Do you yell at your kids? Apparently, we all do. From toddlers to teenagers, the number one complaint our kids have about our parenting is that we yell too much (according to studies I read about in All Joy and No Fun).
When I started writing this blog post, I couldn’t think of any fresh anecdotes about yelling. Well, all it took was picking up the kids from school and trying to drop off dry cleaning for that no longer to be true. (Oh, how I hate dropping off dry cleaning! So thankless! Such a high ratio of buckling and unbuckling to length of errand!)
There we were, the three of us, trying to cross the street to the cleaners, when a driver stopped to let us pass. This, my son decided, was just the time to pause in the middle of the road for the sole purpose of biting his sister. Apparently, she’d committed the crime of not wanting to hold his hand. Punishment: one bite. So, as the patient driver looked on, I yelled. Expletives were involved. I’m sure it was ugly to watch.
It happens. I hate to admit that I yell, but I also know that this isn’t the sort of shocking confession for which anyone is likely to be criticized. No one’s throwing stones at glass houses on that one. But I still think it’s important that I hate to say it and that I really do hate that I do it. Even if we all do it.
When we stop feeling bad about those times when we really, really yell at our kids, we open the door a little too much to social acceptance of yelling at children. And on the other side of that door is a place I'd rather not live with my kids.
I share this because I think it's important to share what a normal bad parenting day looks and feels like. So, I do think we should talk about yelling—why we yell, when we yell, what we do that works to stop the yelling.
It’s important to talk about this, because there’s yelling, and then there’s yelling. If we don’t talk out loud about the kind of yelling that is human imperfection, we risk it being equated with the kind of yelling that is as damaging as physical abuse. And I think there is a distinction—a know-it-when-you-see-it difference.
There is a huge difference between occasional, bad day yelling and unapologetic, unreflective, constant yelling. It’s the feeling bad about it and the trying to do better that is the difference. It’s the ability to learn from a bad day so you can have more good days that makes the difference. It’s finding more patience and more love so that, when your kids behave in age-appropriate but not situationally-appropriate ways, you can set boundaries and be their teacher.
There’s one scene I picture in my mind whenever I think of yelling at my kids. Putting my kids in their car seats. Some days I put my son in his car seat and I’m sweet with him, maybe even give him a kiss. And other days, going through the exact same motions, I’m putting him in his car seat and yelling at him, “Get in your seat! You’re not paying attention! Focus! Where’s the strap? This shouldn’t take so long!” I think it must seem so crazy to him, how sometimes he gets yelled at and sometimes he gets kissed.
He doesn’t know how crazy being late makes me feel. But I do. And I need it not to be a reason I yell at my kids. That and dry cleaning.
PS. If you feel like you yell too much, you definitely need to know about the Orange Rhino lady. She has said more smart things about yelling that I ever could.