When Parents Yell
Yesterday I yelled at one of my children, in public, for something lame. Yelled, as my husband gently put it later, “like one of those out-of-control moms you see.” Great.
You see, my children were doing something mildly dangerous, the kind of thing that makes moms nervous but is often tolerated by dad. And I asked them both to stop, nicely, twice. Being children, they were oblivious to my requests and continued their mildly dangerous game. And then one fell and tears and crying started and that is when I yelled. Yelled at the other one that I had ASKED THEM TO STOP SAID DANGEROUS THING AND THIS IS WHY AND YOU MAY NOT DO X WHEN YOU ARE CLOSE TO Y, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
And even as I was doing the yelling, I was thinking, what the heck is wrong with me? Because when we lose our control, it’s rarely about what the child did, right? It’s about us. It’s about us being tired, or frustrated, or scared. And that, my friends, is why yelling is rarely effective. My child listened to me yell, muttered a quick apology, and then moved as physically far away from me as possible. Like I said before, great.
So now I’m upset, one of my children is crying, and the other feels disconnected from me. Yelling just pushes the lesson away and builds a wall of negative emotions between you and your child. For little children, they might feel scared. Older children will learn to tune the yeller out when at home and will be embarrassed (both for you and them) when in public. And what does it teach if someone older and in a position of power over you yells at you in public? What does it teach if someone bigger than you yells at home? If yelling imprints fear, humiliation, or disconnect, then that is our message and not whatever got you so hot to begin with.
I am eternally grateful that I have forgiving children. I calmed down and apologized clearly and directly for yelling. I explained why I was frightened and that I should not yell when I am scared or upset. My sweet child thanked me for apologizing and gave forgiveness. I’d like to take some credit for that but I’m pretty sure it’s the Montessori education my husband insisted on years ago. My husband, thankfully, also let it go by giving me an hour alone and then discussing it at a later time. He also let it slip that the mildly dangerous act had been sanctioned by him, making me feel even worse.
So here is the lesson I can share. First, pediatricians are not perfect parents either. We mess up. Often. Second, when you mess up with your kids, apologize. Be sincere. Look them in the eye and tell them you were wrong. Don’t make an excuse, and don’t put it on them. The mistake was yours. Own it, and they will learn that it’s okay to own their mistakes. It’s not all that easy but it will help them be better than we are and know how to fix things when they mess up. Finally, accept forgiveness and then forgive yourself. Good lessons for both of us.