A “No Yelling” Update: Back to Square One

I think we need a whole-family version of that no-yelling-for-a-week challenge I did last spring. It’s been a really loud couple of weeks around here. Someone whines, someone else screams, and then a third person yells to be heard over the din…oy.

Despite all that, we actually had one incident when yelling really got the job done. Last week when I was picking up the kids after school, Brayden found me before Justin did, and I told Brayden not to run off because we had to get to an appointment as soon as Justin came out. Brayden got huffy about not being allowed to play — and promptly took off for the opposite end of the school field.

By the time Justin came out, Brayden was hundreds of yards away and not paying me the slightest attention. I was so steamed — we were meeting someone at 2:45, and this was 2:40 — that I very nearly left without him. Instead, I tracked him down and unleashed a tirade like I haven’t done in months. He cried, and apologized, and now he comes as soon as I call him. Lesson learned…but does the end justify the means?

How bad of a mother am I?

A “No Yelling” Update: Not in Front of Witnesses

I’ve been remarkably good about not yelling at the kids for the past couple months, but sadly I don’t think it’s because I’ve turned over a new leaf. And it’s definitely not because the kids have been perfect angels. It’s because my little brother has been living with us. Remember how I used to pretend there was a hidden camera recording everything I did?  Now I don’t have to pretend: there really IS another set of eyes watching me.

At least there was for a while. Dave is away on a business trip right now, and I’ve already had at least two yelling incidents that I’d rather not think about. But even while I was yelling, I knew I wouldn’t be doing it if Dave was still around. Bring on the guilt.

Not that the yelling was totally unjustified. Justin’s in a phase of arguing with absolutely everything I say. It’s a bad combination of his black-and-white thinking, his lack of emotional self-regulation and his just being eight years old. Even Dave had moments when he wanted to strangle the kid. Argh.

I just have to focus on the mantra I learned during that Orange Rhino challenge: I can’t control anyone else’s behavior, but I can control my reaction to that behavior.

Deep breaths…

The Return of the Yelling Monster

Let me first say that I have honestly changed my behavior since my no-yelling challenge. (Really. I have witnesses.) But I must confess I had an epic meltdown this morning after Justin cried, argued or screamed about almost everything.

Justin’s list of grievances:

1.  Dad forgot to share a piece of his banana with me at breakfast.

2.  Mom only gave me three warnings that it was time to turn off the iPad, and then she TURNED IT OFF. Where did that come from?

3.  Mom refused to make my bed for me.

4.  Mom made me pack my school library books just because today is my class’s library day, even though the calendar says all books must be back by May 31st and today is only May 30th.

5.  Mom announced we were going to walk to school rather than drive like we usually do. It’s Bike to Work week, not Walk to School week. Doesn’t she get it?

6.  Mom insisted I go to the bathroom before leaving the house, even though I clearly didn’t need to go and she was wasting my time and she was making me late for school and she never lets me do what I want.

7.  Mom didn’t answer when I said I didn’t want to go to school. It’s like she hears that every day. Huh.

And all before 8 a.m. Is it too early for a drink?

Testing the Limits

The “official” no-yelling challenge may be over, but there’s still the daily challenge of dealing with life’s frustrations. One of the first things you’re supposed to do on the Orange Rhino program is identify the triggers that make you want to yell. I discovered a few of mine today:

When I have to repeat myself repeatedly. Sometimes it’s my fault for not speaking clearly enough; sometimes they’re just not listening. But either way, having to say the same thing two or three or four times really irks me.

When the kids lose things at school. Three of Justin’s water bottles went astray this week alone. We’ve lost gloves, jackets, lunch bowls, and in one case an entire change of clothes (don’t ask). At one point we were doing a daily trip to the lost and found. Argh.

When the kids make a mess in the bathroom. I live with boys. Enough said.

These things all tested my resolve today, but I did manage to hold it together (clenching your teeth and cursing under your breath don’t count, right?) I think I need the pressure of public scrutiny to keep me on track, though, so I might keep blogging about my progress. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride…

Where to Go From Here: Day 7 of No Yelling

Today marks the end of the challenge I set for myself: one full week with no yelling. It was always an artificial deadline, though. It’s not like I’m going back to yelling on day 8.

