Raise Your Children Without Raising Your Voice
Published: March 23, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I was in a mall with my children. We were waiting in a line up, and it was taking some time to receive customer service. As we stood there, a woman walked by with her three-year old son and he was screaming. As I was a bystander, and not someone who really understood the whole situation, I could only grasp between his crying and screaming - that he wanted something from the store that his mother would not buy him. Now, if you are a mom or dad – you know you have been in this woman’s exact place.
However, what proceeded after his initial screaming was something that I found quite disturbing. Instead of taking him outside to discuss it with him in the car, or diffusing the situation, she kept him inside the mall and yelled back at him. And as his screams became louder, so did hers.
One older woman, who was quite disturbed by this scene, left our line-up to try to see if she could help this woman calm down. However, the woman profusely denied assistance but yet continued her yelling match with her son in front of a small crowd that had begun to develop around them.
Although we have all been in this scenario where a child is misbehaving or having a melt – down, what became crystal clear after this woman left with her son, still screaming as they left the doors, was that the lines between an adult and a child had become blurred.
For a moment, imagine you are a three-year old who is still trying to make sense of the world around you. You test the boundaries, you try to discover things on your own, and most of all, you test your independence. When a child is doing all of these things, it sometimes seems to a parent that they are misbehaving – when really, what they are doing is very normal and expected - they are learning. And it’s up to us as parents, to help them navigate through this very inquisitive time using patience and calmness (even when we feel like screaming).
When a child does something that they shouldn’t (ie. touches something they shouldn’t, refuses to do something, or simply ignores certain rules), then a set of routine guidelines should exist that are followed through every time.
A big part of my own guideline that I follow is that I try to never resort to yelling (no matter how hard this seems at the time). I try to imagine what it would feel like to have an adult screaming in my face if I was a small child - it could be a very scary experience.
Sometimes if I need to, I do a count down in my own head to gain my composure, if things are really starting to get “hairy”.
I also try to get down on their level and speak to them using a firm voice and engage them in eye contact.
If after my initial request to one of my children is not followed through, I repeat it.
Then I provide a consequence. ie – If you don’t stop teasing your brother/sister, then we will have to leave the grocery store.
If the behaviour continues, I count out loud to five (three is never enough time for them to stop).
And if all else fails and they are still not listening, I do my follow-though with the consequence. And in this particular case, no matter where I am in the grocery store, how many groceries are in my cart – we leave.
Follow through is always the hardest part for a parent to do - and I’m still trying to ensure that what ever I have said is a consequence - is followed through on (and that the consequence is appropriate for the situation).
If a parent is yelling and using anger on their child, that type of intimidation will only work for so long - until they become teenagers. And that is when yelling in no longer something that they respond to – and in fact, have grown to resent it.
There are never any easy answers when it comes to teaching our children right from wrong – but one thing I’ve learned thus far about parenthood - is that respect and understanding goes both ways.