Many parents say they’re frustrated with their spouse’s parenting: “It seems that every time (s)he has to deal with the kids (s)he ends up getting into a power struggle or an argument with them. (S)he tells the kids, ‘If you don’t . . . then you won’t.’ Instead of using the more positive ‘After you do . . . then you can do . . .’ The kids react negatively to this and usually refuse to do whatever (s)he’s telling them to do, rather than giving the second way a try first.”
Every parent has days when they’ve yelled so much they’re at the end of their rope. Those are the days, and we’ve all been there, when you want to run away. But before you pack your bags, let me share one possible reason why you’re being forced to yell, and suggest a way to change things.
Younger children tend to gravitate to where they experience the most energy. When a parent yells, he or she exudes a great deal of energy, focus and attention. Think about it from a child’s point of view. What do you do when you yell? You stop what you’re doing, you turn around, you lock eyes with your child, you focus all of your attention on him, and you yell, then talk for a really long time. To a child, that’s drastically different than the simple “Good Job” you offer when they do something right. To a child there’s more “attention” offered when they misbehave, than when they behave. Crazy, right?
As children get older, they learn that they can ignore yelling. However, when, for whatever reason, they feel unable to articulate what’s going on with them, they unconsciously head back to what worked for them when they were younger. They unconsciously do whatever will get their parents undivided focused attention and that’s usually some kind of misbehavior. They do this so the parent will eventually stop yelling and help them talk about whatever they are experiencing.
I know it’s hard to believe that children think they’re getting a form of attention when a parent yells. They believe that because their brain and skills sets are still maturing, even during tween and teen years. Children haven’t developed to the point where they can access the big picture when they’re upset, not yet. They haven’t fully figured out that behaving well is a better option, unless you show them, repeatedly. Their brain is still working this out, and will continue to do so until around age 25.
Refocus on Getting a Better Result
The best way to help your child understand how to behave is to shift where you put the majority of your attention. Try placing your focus, attention, and words on what your child has already achieved, or what you would rather see your child do — rather than focusing on what he’s hasn’t done. That simple switch will cause a huge increase in listening and cooperation and reduce your yelling tremendously. An example would be:
Old way: “Why can’t you ever get dressed on time so I don’t have to yell at you?”
New way: “Thanks for getting dressed before we left.”
Notice that the parent subtly shifted where they placed their attention. The parent refrained from using negative comments, any “hurry up” comments or yelling. If you know your child is trying to flex his or her power by testing you and not doing as told, skip over it for the moment. Just focus on, and comment on, the end result. This pulls the child toward better behavior because that’s where your attention and comments are focused.
For younger kids try and make one positive comment each step along the way, versus making any negative ones. An example would be:
Old way: “Are you kidding me, after all this time you’ve only got one sock on!”
New way: “One sock down, one to go!”
Make It Easy on Yourself
Make sure you do this on a day when you’re prepared. Make sure you have no plans to be anywhere at a specific time. Make sure you’re in a good mood, so you don’t caught-up in any attempts to return to yelling. Get a magazine or book to read while you wait for your child to comply. And make sure you’re in the mood to withstand any whining, arguing or slamming of doors your child may do to draw you back to yelling.
In order for him/her to change, (s)he needs to experience a new normal. A normal where most of the comments are about things (s)he’s done correctly, versus the things (s)he isn’t doing correctly. A child easily steps up when (s)he hears empowering comments, and will ignore you, and what you want, when (s)he hears hurtful or demeaning comments.
You need to remember what I said earlier about the child’s point of view. Your child has grown up with a misunderstanding about how to gain your undivided attention. She’s experienced that she gets more attention from misbehavior, than from behaving well. So let your new words and her need for your focused attention help redirect her toward the behavior you want her to create. Just make sure you sound like yourself when you do this. Don’t go overboard with the feedback or you’ll sound inauthentic. Hang in there. Doing this one time won’t do it. Your child needs to experience this, repeatedly. Also,
Soon, (s)he’ll understand the new way to get your attention is to produce better behavior more often. This really does work.
Sharon Silver is the author Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Transform Behavior into Learning Moments, and Why Do I Yell and What Can I Do Instead? webinar. She is the founder of Proactive Parenting dot net.
Keep up-to-date! Get parenting information sent straight to your inbox and receive 6 Unique Ways to Teach Kids Self-Control by filling out the opt-in at the bottom of the page at proactive parenting. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.