Let's face it: Young children can be as exasperating as they are adorable. And parents are only human. When a 1-year-old upends the dog dish for the third time in one day despite your pleas, it's easy to become irritated and yell. But raising your voice is a losing battle; it doesn't discourage frustrating behavior and ultimately gets everyone more upset than they need to be. And then, of course, there's the guilt -- and who needs more of that?
That's why we're offering up 10 tips to help break us all of this very bad habit. Try them out. Then let us know how they worked by logging on to americanbaby.com/parentingchallenge. Hopefully all of us will end up speaking a little more softly and feeling a lot less stressed.
1. Stack the odds. Does it drive you crazy that your toddler likes to dump every foodstuff known to man on the floor? Chances are, if he can't reach the cereal and rice boxes, he can't pour them out. Basic babyproofing is a real sanity saver; the more intact your sanity, the less you'll yell.
2. Tune in to yourself. Make note of when you're most likely to lose it and troubleshoot accordingly. Is it first thing in the morning before you've had your coffee? Then get your husband to play with your child while you savor that first cup of the day. Or buy a coffeemaker with a timer that starts brewing before you wake up.
3. Lower your expectations. If you find yourself yelling at your kids all the time, you may simply be expecting too much of them. There's only so long a baby can sit crammed into a car seat or a toddler can walk in a mall. Acquaint yourself with what's developmentally appropriate and then tweak your actions; one hour-long trip to the supermarket rather than hours of errands will reduce whining, and by association, yelling.
4. Just whisper. It sounds weird, we know. But if your child has to strain to hear you, he's less likely to tune you out. And it's nearly impossible to sound angry (and scary) when you're speaking softly.
5. Be strategic. Find ways to accomplish stressful tasks without your children in tow. If all of you lose it in the grocery store, shop for groceries online after they're in bed -- or even head out to the store after nine, when it's empty and you can shop quickly and efficiently.
6. Adopt a mantra. Find a word or phrase to distract yourself from yelling and remind you that your child isn't trying to drive you nuts -- he's just a little kid after all. "He's only 1, he's only 1," is one example. Repeat it to yourself several times when you feel like you're about to explode.
7. Try the big squeeze. Squeezable stress toys, such as balls and dolls, are designed to keep executives from blowing their stacks. There's no reason why they can't work for moms, too!
8. Get physical. For some, yelling offers a form of physical release. Jogging in place or doing a jumping jack or two can distract you and give you the outlet you need when you feel like yelling. You probably won't want to do this in public, of course, but at home anything goes. Who knows? You may lose a few pounds!
9. Ask for help. Taking care of young children can be exhausting to say the least. And yelling is a definite sign of stress and fatigue, which means you need (and deserve) a break! Have your husband or a trusted babysitter step in for half a day so you can get some much-needed time to rejuvenate.
10. Beat it. If you know you're going to lose it and you're on your very last nerve, put your baby or toddler in a safe spot, such as his playpen or crib, and walk away for a few minutes. Tense and release your muscles, or count to 10 to help calm yourself down before you go back to baby.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2005.