Mama Says: “Help! I Yell Too Much!”

Man shouting with chalk speech bubble

Dear Mama, I have three kids from a 13 month old baby to a 6-year-old. My husband travels a lot for business and when he goes all the responsibility for feeding, bathing, disciplining, getting everyone out the door for pre-school every morning, etc. falls on me 24/7. It can be exhausting and there are days I completely lose it and yell and scream then I feel terrible because it is not the kids’ fault. I feel like the answer is a husband who is around more and helps out, a good night’s sleep, and maybe more organization on my part so I don’t feel overwhelmed, but I don’t think that is going to happen any time soon. I guess I am asking about the yelling/losing-it part of my parenting. How can I stop it? I don’t like the mother I am when I shout.

Oh my dear Mama, we have all been there. The fatigue, the resentment of always being on and the one, the sheer work of 3 small children can be daunting. First, forgive yourself for losing it every once in awhile, it is normal. It is when the yelling becomes chronic that you need to make some changes. When it becomes a personal attack, or demeaning (“You are so slow! You can’t even get yourself in the car while I help your sisters! You are just like your father….”) is when shouting turns from normal to nasty with lasting effects on the child.

It is important not to take misbehavior personally. Your child is not naughty to spite you, she is simply acting out her frustrations and needs help in modulating them. For better or worse the behavior usually has little to do with you, but parents who view their kids’ outbursts personally, as overwhelming and as a permanent fixture of who they are, tend to feel more angry and threatened with each new episode. It is a pattern a new study by the Journal of Family Psychology calls ‘emotional flooding.’
The wave of negative feelings can push the relationship with your child into a chronic state of conflict, upending thoughtful parenting, and making the behavior seem embedded instead of a passing mood –like yours when your husband is gone and you are tired.

When you are angry use “I” statements and not “YOU.” Here is a good conversation template:
When you. . .
I feel. . .
I need. . .
One of the best phrases I have ever used in parenting, with business colleagues, and relationships is: “This doesn’t work for me…” No one can argue with that. Even a toddler can understand the ‘not working’ part.
“This doesn’t work for me. When you leave the table and walk around with your food, I feel like you are done eating. I need you to ask to be excused.”

“This doesn’t work for me. When you fight with your sister it hurts my ears. I need you both to figure out your problems by whispering.”

You get the idea. . .
Most of all take care of yourself. You will be a better parent when you know your limits, when it is time for you to take a break, get together with friends. Rely on your outer community of family and babysitters to give yourself some time, even for a few hours, to recharge the mother-batteries.

Yelling is not the end of the world, but understand that it will not solve the underlying problem, which has more to do with forces outside your child’s world like exhaustion, a partner gone, and feeling overwhelmed. In the end it is our job to stay calm, be consistent with consequences you can uphold, and to take care of ourselves so we can take better care of our children.

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