How long could you go without yelling at your kids? A month? A week? Gulp, a few hours?
Parents, the kind who know how to behave in polite society, don't lose their cool in public. Nope, we save the screamy moments for behind closed doors. But—blush!—Sheila McCraith was caught red-handed when her handyman came upon her yelling at her four boys, then all under the age of five. "We're talking red-in-the-face, body-shaking, full-on screaming. I was mortified by my behavior...and then, after some soul searching, inspired to finally change my behavior," says McCraith. McCraith set a formidable goal: She wouldn't yell at her children for 365 days. Even more ambitious: If she did yell, she would have to reset her counter, and start her no-yell challenge over from the beginning. Because she's human, McCraith did break down: eight times.
When McCraith went public with her experience, launching a blog called The Orange Rhino Challenge, she met many others—moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, caregivers—who identified with her struggle, and shared her same feelings of shame, disappointment, and frustration. Me? I'd prefer to hide from the conversation here and say I don't have a yelling problem per se, but who am I kidding? I, too, have yelled with the best of them, and like McCraith, I've really regretted those times, even though my kids still love me and seem to forgive me.
Still, who wants to be a yeller, ever? That's why I was so glad to learn about The Orange Rhino blog, which was one of our winners in Parents' Best Blogs of 2013. McCraith has compiled her hard-won success and experience into a new handy, easy-to-follow book, Yell Less, Love More. What I love about this book is that it's written by a fellow parent who's so been there. (Four kids!) McCraith gets us. And she's generously baring her screw-ups and success for the rest of us to learn, and to simply feel less ashamed and alone. "Parenting isn't about perfection, but about progress," McCraith writes. "Mistakes happen. It's what I do afterward that's more important than the mistake."
These are just a few helpful tips from McCraith, a "recovering yeller."
1) Yell at inanimate objects.
"Inanimate objects don't have feelings, kids do," writes McCraith, who's yelled into toilets and into refrigerators. "The waffles in the freezer won't get scared if I yell at them, my kids will. The toilet won't scream at me, 'You're the worst person ever!' if I yell into it; my kids will." The more McCraith practiced controlling where she directed her yells—and the more her kids laughed watching her yell at her clothes—"the more I learned to calm myself down so that the yell didn't come out at all."
2) Track your triggers.
It's hard, uncomfortable work, but McCraith suggests writing down when you yell, or even when you've wanted to yell and didn't, so you can recognize trends. As she points out, when you can recognize triggers, you can gain mastery over them, instead of letting them master you. McCraith notes that writing down the superficial reasons—the kids left crayons out, or they wouldn't stop whining—will help you to dig deeper when looking over the day's events. Then you can ask yourself: Were the kids really acting "bad," or were they merely being kids, and I was perhaps just in a bad mood? Did I have a fight with someone today? Is my to-do list overwhelming me today?
3) Fix the fixable triggers.
Agitated before dinner because you have no clue what you're going to eat, and people still need to be fed day after day? McCraith suggests making a menu for the week every Saturday morning, grocery shopping for said menu, and posting the menu on the fridge. Poof! The stress of what to cook and not having the necessary ingredients is gone, along with a trigger for yelling. I identify with one of McCraith's personal triggers: clutter. I can't stand watching it amass in the family room, the kitchen, the kids' rooms, and it's when I'm most likely to have a sudden outburst. I like McCraith's simple suggestion of taking five minutes each night to put away any clutter she sees. So the next morning when she has four kids asking for milk, juice, and cereal, she starts calmly with a clean counter, instead of an agitating, most-likely-to-trigger-yelling scene.
McCraith has these and many more wonderful insights. With 100 alternatives to yelling in the book, there's really no excuse. She has a summary of her top 10 revelations about yelling, and I'll be keeping this sweet, motivating one in mind:
"Good things happen when I don't yell. Whether it's extra hugs, extra spontaneous 'I love yous,' or extra special conversations, good things happen if I keep it together."
Gail O'Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mom of three. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.