At the beginning of this year, I read a book that inspired me to think differently about my role as a mother. The book was called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and it had nothing to with parenting. In it, Pressfield used an analogy of creating things for the good of the world like a precious child being created and born. Which then made me think about how precious MY children were to me. Which then made me think …
Man, I’ve been kinda mean lately to my precious kids.
There are things I said I would never do as a parent before having kids. For example, I said I would never yell at my kids, bribe them, give them junk food, let them sleep in our beds in the middle of the night, etc. Then I became an actual parent and found myself at one point or another doing the exact same things I said I would never do. If you are a parent, you may relate.
One big surprise and challenge for me as a mom was that my patience got tested beyond my limits and I yelled. The reason it was a surprise was because I thought I was a really patient person. In fact, I held some pride in myself that I could remain even-keel and patient when interacting with kids of all kinds. I brought this into the classroom when teaching, into Sunday school as a helper, and generally in my life.
Then my own kids came along, especially our last one, Paige, and a new side of me emerged, one I didn’t recognize and one I really didn’t like: Yell-ey Mika. Yell-ey Mika was not fun. Yell-ey Mika snapped when she probably shouldn’t have. Yell-ey Mika lost her cool. Sure, it’s totally okay to snap and lose your cool every once in a while. It’s also totally OK to be angry. But this was overreaction and rooted in frustration – not actual anger. Yelling became sort of a habit in trying to deal with that frustrating feeling.
Back to The War of Art, as I was reading it I had the epiphany : I wanted to be the nicest person my kids know. The world is harsh and hard enough, right? Here were my precious little kids, and I here I was jumping into a negative worldview rather than aligning myself with what I knew it my heart was right.
My kids needed an ally, not a critic.
How I Started to Yell Less
So let’s talk about yelling. If you are reading this, chances are this might be something you struggle with, too. I mentioned this in a podcast episode and I got a ton of messages about how my realization – being the nicest person our kids know – really resonated with other moms. So I feel you, and that’s why I’m writing more about this today.
I am not here with a quick-fix solution to yelling. But I am here with the suggestion that it starts with awareness. Losing your patience and resorting to yelling is a loop and a habit that needs to be broken. And the first step is to be aware. Why are you yelling, anyway? Did you actually need to yell? Where is your need to yell coming from?
When you know underlying reasons, it’s much easier to make positive changes.
I identified 3 specific moments that made me resort to yelling. Knowing this about me and our daily life helped me a ton. I want to share them with you, because these might be the exact same situations you might find yourself getting frustrated with your kids and losing your cool. If you have wanted to stop yelling at your kids, here are the situations when I found myself yelling, and the strategies I implemented (and still do!) to change my mindset and behavior around it.
1. When I am rushed
I noticed that one main trigger for me to lose patience and yell is when we were rushed trying to leave the house, especially after school before dance. I would yell at Reese to hurry up and then then she would get upset. Then I would get more upset, and then we would have a terrible car ride to dance, and then we’d have to have a moment of face-to-face talk of apologies and resetting ourselves before going into class. It always began because of something small that was taking too long, like stopping playing with barbies and coming downstairs, or getting frustrated we’d have to go back up to grab tap shoes or running back in to grab a snack. It just takes more time to do things with kids. You know, moms!
So, I noticed that. I noticed I didn’t like being rushed because it made me frustrated and easily susceptible to yelling. So I decided to be ready 10 minutes earlier than usual – which meant that we would end up on time. I also prepared Reese’ dance bag in the morning as she prepped her school backpack so that all the things would be ready. Noticing and making small changes around it really helped.
Strategy : Figure out what time(s) of day you feel rushed. Is it in the morning before school and work? Maybe it’s heading out to lessons and practices after school? Or is it at dinner time when you’re trying to pull together a meal? Or maybe all of the above? (No judgement here!) If you’re finding yourself frazzled and losing patience with yourself and your kids at certain times of the day, think of how you can better prepare for those rushed situations.
Maybe you can have lunches and water bottles and coats ready before bed. You could load up your car with after school practice gear when you get home from dropping them off at school. Your kids could pick out outfits the night before. Maybe you could keep extra socks downstairs so you don’t have to run back up. Preparing items in advance is not a control issue. It is FREEING yourself from the loops of frustration day in and day out. Look for ways you can help your self in advance so that you’re less rushed during those key times.
2. When I am tired
Being tired affects everything else in our lives : our patience is worn down, we have less energy, our mind is not clear, decision-making is inhibited, and we can become short-tempered. When you pair that with a whining kid – well, then even the best mom in the world can totally snap.
I noticed I am MUCH more likely to lose my patience when I am tired because my body and mind are less equipped to handle life and kids. It’s kind of like “it’s not you, kids, and it’s actually not even me – it’s just my mind and body right now.” Acknowledging this helped me to feel less guilt around it, which then allowed me to step away from my actions and view it for what it was so that I could do better next time. This is one reason why I am so into self-care like sleep and wellness practices.
Strategy : If meditation, going to bed early getting a full night’s rest, exercising, other self-care strategies are totally impossible for you right now in your season of motherhood, that’s OK. If that’s the case, one thing that has helped me is to just say out loud to my kids that I’m tired. When I feel patience losing its grip and frustration bubbling up, I just say – “hey kids, mommy’s tired.” Sometimes I even add “so today/tonight, I could really use some extra special help. Please be patient with me so I can be patient with you.” It’s like when you have an argument or misunderstanding with someone and then you acknowledge your mistakes and finally talk it out and it feels so much better. It’s like that. It may not make the kids’ behavior change – but it can change your mindset, and that’s where it starts.
3. When my expectations are too high
I love my kids so much and I know you do too. So we want the best for them and for them to be able to do their best, like don’t fight, have manners, listen, clean up, be nice, make friends, etc. But sometimes I forget that they are VERY LITTLE. They have only had a few short years of life on earth so far. Yet I often expect them to act just like me – an adult – and that’s not fair. Their little brains (still developing) and their little hearts (still tender and fragile) are learning how to do life everyday. Heck, aren’t we all?? So imagine how hard that can be for a little kid.
So I started practicing taking pause whenever I found myself ramping up to yell. I would ask myself if I was getting frustrated with them based on an unfair expectation. It helped to remind myself that their age limits their ability to do things that seem easy for us. That includes motor skills, speed, and controlling their emotions. That last one is a big trigger for me, as my two youngest have REALLY BIG emotions.
Strategy : if you are yelling at your kids to do better (but you feel terrible about it and no one is actually getting any better) think about lowering your expectations. Sounds counterintuitive as a parent sometimes, but it could be exactly what you and your kiddo needs.
Hey friend. You’re a good mom.
By recognizing and acknowledging what triggers me, I empower myself for change! Maybe your situations might be different. It could be whenever you’re out grocery shopping, or when your kids are at the playground, or when you’re doing homework with them. It’s worthwhile to think about it.
Whatever the situation, know that yelling does not make you a bad person. It’s happening because you care. You want to be on time, you want your kids to do well, you want your kids to listen and behave properly around others because you want them to learn what’s right. But more than that, your kids might just need a voice of kindness from you. They might just need you be the nice person in their life they can always turn to.
To all the awesome moms everywhere (that’s you!),