How I Stopped Yelling at My Kids
By Crystal Paine
I thought I was a patient person…then I had kids.
I said I’d never yell at my kids…and then I had kids.
I pictured myself as a sweet, loving, always-cheerful mom…then I had kids.
Motherhood has stretched me and humbled me. It’s brought out the best in me and the worst in me.
About five years ago, I found myself snapping at my kids more and more frequently, which only served to frustrate me. The more I snapped at my kids, the more frustrated I was at myself. And the more frustrated I was at myself, the more I’d snap at my kids.
It was a vicious cycle and I felt trapped.
One night, I was up late thinking of the kind of mom I’d been and feeling so ashamed of my behavior and the example I was setting before my kids. I started praying and asking God to help me to love my children, to help me have patience with them, and to stop getting so angry with them.
My 4-Week Commitment
As I was praying, an idea birthed in my head. I decided to make a commitment to my husband for the next 4 weeks.
I woke Jesse up to tell him my commitment (I have such a gracious husband — poor guy!). It was this: every time I was tempted to lash out at a child I would, instead, find a very practical way to love that child.
It was a BIG commitment, but he agreed that he thought I could do it and said he was willing to hold me accountable. I went to bed resolving that, by God’s grace, I was going to change the tone in our home.
It Was SO Hard
The first day was very, very hard. One child in particular was pushing all of my buttons and seeming to make a game of trying to see how much they could annoy me.
Well, the first few hours on that first day of my 4-week commitment, this child tried all their usual tactics. I didn’t get frustrated. I didn’t yell. I didn’t even raise my voice.
Oh, it was very hard. But I’m a stubborn person and I was determined to stick with my commitment to my husband.
Instead, of lashing out, I asked this child to come snuggle next to me. I poured love, love, and more love.
The Change Was Amazing!
Within a few hours, this child’s attitude had drastically changed. They were calm, happy, and asking what they could do to help me. I could not believe it!
And this only continued for the next few days. Until finally, I felt like I almost had a completely different child living in my home. It was amazing!
I decided my 4-week experiment was a smashing success. And I decided to extend it for another 40 years. Or something like that.
Five Years Later
I wrote most of the above five years ago and I wanted to give an update for those who may have read my original post on this. I can safely say that this one change in me has changed the tone in our whole home.
My children are more helpful and respectful. I am so much happier. Jesse is happier because we’re happier. And our home is much, much calmer.
All because I’m choosing to love instead of lash out.
Lean in and Love
Now, let me be honest: I haven’t always done it perfectly and I occasionally revert back to my old ways of getting frustrated.
But when I start to feel the frustration and anger rising, I remember my mantra, “Lean in and love.”
When I want to lash out, lean in and love.
When I want to express my frustration, lean in and love.
When that child is getting on my every last nerve, lean in and love.
Practical Ways to Love More Instead of Lashing Out
1. Invite your child to sit with you.
I’ve noticed that when my children are frustrated and acting out, it’s often because they are craving attention and affection.
Inviting a child to come sit next to me when they are getting on my every last nerve can be so hard for me to do. In fact, I usually want them to be as far away from me as possible. But distance is only going to make matters worse.
Lovingly and gently asking my child to come sit next to me and be with me helps to calm both of us. It helps me to communicate love for the child (even if I don’t feel all that loving at the time) and it causes the child to feel special and cared for.
2. Stop, look, and listen.
Moms, we can get so busy with life. We have places to go, things to do, messes to clean up, meals to fix…the list is never ending.
Our kids don’t need our productivity. They need our presence.
If a child is misbehaving, don’t shush them just so you can get back to what you were doing. Stop, look into their eyes, and gently ask them, “Is everything okay?” Or, “What’s wrong?” Really mean it. And then really listen to their answer.
Taking time to do this — even in the middle of a very busy day — has made a world of difference in our home.
3. Pray With Your Child
When Silas is struggling, I’ll often ask him if I can pray for him. He always says yes and then calms down while I pray with him asking God to help him be calm, obey, love his sisters, or whatever it is that he’s struggling with.
Usually, by the end of my prayer, he’s calmed down and in a much better mood. I think, for him, my willingness to take time to pray with him helps him to feel loved. It also communicates to him that we need God’s help in our everyday life — especially when we’re struggling.