I asked the kids what they thought of my performance this week, and they gave me the thumbs-up. I explained that even though the challenge was over, we’re still going to try not to yell, because it’s so much nicer when people don’t shout at each other. Brayden pointed out that yelling hurts his ears and makes him cry; if I needed any extra motivation, that was it.

Things I’ve learned this week:

Clapping works better than yelling. Remember how I was searching for a more visual way to get Justin’s attention? I found it: clapping. Last night at supper the boys were getting louder and louder as they tried to talk over each other. The old me would have screamed at them to be quiet, but this time I did a single clap really hard in front of them. They immediately went quiet. I’ve used this technique a few times this week (one time while they were shouting I just kept clapping until they stopped), and it seems to work. It’s brilliant, not least because the physical act of smashing something together helps me vent some of the want-to-yell energy.

My kids can be my keepers. Admitting my flaws to the world was tough, but admitting them to my boys was a whole different level of hurt. We all try to be omnipotent as parents, but showing my kids that I, too, need to work on my behavior lets them know that it’s not just children that need to change. And by getting them involved in my challenge, by having them keep me accountable, I was extra motivated to reach my goal.

Life is always a work in progress. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. I’m committed to not yelling at the boys anymore, but that doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly become perfect angels, or that I will never have another lapse. But when mistakes happen, we apologize and move on. I need to remember that my kids are still learning how to handle being angry or frustrated — and monkey see, monkey do.

Lots of parents can relate to what I’m doing. I’ve been amazed and gratified to see the following this blog has developed this week. So many people I meet tell me they’ve been reading along, and thinking they should try this challenge themselves. I knew for a long time that I yelled too much, but I never wanted to admit that to anyone else, so I never really committed to change. I was afraid of being judged by smug, self-righteous parents who have always known better than to yell. I had no idea how supportive and encouraging people would be. Many, many thanks to all my loyal readers — you made my task so much easier.

Committing to Change: Day 6 of Not Yelling

This week started as a quest not to yell at my kids, but it quickly morphed into not yelling, period. And now that I have gone five straight days without yelling (I’m taking a Mulligan on that little lapse the other night), I have to say: wow, what a difference.

It’s not just that I’m not yelling. It’s that I’m not letting anger get to me nearly as much. I’ve consciously decided not to be so quick-tempered, and it’s leading to a better sense of harmony.

Take last night: Chris and the kids were playing video games together, and things were getting tense. Chris was playing and getting irritated at his lack of success; Justin was tired and strung out and anxious about some of the choices Chris was making during the game. Justin would tell his dad to do something and his dad would snap back at him. It was ugly.

Normally, when Chris starts getting snippy with the kids, I start getting snippy with him, wishing he could have more patience and understanding. But this time I found a better way: by ME having more patience and understanding. I took some advice from the Orange Rhino site: I can’t control my kids’ (or anyone else’s) behavior, but I can always control my reaction to that behavior. So I stayed calm, kept a normal tone of voice, talked to them about what was going on…and everybody relaxed a bit.

I know not yelling works. I know because I’ve seen it in my own household. I know because my own mother is a model of patience and understanding who never yelled and yet somehow always got her message across. I know because my older brother never yells at his kids and has immeasurable depths of patience as a father, so much so that it humbles me and makes me want to be a better mom.

I know I can be a better parent by not yelling. And I know I can do it — because I’ve decided to do it.

Debating the Fine Print: Day 5 of No Yelling

I may have had a slip-up this morning, but that depends on who you talk to. And it brings up a very important question: what exactly does “no yelling” mean?

The kids were driving me insane this morning. We’re all early risers and generally have at least two hours of awake time before we have to get out the door, but the boys were too busy messing around to care that Mom had instructed them to get dressed and make their beds because we were leaving for school in 15 minutes. Polite requests were not getting it done, so I resorted to an angry hiss through clenched teeth: “Little boys who can’t listen do not get to play iPad. Now GET GOING!”

