Yelling Comes Naturally
No one has to teach parents how to yell – it seems that this behavior comes naturally to so many of us. When we accidentally touch the hot handle of a frying pan, we yell. When a child refuses to listen, we yell. It just wells up from inside – unless, of course, we choose to put a lid on it.
In order not to yell, we have to find unnatural solutions to parenting pain and frustration. We have to take care of ourselves as well as our kids. It's not healthy for us to stuff our upset deep inside where it can fester; it's sure to cause us physical and/or psychological harm later on and it may also lead to some very nasty parenting when it finally erupts like Mount Vesuvius. If our children's behavior disappoints us, irritates us, enrages us or frightens the daylights out of us, we need to spend time with ourselves processing those feelings. We may also need to spend time with others (spouse, mom, friends, rabbi, counselors etc) to fully resolve our feelings and devise an appropriate parenting plan. Our emotions are ours to deal with. They are completely separate from our parenting interventions. Or at least, they ought to be.
We've Got Twenty Years to Figure This Out
Realizing that we can step out of a parenting moment to take care of ourselves can be quite liberating for parents. Unless the child is standing in the middle of traffic, there is generally no emergency occurring that requires our immediate action. Children fight. They've usually been fighting for several minutes before a parent enters the scene, so they can fight a few more minutes while the parent takes a moment to calm herself down before opening her mouth up. Children don't listen. Since they're not cooperating anyways, there's no harm in Dad taking a few minutes or even a few hours to figure out how he wants to handle the situation. Children don't go to bed. Instead of wasting precious time trying to get them there, parents can turn to each other for support and brainstorming over a nice cup of chamomile tea.
In other words, there is no rush. You've got twenty years to raise a child. Better to slow down and figure out what you can do that might actually be productive and healthy for all of you instead of rushing in impulsively to quickly "fix" whatever seems to be the trouble. These quick fixes all too often involve anger – both on the part of parents and kids. Angry parents do poor parenting and cause lots of harm. Stepping out of the parenting moment allows parents to calm their upset before they try to create a solution to a parenting problem. The solutions that they create once calm, are much more likely to be successful, enduring fixes. Those created in the heat of the moment usually solve a behavioral problem for only that moment while creating an emotional problem for a lifetime.
So a parent has stepped out – to cry, journal, consult, eat chocolate, meditate or otherwise settle her nerves. Now she is ready to create an anger-free parenting intervention to address the situation before her. What are her choices?
First, she needs to review the foundation of her parenting plan – the 80-20 Rule. When the parent gives 80% positive attention (that is, 4 out of 5 good-feeling communications), kids are more cooperative. Period. (It's important to count all instructions and requests as "bad-feeling" communications when you perform this calculation for yourself. See my parenting book for a detailed explanation of this intervention.) No matter what is going wrong with the child's current behavior, the parent needs to check where he or she is in his or her daily parenting ratio and make adjustments as necessary.
The parent may then choose from a variety of interventions in order to address the specific issue at hand. Emotional Coaching – the naming of a child's feelings – will usually be involved before any other technique is employed. This creates a bond that fosters cooperation and allows a child to submit more gracefully to punishment when it is required.
Depending on the issue, the CLeaR Method of positive discipline may be appropriate. To apply the CLeaR Method, a parent asks herself, "What behavior do I want from this child?" The parent then waits for that behavior to occur or creates an opportunity for it to occur and then Comments on it, Labels it and temporarily Rewards it. For instance, a toddler has been hurting his baby brother by slapping him on the head. Mom takes the toddler's hand and helps him to gently stroke the baby. As she does so, she comments: "You're touching the baby so softly now." She labels: "You're being so gentle." She rewards: "I think you deserve a candy for being so gentle with your baby brother." (The reward will only happen the first few times that the desirable behavior occurs and then it will be rapidly "thinned out.")
It is also possible that the behavior in question requires more traditional "bad-feeling" discipline. In this case, the anger-free discipline strategy called the Two-Times Rule can be employed. In this method, the negative consequence does all the teaching and parental emotion is not employed at all.
Finally, in cases of rudeness, parents may want to use the intervention called The Relationship Rule – a series of steps that teaches a child how to control himself when he is upset (a skill that begins with parental modeling!). More information about each of these parenting strategies is available and hopefully, we'll also explore them more in depth, in future articles.
These 5 skills will see a parent through any parenting issue that presents itself over the two decades of raising a child. They not only replace yelling and other destructive interventions but they help ensure that children will maintain life-long loving relationships with their parents.