Diana from My Humble Kitchen once shared with me that when she’s struggling to respond with kindness and gentleness to her children, she’ll ask them to gather around and pray for her. She said that it’s basically impossible to respond in anger after your children have gathered around you and prayed for you! I definitely plan to try this soon!
4. Go Outside & Take a Walk Together
If you feel like things are about to explode inside the walls of your house, call everyone together and tell them you’re taking a walk in 5 minutes. (Or, make it a family bike ride if you have older children.)
Exercise and fresh air can do wonders when things are uptight! Plus, a fresh change of scenery can provide a better setting for talking through issues in a calmer manner.
Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses along the way, breathe in the fresh air, soak up the sunshine, and notice the beauty around you. This will boost your spirits for the tasks that lay ahead of you the rest of the day!
5. Share Three Things You’re Thankful For
As I often say, “There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.” But sometimes we can get bogged down by all the problems, stresses, and struggles that we forget to count our blessings.
In those moments when you want to yell and be frustrated with your kids, challenge yourself to stop, breathe, and call your children together and each share three things you’re thankful for. This might seem really difficult at first if everyone is at odds with everyone else, but force yourself to do this and it will most likely change the tone in your home.
Plus, it might help you step back and gain some perspective: in light of all you have to be grateful for, the small things that someone is doing to irritate you won’t seem so upsetting.
6. Do Something Fun
If you have young children, this can be especially helpful to do on a hard day. When things feel like they are falling apart, set aside your to-do list and plans for the afternoon or evening and have a tea party, a family game night, a family movie night, or go do something fun as a family.
Sit down, smile, and just enjoy your children. Take time to laugh together, read a story (or tell stories!), and maybe also talk to them about how they are feeling about life, things they are struggling with, or even some encouragement for them in some areas they need to improve in.
7. Put Yourself In Your Child’s Shoes
It’s so easy for us to forget that our kids are often carrying heavy burdens, too. Sometimes, we can be so focused on our world and what we’re carrying that we lose sight of what they might be sad about or stressed about or upset about.
The other day, one of our kids was getting really irritated at everyone. I realized that something was bothering them so I asked them to go have a few minutes of quiet. I reassured them that they were not in trouble but that I thought something was upsetting them and I wanted to give them time to think about what they might be feeling upset about.
I told them I would come back in five minutes and they could tell me what they were feeling. When I did, they poured out all sorts of frustrations to me while I just listened.
This simple exercise seemed to make a world of difference AND allowed me to really have a better understanding of what this child was feeling and carrying.
8. Play With Your Children
When was the last time you played with your kids?
I mean, really got down on the floor and engaged in their world or did something that your older kids think is fun? While I don’t think we need to entertain our kids 24/7, I think it’s important to regularly take time to spend time with our kids by doing things with them that they love to do.
If you’re having a bad day, here’s an antidote: Think of what your children love to do (playing outside, playing Legos, playing games, playing dress-up, hanging out, watching a movie, playing sports, playing video games, etc.) and tell them you want to hang out with them for 30 minutes or an hour (or however much time you have).
Then just have fun together and give it your all for those 30 minutes. I bet you end up having as much fun as they will…and you’ll probably forget all about the bad day you were having!
9. Take Mommy Time Out
Moms: Taking time to replenish your supply is not selfish; it’s actually enabling you to be a better wife and mom. If you’re just pouring and pouring and pouring into your family and never taking time to replenish your supply, you’re going to feel burned out, exhausted… and this will often cause you to feel more irritable and frustrated.
What energizes you? What refills your tank? Carve out time in your schedule to make this a priority each week. Get a babysitter, trade baby-sitting with a friend, have dad watch the kids on the weekend or one evening a week…whatever it takes to make Mommy Time happen.
Making time for YOU — to breathe, to refuel, to feel energized again — will make you a calmer, happier mom. And a calmer, happier mom is one who is going yell less and love more.
Crystal Paine is a New York Times bestselling author and is known widely as the Money Saving Mom. Crystal is a wife, a mom of four, a speaker, a podcaster, and an online entrepreneur. Her blog is one of the top personal finance blogs on the web. While she has gained widespread attention for her practical tips on finance, she has branched out to topics of faith, intentional living, parenting, gratitude, and time management. Her mission is to challenge women to manage their time and resources wisely and live life on purpose. Her latest book is Love-Centered Parenting: The No-Fail Guide to Launching Your Kids.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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