None of this was done in a raised voice, so I figured I was cool. Chris insists that counted as yelling.

The Orange Rhino site that started all this has a “yelling meter” that might be useful in this situation (note that Orange Rhino says anything up to level 4 is OK):

0 – The everyday voice. The “life is good,” I just love being a mom and having these little conversations voice. Serenity and happiness ooze out with every word. Signs: you think to yourself, wow, this is a nice moment, I think I’ll cherish it and you’re filled with hope that the day is gonna be a good one.

1 – The whisper. The quiet, almost non-audible voice that our pre-school teacher uses that somehow gets attention, respect and follow through. Signs: you can barely hear it and it works like magic.

2 – The re-direct voice. It’s a clear, loving and patient voice that does not show irritation for the situation at hand but instead gently expresses that you don’t like a behavior, why, and offers a new activity. Sign: When you use it you pat yourself on the back for successfully following advice from a parenting magazine, for once.

3 – The firm voice (potentially raised). This is the I am starting-to-mean business voice accompanied with occasional raised eye brows and introduction of idle threats. Signs: you are still calm and there are no hurt feelings, but you’re wondering when (not if) you’re gonna snap and you are growing impatient, quickly.

4 – The “oopsie” snap. Stop! Alright! Ouch! This snap is starting to get nasty, but hasn’t gotten there yet. It isn’t a long tirade, it’s just a quick sharp voice where you stop yourself…it’s just enough to make the kids stop what they are doing for a second and think whether or not they will continue annoying behavior. Signs: blood pressure is picking up a little, but you are back to calm quickly and think “oh crap I really didn’t mean to do that.”

5 – The nasty snap. Darn it! Knock it off! Cut it out! This snap might be short, but it’s filled with venom. Signs: blood is starting to boil inside; vocal chords are warming up, preparing for a long tirade; you think to yourself “oh crap” was that a nasty snap? If you think it, it was.

6 – The yell. It’s loud. You know it’s loud. And it’s mean. You simply know you’ve crossed the line, there is no question. Signs: kids tears are a pretty good indicator, as are doors slamming, kids screaming back at you that you’re mean and they don’t love you any more.

7 – The raging scream. A notch up from “the yell.” It’s totally intentional and is filled with much more nastiness, hurtfulness and hysteria – on both sides. Signs: body shaking, often hard to stop doing it; results in feelings of massive guilt and shame in the screamer and definite feelings of shame, sadness, and fear in the kiddos; throat throbs afterwards.

Based on the above scale, I’d say the incident this morning was a level 3. The lapse with Brayden last night was probably a 4. So maybe all is still well. (And for the record: I have never had a level 7).

What say my loyal readers?

Falling Off the Wagon: Day 4 of No Yelling

I was doing pretty well today (three successful non-yelling incidents!) but I had one brief lapse tonight.

First success: I found Brayden waiting outside the door while his brother used the bathroom. With a mischievous grin, Brayden told me he was waiting to scare Justin. I told him not to — three times. So when Justin opened the door, Brayden immediately screamed, “Boo!” But I didn’t yell. I gave Brayden a timeout for doing what I had specifically told him not to do, and then I reminded him that he needs to listen. Well done, Mom.

Second success: Brayden managed to pee on his jeans while using the toilet because he didn’t pull his pants down far enough. I was tempted to yell (I just did laundry today!) but I took a deep breath and told him to get some clean pants. Still OK.

Lapse: On his way out of the bathroom, Brayden was messing around with his pants and not looking where he was going…so he bumped into the stool and fell into me. This was just seconds after the peeing-on-the-pants incident, and I was in a hurry to get supper cleaned up, and I have a stuffy nose that’s making me irritable…so I snapped at him, “Pay attention!” He whimpered that I’d hurt his feelings. I gave him a hug and said sorry. He pointed out that I wasn’t supposed to yell, and I admitted I blew it. Then he looked at me very seriously and said, “You lost control a little bit there, huh?” It humbled me.

