Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Let's just talk about it."

We have a yelling issue in this household. I never wanted to head down this path, but I have become a yeller. I did not used to be a yeller, though with each passing year the habit gets worse. I hate that I am a yeller. I fully recognize that yelling does nothing to solve problems. In fact, most of the time, it just further escalates issues and creates anxiety in my kids. But, in those super-intense, aggravating moments, that release of force through my voice offers a release of stress that keeps me (against my will) going right back to this action when I get stressed, despite the fact that I feel incredibly guilty the second the words leave my mouth.

I don't want my kids to fear me. I do want them to listen to me. What parent doesn't? Sometimes I feel like the only way I can be heard is to be as loud as possible. The shock factor does successfully get their attention, but the problem is that once I have their attention, I don't usually get the response I am looking for anyway. So every day, I tell myself that tomorrow I am going to do better. Tomorrow I am going to keep my cool. Tomorrow I will not be a yeller. Then 7AM rolls around. The kids start waking up. They start interacting with each other. The house quickly goes from silence to a sea of activity, and the next thing you know, fights break out, no one is listening, breakfast is getting cold, the clock is ticking closer to the time we need to leave, anxiety levels start to go up... The next thing you know, the screaming and yelling begins.

I tell myself, as I put the kids down for naps, that post-nap time is going to be different. They will be more rested. I will have a break for a little bit, so I will be able to keep my cool. And yet, by 4:30PM, we are back to the chaos that is our daily life and my ability to hold it in is gone in an instant. Lord knows that once I get going, it is hard to keep my cool. I constantly think, "If they would just do what I ask, I would not get to this point!" But, I am an adult, and they are children. I realize this is a weak argument. Children are programmed not to listen. It is natural for them to test limits. So, obviously it is unreasonable for me to expect them to actually listen each time I tell them to do something. I know this, but it does not make me feel any better about their defiant actions.

I started noticing changes in my kids recently, probably over the last six months. It seems that everyone is high strung. Anxiety levels are really high. Fights (actual, physical fights) break out between the kids over even the smallest of annoyances. My youngest is especially physically agressive. Any time someone happens that does not go their way, they scream at each other as loudly as they can. They are constantly on-edge and their fights are extreme. I know siblings fight. I have two brothers. I remember. However, at this age, it just seems a bit overboard for my kids to be having these intense outbursts all the time. Something is not right. Why are they responding to each other like this?

The answer is obnoxiously obvious. Any time I am frustrated with them, I yell and scream at them to get their attention and hopefully get them to do what I want. So, is it surprising that when they get frustrated with each other, they immediately turn to each other and start screaming? Charlie is not as great with vocabulary and speech as the others, so his outburts often shift to hitting or kicking when he is unable to put his frustration in words. Watching them this last week, I felt this horrible weight of guilt and shame creep over me. I did this. I created this. They are doing what I do, not what I say (as the saying goes). I tell them to be nice to each other, to be respectful, etc. Then the moment I get upset, I become unglued and lash out. They aren't listening to what I am telling them to do. They are watching what I am doing and mimicking my actions.

Big gulp. Whoa. I created monsters. Something needs to change, immediately. By something, I mean me. I need to change. I cannot yell like this anymore. I am setting such a horrible example for my kids. This is not OK. As I said, I have told myself before that I am going to do better tomorrow and I honestly do try. But I need to be more serious about my efforts now. The kids are only 6, 4 and 3. There is still time to shift their behavior. If it were 10 years from now, the damage would be more permanent. It is hard to change behavioral tendencies when your child is already 16 years old. It almost becomes too late. But it is not too late yet. I need to make a change, and this change needs to happen immediately before more damage is done.

Today I adopted a new motto for our family.

"Let's just talk about it."

I sat down with the kids today and told them about our yelling problem. We talked about how they do not like being yelled at by Mom and Dad. We talked about how Mom and Dad do not like when they yell at each other. We discussed how it makes us feel sad or upset or mad when there is so much yelling going on... They completely agreed that they do not like Mom and Dad yelling, but they did not necessarily have a problem with yelling at each other. Naturally. But I hope using our new motto over time, they will learn to be more respectful of each other.

I told them that from now on, when there is yelling going on, we are to tell the yelling person, "Let's just talk about it." This will be our cue to each other that screaming and yelling is not going to solve the problem. We need to talk to each other, in normal, respectful tones, if we want to communicate with each other. When we use this phrase, it is our reminder to take a deep breath and calmly express ourselves and our feelings to one another. I gave them the green light to use this phrase on Mom and Dad, too. I wanted them to be able to hold us accountable, too. Hopefully hearing it from their little mouths will be enough of a reminder to me (and my husband) that no matter how frustrated we are with them, yelling is not the answer... I hope it will remind us that they are watching our behavior and learning how to deal with their own frustrations by watching us deal with ours. The yelling has to stop, and we have to be the leaders of this new charge. We have to show them how it is done. It is going to be challenging. It is going to be draining. Some times I am sure I will want to rip my hair out. But, I do not want my kids to be filled with anxiety and aggressiveness and anger. It's time for a change, a serious change. One day at a time, I will be working on bettering my stress-management skills so I can show my kids how it is done.

Instead of yelling and screaming and freaking out over my frustrations, the new plan is simple: Let's not yell about it. Let's not scream about it. Let's not hit or kick because of it.

"Let's just talk about it."

That's the plan... Now, ACTION!

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