One of my goals for this year is to stop yelling at and being mean to my kids. Last month I set a goal to pause whenever I felt the urge to yell and take 5 seconds to breathe and count before I reacted. My hope was that this 5-second pause would provide my brain with the opportunity to consider a better reaction toward my kids than unleashing fiery venom from my mouth.
I decided I needed something extra to help me, so I selected a random bracelet to wear each day to provide a visual reminder throughout the day to pause and take a 5-second breather every time my anger started to rise.
I had a goal, a plan, and a visual. I was set. This was going to be the best month ever. I was going to be supermom, my kids would love me, our relationships would grow into perfection, and I’d be the mom for all the moms to follow after.
And now it’s March and I think I took my planned 5-second breather a whopping one time last month. I think I actually just became a meaner mom in February. I am most definitely not supermom and although my kids do love me and I love them, we often speak to each other with fiery venom all day every day and I get embarrassed when other people hear us speaking to each other in public. Yikes, big fail.
Let me back up and explain my rationale for this goal. I’m a firm believer that children learn what they experience. They learn how to interact with others by the way people interact with them. They learn how to overcome differences of opinion and challenging situations by the way people overcome differences of opinion and challenging situations with them. They learn how to diffuse a negative situation by the way people diffuse negative situations with them. Research shows that 95% of what children learn, they learn through observation and modeling, not from direct teaching. Which means it is of utmost importance to be a good example to our kids of proper social behavior.
All too often I cringe when I hear my kids yell at each other (or me) and speak disrespectfully. Many parents will adamantly demand that their children speak to them and others with respect, and I agree. But when I hear my children yell and speak disrespectfully, I have noticed they use the same tones, and often the exact same words I’ve used to speak to them. Ouch! My children don’t know how to speak respectfully because I haven’t taken the time to speak to them with respect. That’s pretty embarrassing to admit.
This month, I’m revamping my goal and process for trying to stop yelling at my kids because simply wearing a bracelet and trying to remember to count to 5 just isn’t working for me. Here are 4 things I’m doing differently this month to help me achieve the goal of treating my kids with respect and taming my yelling.
I just like to start everything with a good dose of prayer. When I first created my goals for this year I most certainly spent time in prayer asking God to direct me to the goals He wanted me to create. I definitely believe that His will for me is to be a nicer, more respectful, and less prone to yelling mom to my kids. But I made the goal He led me to and that was really where my prayers ended. I’m now realizing that in order to actually find success in my goals, I should probably keep praying about them.
Essentially, my goal is to change my heart and the only one who really has the power to do that is God. My new plan involves praying regularly, throughout my day for the change of heart, the patience, the peace, and the wisdom to find better ways to deal with the issues with my kids that trigger the fiery venom.
2. Get Accountable.
In February I sat in the quiet of my office and developed my goal and plan, I dug around my bathroom for a bracelet to wear and I put it on. I did not speak a word of my plan to anyone. No one knew why I was suddenly wearing this new bracelet and no one asked. The kids didn’t know I was trying anything new. I hadn’t even addressed the issue with them or apologized to them for yelling all the time. The only person who knew anything about my goal was me (and God).
This month I’m actively talking about it. I already pulled both my kids together last night and apologized for the way I’ve been talking to them lately. I let them know that we are all going to work together on being more kind and speaking to each other with respect. They were both very pleased with the idea and I immediately noticed a change in their tone with each other the rest of the night. I was a little amazed at how such a simple conversation could help.
When creating goals, especially ones that involve other people, it’s important to talk about it. Talking about this goal helped us all to be more aware of the change we’re trying to make. And now we can continue to bring it up because we are all working together to bring about this change. I know it won’t be easy, but at least I’m not alone now.
3. Track it.
I know my kids and I struggle with a lot of the same issues every single day. If I start keeping track of the times my blood begins to boil and I lose my temper or speak more rudely than I would prefer, I might actually get a chance to reflect and come up with helpful responses that are a little more respectful and loving for the future.
I’m now planning to keep a log of all the situations that cause me to struggle with patience and a peaceful response, not so that I can dwell on them or feel guilty, but to allow myself the chance to brainstorm better solutions to the trying situations that come up on a regular basis.
