I want to stop yelling. Based on the results from a recent survey in my Experiences In Motherhood Survey Group (hereby referred to as EIM), many other moms also want to stop yelling. But, good Lord it’s so much easier said than done!
Take a read here and learn a few tips that have worked for me and some other moms to reduce our yelling.
Before we can talk much more about yelling, I want to define it.
Jessica said she “speaks with volume” because her two toddlers and the TV and her husband and everything else around the house is loud. She also says, “but yelling would have an emotion behind it.”
In ReNata’s family “yelling had the emotion attached to it and usually a defiant behavior as well. Shouting was to get their attention for a safety factor. My kids knew the difference.”
Emily wrote that “I'm pretty quiet, so any time I have to raise my voice it feels like yelling. Yelling feels emotional to me, no matter what. If I have to yell, it’s because it stemmed from an emotion. If I yelled, I get emotional because I yelled.” Doubly emotional!
In the Army, we call it a command voice, where you yell from your gut without screeching or piecing eardrums (thanks for the reminder, Erica)
Wanna know how Google defines yell? “give a loud, sharp cry.” Some of Google’s synonyms for yelling are: cry out, call out, shout, howl, yowl, wail, scream, shriek, screech, yelp, squeal; roar, bawl; or, my favorite, holler!
Merriam-Webster defines yell as “1. to utter a loud cry, scream, or shout. 2: to give a cheer usually in unison.
Dictionary.com explains yell as “to cry out or speak with a strong, loud, clear sound” (I wish I produced a clear sound when I yell!).
Finally, The Cambridge Dictionary provides this definition of yell: “to shout words or make a loud noise, often when you want to get someone’s attention or because you are angry, excited, or in pain.”
Nailed it!! I honestly hadn’t read the above definitions until just now as I sit down to write this article, but I gotta tell ya, I’m digging the Cambridge definition. It covers everything we talked about in the EIM group, to include our own definition of yelling.
In the EIM group, I asked how we would define yelling. 90% decided we would define yelling as “raising my voice coupled with an emotion like anger or frustration.” We decided that the main difference between “being loud” and “yelling” was the presence of an emotion. I know, I know, it’s a bit of a slippery slope here (maybe you’ve tried to “get their attention” several times and now you’re frustrated that you’ve yet to actually succeed in “getting their attention” so now you’re using the same volume but with a bit more of the “mom voice” involved).
Why do some moms yell?
If we are at all going to try to yell less, we need to understand why we yell in the first place.
There is a multitude of reasons why and instances when moms yell. Sometimes it’s just our nature. For some, that’s how they were raised. Others may have physiological considerations that impact the need to yell. Often times, it depends on the situation. And other times, we literally have no idea why we just said what we said in the way we said it (I’ll blame the moon for that!). But, we can generally categorize our yelling in to a few different categories and reasons in order to help understand why it happens.
I asked the EIM group to evaluate their yelling during the previous week and select all of the reasons they believe they yelled at their child(ren):
We also acknowledged that sometimes yelling can mean different things to different people (and different recipients of the yelling action). Wendy mentioned that “as a young mom yelling came out of frustration mostly, as a gramma yelling now seems to be very rarely and for safety’s sake. As a wife yelling is usually to make myself heard and to get my point across! Then there is the fact I was a cheerleader and have a loud voice anyway!” Each of those instances carry a bit of emotion but to a varying degree. Because of this, we further differentiated that there can be a yelling (as previously described) and there can be what we called “instinctual yelling,” you know, the one where your mom-instincts kick in and you yell to keep you kid from chasing after the ball in the street or, less severe, you react and yell right before you see your son wind up to throw a punch at his brother (I can’t be alone in this!!!)
One big factor that I’d be remiss to not mention is that this yelling is a phase and your level of yelling will ebb and flow over the course of your parenting career. I asked the EIM group how old their children were when they began yelling at them. Over half of the respondents said they started yelling when their child(ren) was about 16 months old. And then it picks up from there. But, around age 8, the yelling decreases. Then, according to a few responses from an anonymous survey, the yelling comes back at around 12 and the teenage years. But, then it subsides as the teenagers become adults. So, the yelling periods are often tied to pretty significant changes for children. As toddlers, the yelling appears to be strongest during the ages of 2-4 when language and independence are skyrocketing. And then again in the teenage years when the hormones and high school and the prefrontal cortex are all working against each other.
Top things we’d like to stop yelling about
We already know that we yell about and because of different reasons. But I wanted to see if there was anything that the group really wanted to stop yelling about. Any specific situations they wanted to address in a fashion other than by a loud, emotion-laden voice. Most of us (70% of respondents) said we’d like to stop all of our yelling (except the instinctual safety yelling!). 17% of the respondents said they are comfortable with their current level of yelling and do not wish to make a change.
