There I was. I was doing it AGAIN. Yelling at Nicky. We were messing around on the bed and he was having fun taking the Calpal bottle in and out of the box. All of a sudden he just threw it at me, hitting my chin. And my response? To yell. “Aaah! Nicholas you can’t DO THAT!” A few seconds later, heart wrenching sobs while he clutched at his painful tooth. My DH came in the room, scooped him up, comforted him and calmly reminded me not to yell. Yes, I should have handled it more calmly. I should have given him something less lethal to take in and out of a box.
But what worries me, most of all, after eight years of being a teacher, is that yelling seems to be some kind of default response I have under stress. When the kids made a noise, what did I often do? Yell. I would go through times when my throat would suffer. Often. I always had loads of Strepsils (a throat losange) to get me through. I even lost my voice once. I had to be particularly creative then. I actually made a sign that said “I am on vocal rest today. I am only whispering”. The kids thought that was fun! And funnily enough, the quieter I was, the quieter they were. Until I got my voice back and my bad habits returned.
This time, however, this is about my kid, not other people’s and I am more determined to find a way to stop yelling. So I was very interested in this book.
This is Laura Markham’s ideas for stopping yelling:
1) Commit yourself. Well if I’m writing it out here, then that is a commitment! She also suggests putting a sign up “I will speak respectfully to my child” in a place where you will see it often. “Imagine yourself responding calmly, …emphatically, or with a sense of humor!”
2) Make the commitment to your family. She suggests making a sticker chart for yourself and get your child to do the reward process. I think this is a good idea, and easy to do. I can use a calender or diary just to check each day until Nicky is old enough to do it for me at a later stage. By the way I have done sticker charts before at school and it was not a success. Well, it helped the good kids feel good, for whom getting stickers was easy, but did nothing for those who struggled. (I’d be interested to know what you all think about this).
3) Stop, drop and breathe: Stop: Be aware as you lose your temper and stop. Close your mouth. Drop it: Let it go, step away from the situation. Breathe ten times. “Let me calm down and then we’ll try a do-over, okay?” Then do what you need to do. I used to go to the bathroom to drink water when I was a teacher. Now, when Nicky won’t go to sleep for the third time and I am losing it, I say “I need a cup of tea!” Then you will have strength to try again.
4) Three minute method to calm down:
– What is the thought that is upsetting you? Check out that thought. It probably comes from fear and it isn’t true e.g. “He’s just manipulating me”.
-Realise there is always another side:
–Help your body release the feelings: Dr Markham actually suggests an EFT method: tap on your karate chop point (edge of your hand) and say “Although I’m upset, I’m safe. I calm myself and heal this situation.” (I would add in to tap a reminder phrase alternating “upset/ angry” and “safe/ calm” to acknowledge both positive and negative in the situation on the EFT points).
Return to your child and start over from a place of love.
She goes on to give lots of good ideas to self-regulate yourself. She makes the point that if we are calm, we can create calm situations.
One of the best ways to calm yourself is to acknowledge your own feelings. Your feelings were there to protect you. Now you can do the same for your child. Just be present for them. I love this quote:
You don’t have to fix your child or the situation. All you have to do is stay present. Your child doesn’t even need the red cup, or whatever he’s crying for, he needs your loving acceptance of him, complete with all his tangled up feelings. His disappointment, rage, grief? They’re all okay, and they will all pass without you doing a thing except loving him.
The second part of the book, after self-regulating yourself, is about fostering connection.
She starts off by going through the various age groups, much like the discipline without distress book.
For babies, all emotional development is built on the nurturing we receive as infants. Interesting: she says we need to balance our emotions to theirs i.e. so that they feel safe to be excited, tired etc and you will help calm them down. I also like what she said about not having to be perfect, but when you re-connect and try again, you grow, and you show them how you can make mistakes and learn from them. For loving guidance, you use empathic redirection.
Toddlers are physically much more able, but for emotional control, their frontal cortex is still under construction. He needs parental help to regulate his emotions. Tantrums are their way of restoring equilibrium. Patiently sit with him. They also need to “refuel” or comfort when you move. For loving guidance, you have to side step power struggles. The toddler’s developmental task is develop his sense of his own power. The example of splashing water out the tub is given. She suggests demonstrating gentle stirring instead, if that doesn’t work, take the child out. “You’re mad… You love splashing… But that was too much splashing for me, and it was just too hard for you to stop splashing. Tomorrow night we’ll try again. And now that its getting warm, you can splash all you like in the pool.”
As an aside, when Nicky starts doing that I normally take it that he has had enough of his bath. Or else we play a game where I stop him pouring the water out (which he thinks is hilarious). Of course I can only do that for so long before I’ve had enough, and bath time is at an end.
For the pre-schooler, the key is empathy. If the foundation has already been laid and their needs have been met in baby and toddlerhood, then they are more emotionally stable. They can feel for another instead of reacting against it.
By six years old the nervous system is almost completely wired. But they still need help processing fears and unmet needs. Misbehaviour is an opportunity for growth and brainstorm options. When things go wrong she suggests the 3 R’s: Reflect (You were worried when ELiza took your doll.. what could you do instead of hitting?) , Repair (What could you do to make her feel better?) and Responsibility (You made Eliza happy when you gave her a turn with your doll). Child chosen initiatives are more effective than parent prescribed consequences.
The important thing seems to be to acknowledge the feelings, but teach them not to act on it e.g. anger: once they can feel it, they no longer need it as a defense and it melts away.Constructive management of anger involves 1) Control aggression 2) Acknowledge the fear underneath 3) Problem solve.
I like an example she gives about hitting the dog (because Nicky does that). “We can be mad, but we can’t hit the dog… Run around the room chanting “We’re mad, we’re mad, but we can’t hurt the dog!” (in other words you gave him love and attention, acknowledged his feelings, used humour and turned it into a funny game).
I liked her hints on potty training: to sing ridiculous potty songs, wear a nappy on your head, dance around pretending to hold it but too scared to use the toilet. In other words, using humour again.
Going back to my problem at the beginning. They actually give an example in the book of when a 3 year old throws something at dad and his skin is cut. “Oh my! Your dad is hurt. Sweetie, go get a washcloth and let’s help your dad.” This makes the child part of the solution.
In fact I think I was right to communicate that I was hurt, but then I needed to calm down (by doing the exercise above) and say that “I know you were having fun throwing that bottle. But bottles are not for throwing. That really hurt me. We can’t throw things at people because they get hurt. You can throw this soft ball and we can play a game.” (Using my play therapy method of A- acknowledge feeling, C- Communicate limit, T- Target alternative).
All in all a good book with lots of helpful tips and examples that I did not cover. Here’s to my efforts to stop yelling. I think I will have to remember that quote from Nelson Mandela “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Well, I am going to keep trying.