“Stop yelling!” the mom yelled back.
The little one then playfully teased in a big voice, “AAHHH.“
“STOP YELLING!” Mom now demanded with an increase in her annoyance.
“WHAT DO YOU NEED?!?” shouted mom a few seconds later.
My heart overflowed with empathy for this little girl and compassion for mom. I listened to this scene unfold from the vacation rental next door while I sat in my garden. Living at the beach means I am in close proximity to vacationers, coming to idyllic San Diego with hopes of creating loving family memories.
I often hear parents yelling at their children, threatening punishments and promising that they will never again take the family away if “this is what it will be like.”
As a coach for parents of highly sensitive children, I am often asked how to get a child to change specific behaviors — yelling being one of the most common challenges! If only it was an easy fix. If only we didn’t have to look at our own behavior. If only children were not mirrors of our energy. Then they wouldn’t be such perfect catalysts for personal growth.
The secret to helping children express themselves in a healthy, acceptable way always leads back to the way the adults in a child’s world create an environment that nurtures or hinders healthy emotional growth.
Here are some suggestions that are sure to help your children express themselves without the need to YELLLLL!
1. Children learn through modeling; this is why adults must be aware of the example they set for children around them. What do you look like when you are angry? Your child will mimic you. When a role model expresses anger without using a violent voice, children learn to express through words rather than tone, volume or physical reactions. When adults yell, the children living with them learn to yell.
2. A child who has learned to express their emotions says things like, “I am angry he took my toy” or “I feel sad because I can’t watch TV”. There is no need for a child (…or adult) to hit, yell, or have a manipulative tantrum when they can clearly express their needs and feelings. Taking the time to give language to feelings helps reduce the intense urge to scream, especially when the child is not told s/he is wrong for having the feelings.
3. Parents are much more successful at shifting unwanted behaviors when they get to the root cause, instead of focusing on and condemning a specific action. When a child whines or cries out “MOOMMM” it might indicate a need for attention or connection.
4. We yell because we need something. Often we need to feel heard. We may yell because we are angry. It is a common human experience to feel angry when we are not heard.
5. Children discover how to express themselves from watching how the adults in their lives handle challenges. Telling a child to “not to yell” does not teach them gentle, kind, polite communication.
6. When we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in our day-to-day moments we need not shame children with questions like “What’s the magic word?” or “How do we ask for that?” to ‘teach’ them manners. Keep modeling kindness and politeness and children will catch on.
Human beings learn through experience; we are not human listeners or human doers. As beings, we all experience emotions, in the same way, regardless of our age. Toddlers and adults both feel the same anger and frustration despite having different experiences. Adults who yell may trace this form of expression back to the communication style used in their own childhood. Kids appreciate parents who own up to their mistakes. Just admitting that you are working on not yelling so much and asking for your child’s support can turn this challenge into a bonding experience.
So, when parents ask me the secret to a quiet home I tell them it is simple. Don’t yell. Parents MUST be the change that they seek. That’s right; it’s that easy. You’ve got to be the one to stop yelling. Even if they yell — don’t yell at them to stop yelling!
Becoming conscious and catching yourself is the hardest part. Being willing to say, “Oops, I forgot. Let me try this again,” allows your children to mess up and try again. In this way, both of you continue to grow together, not only in your ability to communicate without yelling but with an open heart and a knowing that you are helping each other through the very challenges that allow for personal transformation.