Several mentioned that they’d like to stop yelling when it’s associated with patience (or lack there of). I think this may be one of the root causes of yelling and may be a huge reason for why we yell. Losing our patience and frustration create the same tightening and negative emotions and can quickly lead to a yell. As can stress. I think our plates are always full, even when we’re scrolling Facebook. The inner workings of a mother’s mind is invisible for a reason - if others saw what goes on in there, they’d run for the hills and get as far away from our craziness as possible! Our plates are full! And those full plates crack every now and again. Losing our patience, getting frustrated, and being stressed are absolutely causes for yelling, but they are all things that are completely within our control.
Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) to Reduce Yelling
We can take charge of most of our yelling. I’m telling you there is some sort of sporadic eruption of the yelling gene that develops immediately upon childbirth. Because of this motherhood gene mutation, I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to completely rid ourselves of yelling, especially the safety/instinctual yell. But we can do it. We can regain control over those root causes of our yelling. Here’s 11 things to try to help reduce your yelling.
- Become familiar with Dr. Laura Markham, her business, Aha! Parenting, and many of the tips she provides. She authored two wonderful books titled Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. She also has a very informative and actionable blog and active Facebook page. In fact, she wrote an article just recently about a Ten Step Plan to stop yelling. I just saw this as I was preparing for this article and it’s great. She is a fellow list-maker, so it’s super fun and easy to read her work and incorporate her tips into your life.
- Ask each communicative child the following question: “how do you feel when I yell at you?” Make sure you have created a safe space for the child to emotionally receive the question (don’t ask it immediately after getting yelled at or after a bad day at school or something bound to get them to blow you off!). I did this with my 5 year old and it’s really helped me respond to him better. It also gave me a little window into his emotions. Cool experiment! (I’d love to hear what your children respond with!)
- Open your windows. Now, be safe and smart about this - don’t open your windows if you live in Maine in January! But give it a try at home or in the car. Having your windows open will bring in a different sound for you and may also serve as an accountability tool because you know others can hear you if you're yelling. This tactic may not work for all, but give it a try.
- Take a deep breath (or two, or three, or four). You’ve heard this everywhere. Even Daniel Tiger’s mom sings it to us. But really, stop for a second and remind yourself how your child responds to yelling. You know why it’s so beneficial to stop? I’ll tell ya! Stopping allows our left prefrontal cortex to kick in and impart logic and judgement instead of emotion. Emotions generally form in the amygdala and the amygdala is like the crash warning on your high-speed minivan. The amygdala is able to sense a threat before your brain and can immediately start sending out neurotransmitters to help you prepare for the threat. Taking that pause prevents us from getting to full emotional arousal which often results in a yell. It provides time for our judgment to kick in and provide rational thought to the situation, also often resulting in preventing a yell. Alright, now you know the why behind the recommendations to take a breath (at least according to me!)
- Start a “yell tracker.” Remember, I’m an Army gal. We have lots of trackers. In fact, we have trackers for trackers. It’s hilarious! But, my love for trackers is strong, and I hope to pass it to you here. Trackin’? Alright, here it is. Give this a try for a week or so (depending on how often you yell). Do your best to fill out every column in order to really make a change in your behavior. You may start to notice patterns too - more yelling happens at night, or more yelling happens during the bedtime routine when toothpaste gets all over the sink, again. Or maybe lots of the yelling happens when trying to get out the door in the morning. You might already have a mental tracker like this but putting it to paper may be the step you need to help break your yelling cycle.
- Schedule a break. 30% of the moms who responded to my recent survey indicated that they are “never away from my children - I always have at least one child with me.” This is tough! Even for moms with an “easy baby,” it’s still work. Consider adding a break into your daily routine. Perhaps that means waking up a bit earlier so that you can walk or meditate before the day begins. Determine that you’ll read a book during your child’s nap instead of doing a mindless activity (unless the mindless activity is what you want to do!). The separation might help reduce your yelling. Please be safe and plan this out in conjunction with your partner or other care provider. A spin-off of this is to just immediately stop when you feel a yell coming on or when you catch yourself in the middle of a yell. Physically remove yourself from the situation (ensure your children are safe first). A couple of EIM ladies called it a “mommy time-out!”
- Be consistent. If you say, “this is the last time…” then it really needs to be the last time. Otherwise, your buttons are pushed, frustration creeps in and AHH! there’s a yell. Make sure to clearly communicate the rule, then consistently follow the rule (this is very dependent on child’s age and maturity level). Also, be sure to clearly and consistently communicate the rewards and/or punishments too.
