaching tricks in the books: When you want your class to pay attention, start to whisper. I’ve had entire classrooms of teenage boys and girls hanging on every word of a lesson just because I lowered my volume.
Parent Application: When you are tempted to yell, try whispering instead. Sometimes a quiet word well-spoken can have much more impact than a loud one.
3. Watch Before Correcting
When I first began teaching, I was in such a hurry to establish my authority in the classroom that I often rushed in and pronounced judgement on a scene before knowing what was going on. Now, however, I try to give my students the benefit of the doubt and watch before jumping to conclusions. For example, if I see two students talking during a test, I’ll take a minute to watch. Did one student drop a pencil and ask for it back? Did one student ask for an eraser? Did one sneeze and the other say, “Bless you”? Generally there are legitimate reasons for the presumed misbehavior, and I don’t actually have to correct the student.
Parent Application: Watch first and then talk. Do your kids look like they are up to no good? Watch quietly and observe what they are actually doing. Then make a decision as to whether you need to discipline. Instead of immediately yelling, gain some context first.
This may sound goofy, but when I was first teaching I worked really hard on my smile. I wanted to make my natural facial resting position be one of a slight smile. I knew that smiling would make me more approachable, help create a positive classroom environment, and boost my own mood. Last year after we had been in school for about a month, one girl asked me, “Do you always smile?” Another student who had been in my class before said, “Yes!” Score.
Parent Application: Try to smile more around your children. Smile. Laugh. Play. If you wake up in a bad mood, intentionally focus on your smile. Watch a silly video on Youtube, let your kids tell you a joke, or make goofy faces. It is really hard to yell at people with a smile on your face.
So, perhaps this isn’t one that you’d learn in most teaching programs, but it is essential in my classroom. Whenever I start to get frustrated, I make myself pray the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. And then I speak. The act of waiting, praying, and then responding usually helps me gain the perspective I need to address the situation.
Parent Application: Pray before speaking. Learn the Jesus Prayer, or another short prayer, to pray when you feel tempted to yell. This is the tip that I need to work on the most right now. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.
And so, with a little help from my teaching knowledge and a lot of help from God, I will continue to work on my interactions with my children. I will ask for forgiveness (from them and from God) and try again.
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Do you have any tips that helped you (or could help others) stop yelling? Share in the comments below!