4. Refocus my thoughts.
My original plan was to take a 5-second breather when I faced an intense situation that made me want to scream or speak rudely. When I take a 5-second breather, do you know what’s still happening after my 5 seconds is over? The exact trigger that made me want to lose my cool in the first place! Counting to 5 might work for some people, but for me, it is just not a sufficient solution.
What I know about human behavior is that the thoughts we think about our circumstances cause us to feel a certain way, our feelings then direct our behavior, and our behavior leads to the results we get. If we don’t like the results we are experiencing in our lives (the number of times we speak meanly to our kids, for instance), we have to go all the way back to the thoughts we are thinking about the circumstance. When I’m feeling angry and yelling at my kids it’s not actually their fault!
The reason I’m feeling angry is because of the thoughts I am having about the way they are behaving. Even if my kids are choosing inappropriate behaviors, that in itself doesn’t cause me to be angry. I’m actually choosing anger, so the solution is to think a more beneficial thought that will actually be of help to the situation. (Read more on how our thoughts affect our lives here.)
When one of my children is throwing a fit or ignoring my requests I can choose to think thoughts that will lead to feelings that will serve me or I can choose to think thoughts that will lead to feelings that cause me to act like a lunatic. Sadly, I usually pick the latter. But my goal is to retrain my brain to the former. That takes work. Thoughts are usually pretty automatic and subconscious. In the heat of the moment, thoughts automatically flood my mind regarding my circumstances and cause me to feel a certain way. But the good news is, we don’t actually have to act on every feeling we feel. We can choose to think a new thought and feel a new feel, and then act from that.
This is where the 5-second pause can actually be helpful. If we choose to take a 5-second pause when we notice anger and frustration starting to rise, and in that 5-second pause we refocus our brain on a thought that is actually beneficial to the situation, we can change the way we are feeling in those 5 seconds and respond a better way.
In the moment I can think, “This child is completely ignoring my requests. They never listen to me or do anything I ask until I scream and threaten. I’m so tired of this behavior and I cannot let it continue.” These thoughts really start to make my blood boil and immediately cause me to want to jump to screaming, threatening, and being rude so we can “nip the behavior in the bud.” But what if my thoughts became a little less forceful and a little more curious? What if my thoughts bring in more empathy and less fear and control? What if I think of love and compassion instead of frustration and annoyance?
It’s hard. But it is the solution to many of life’s trials. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
What if in the heat of the moment with our kids we stopped thinking about all they do wrong and start remembering what is true and right and pure and lovely and admirable about them? What if we remember that our kids are just kids and they make mistakes just like we do? What if we paused to consider that even when we have to correct them 1,000 times a day, they are still, overall great, amazing, sweet, and wonderful kids? What if we stopped for just a moment and recognized a child who needed help instead of a kid who was disobeying?
That is the goal of my 5-second pause now, to refocus my thinking. And I’m realizing it might take far longer than 5 seconds. When my blood is boiling and the kids are continuing to rage, 5 seconds might not cut it. My goal now is to pause all response and reaction (outside of safety issues) until I can act with a clear head. The plan is to only to respond out of love, not anger or frustration or fear or impatience, only love.
Because if we ever want our children to learn how to respond in negative situations, if we ever want our kids to learn how to speak respectfully to others, if we ever want our children to learn how to compromise or persuade others, we have to actually show them how. We can’t tell them about it, they must see it, from us. Screaming at our kids just shuts them down so they can’t even hear what we have to say. But responding from a place of empathy and love opens their hearts to learn and grow.
Will you join me in this challenge? Take the next 30 days and make it your goal to treat your kids with the respect you want them to show others. To stop reacting to the negative emotions you feel in the heat of the moment and refocus your thoughts to love. To be accountable to your kids for your own behavior toward them and freely apologize when you mess up. To teach your kids that yelling and rude language are ineffective and model to them words that influence and calm.
If we want to make the world a better, more peaceful place, we must recognize that it begins in our own homes. In order to bring more peace to our homes, we must start with ourselves.