- Change the narrative of your yell. Cassidy said she “will yell at the refrigerator for being loud and not listening and that it’s a bad-bad refrigerator!…The kids think it is funny, I get to yell but no one is hurt!”
- Move closer. Cathy and Margot brought up some great points about how we interact with our children and our peers. We don’t yell at our peers, we walk over to them. So, with your children, do your best to close the gap between yourself and the recipient of the yell. Being closer will naturally cause your volume to drop, even if you’re yelling. Especially with younger kids, being close can help them sense the gravity of what you are trying to say. Additionally, consider using loving, respectful physical touch like your hand gingerly placed on their arm or back or knee. Touch is a child’s first language, so reverting back to that language can provide another way to communicate your emotions without yelling. I need to re-emphasize loving, gentle touches please.
- Prepare your children. Depending on the age(s) of you child(ren), consider talking to them about your intentions to reduce yelling. Give the a snack, sit down with them and tell them, “I just ready this kick-@$$ blog article how ways to reduce yelling and I’d like to give it a try. But, we’re going to need to work together to help me yell less. Let’s think about some code words I can start using that let you know I’m serious or that I’m on the brink of yelling?” Catch my drift here? There are many other things you can do to get your kids on board to help you stop yelling.
- Get a battle buddy and get help from your village. Thinking about reducing your yelling? Tell someone in your village and get an accountability partner. Someone you can check in with, someone who can serve as a cheerleader for your efforts, someone who can reassure you when you have a slip-up. Accountability partners are wonderful for any behavior-changing adventure (diets, exercise, etc) so consider having one for this part of your parenting journey as well.
When I asked my oldest “how do you feel when I yell?” he said, “mad.” Ok, I thought, totally fair. And interesting. He matched my emotions. I was mad (hence the yell) and it made him mad. I wonder if the inverse could be true too?
Recovering from a yell
As with everything in our parenting journey, each of our children are unique and they react to our yelling differently. Some children startle easily and any sort of yell can cause them alarm and a generate an emotional response. Other children, on the other hand, may only respond to yelling. This is quite challenging when you have these two in the same situation together!
Stopping yelling in the heat of the moment is hard to do! A couple of weeks ago, I felt myself working up to a yell and just as I was about to jump in with the loud “Hey” I often say in order to startle my boys out of their fighting, I instead only got the “h” sound out and then I sneezed. This frustrated me because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to break their cycle. Instead, much to my surprise, that sneeze made the both laugh, which produced the same end result as my “hey” would have produced. So, I got away with not yelling! But that’s not always the case.
As I learned from the EIM group, yelling happens. Despite our best efforts, it still happens. In this article, I’ve already addressed some of the root causes for why we yell. I’ve also addressed some TTPs for how to reduce yelling. Before I close out this article, I want to include some tangible thoughts and actions that we can implement after we yell.
- Respect each child as an individual. Understand that what may work for one child, may not work fort another.
- Communication. No matter your “yelling” style, make sure you communicate with your child in a way that s/he can understand. This holds true for the immediate moment when you are in yell-mode, but also holds true when calm-mom comes back out. If you end up yelling at the child who doesn’t respond well to yelling, make sure you connect with him/her and do you best to apologize and talk through what happened.
- Have grace and empathy. Grace and empathy with yourself and with the recipient of the yell. These are not making excuses or blaming something/someone else for your actions, but simply accepting the situation and putting yourself in each others shoes (if this is possible, given the ages involved).
- Evaluate it. The military calls it an After Action Review (AAR) and an AAR should occur after every event, especially if we want to grow and learn from it. Take a look at the tracker above which will help guide you through an AAR after a yelling incident.
- Apologize. This goes hand-in-hand with all of the aforementioned tips but I want to make sure I properly address it. If you feel bad about the yelling incident, then apologize to your child. Talk about how s/he may have felt when you yelled, talk about how you felt when you yelled, and talk about how you feel now after you yelled. Address different ways to handle the situation. Use words and examples they can understand. Then, depending on their age, ask them for ways they can handle this situation in the future. Side note here - not every incident or situation will warrant being a teaching moment. Use your discretion on when to solicit their input on how to handle future situations.
You yelled. Oh well. You yelled again. Ugh, I’ll try not to do that next time. You yelled a third time and now you think you’re kids will forever remember the time you yelled. One of the EIM ladies, Tracy, commented that she enjoyed the topic and it made her think a bit about her own yelling when her kids were younger. She wrote, “I was talking to my youngest who is 17 now and she said that she couldn't remember me ever yelling at her and couldn't imagine me yelling at her older sisters, either.”
Contrary to every single thing I’ve said above, I want to leave you with this. Don’t beat yourself up! We’re all doing the best we can, moms and kids alike.