Third success: Brayden was reaching for something on the table when he accidentally knocked over the box of Pokemon cards, which of course scattered all over the floor. This is a recurring issue in our house (see Day 2) but instead of yelling about being careful, I said, “Oopsie. Better pick those up.” And he actually did.

I’m calling the day a success overall. I’m also letting Chris take over until bedtime. Sigh…

See No Evil, Hear No Evil: Day 3 of No Yelling

I haven’t even been tempted to yell at the kids today, but it’s kind of a hollow victory: I hardly saw them. They spent the morning at Grandpa’s, and then I was busy helping with the autism awareness walk, and then Justin went to a hockey game, so there weren’t many opportunities to clash. Who said this parenting thing was tough? Pshaw.

I’ve been mulling over suggestions from others on ways to deal with the kids that involve neither yelling nor repeating myself a dozen times. If they won’t pick up their Pokemon cards, for example, I could threaten to pick them up myself and keep them for the rest of the day. That’s certainly an idea, though I can envision lots more yelling from their end. But it might be short-term pain for long-term gain.

For Justin in particular, I need to develop a more visual way to get his attention. When he gets going on his rants (which these days mostly stem from his aversion to being told what to do), talking to him is useless: he can’t process my words even if he could hear them, which he likely can’t. He learns best through his eyes. Writing things out for him is a good technique, but not always practical. What we really need is some sort of hand signal to let him know it’s time to calm down. Hmm…

A Kinder, Gentler Mom: Day 2 of No Yelling

There’s something cathartic about doing this challenge. Admitting to the world that I’m not a perfect mother was tough — but by getting it out there, on my terms, it removed the fear of someone else pointing it out. Don’t bother judging me; I’ve already decided I need to change.

This morning Justin complained at the top of his lungs about having to get dressed and brush his teeth, about his brother coming into his room uninvited, about his brother having gotten dressed first (never mind that he could’ve been done first if he had just shut up and done it):

“I don’t want to get dressed! I’m not brushing my teeth! What? Brayden’s done? That’s not fair! I hate it when he gets dressed first! Why did my brother get dressed first? That’s so not fair!” And on and on.

Normally when he rants like that I respond first by raising my voice (partly because I doubt he could hear me otherwise, as his shouts are drowning out every other sound), and when that doesn’t work, I yell. It drives me batty that he’s so quick to scream when things bother him (especially when those things seem so inconsequential, at least to me…but I know part of that is his Asperger’s at work). So I usually end up yelling right back. (Where do kids pick this stuff up, right? Argh.)

So today I gritted my teeth, gave him an angry look and calmly explained that he had to get dressed and brush his teeth so he could do his Saturday job (vacuuming his room) and therefore earn his allowance. I don’t think the words meant anything to him, if he even heard them; he responded only to my tone, and since I wasn’t getting overexcited, he eventually calmed down too. Whew.

So in that case, I’d say my trigger was my son’s irrational outburst. Great.

I had another close call when I was trying to get the boys to pick up their Pokemon cards that were scattered all over the floor. After 10 (yes, 10…I counted) polite requests for them to clean up the mess, I finally (calmly, but with an edge in my voice) explained that I wasn’t allowed to yell, but they were making me really angry because they weren’t doing what I was asking them to do. The mess did get cleaned up — eventually.

Would yelling have made them move faster? Unlikely. It would have let me blow off some steam, but there was actually less steam to blow off because I didn’t let myself get all worked up. Plus I didn’t have to waste time trying to comfort upset children.

Did they get the message that I was upset? That’s the question I struggle with. I’ve seen other moms be completely calm in situations where I would’ve lost it, and I’ve sometimes wondered if the kid really understood how angry Mom was. Did they get that they really shouldn’t do that? I dunno.

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to stop myself from yelling is to pretend there’s a hidden camera recording everything I do. Like many people, I act like a more patient, compassionate parent when there are other adult eyes watching me. But why should I save my best behavior for strangers? Why shouldn’t the most important people in my life get the best part of me?

In a way, this experiment is about more than just yelling. Really, it’s about rediscovering the good in each other that we so often take for granted. Not yelling means finding more pleasant ways to communicate. And that’s good for everybody.