Q: I get very frustrated with my children when they don't obey me, even down to the simplest of instructions, and end up yelling. How does a parent stop yelling at her kids?
A: Thank you, thank you, thank you for asking this very pertinent and timely question. Yelling is commonplace among today's parents (as opposed to 60-plus years ago); therefore, almost everyone reading this column will benefit from it. And yes, that is a guarantee. If the reader does not benefit, then he or she only engaged in rote decoding of alphabetic symbols.
Parental yelling occurs for two reasons, depending on the type of parent in question. As regards to the sort of parents who read my column on a regular basis – parents, that is, who love their children unconditionally and want to be the best parents they can be – yelling occurs because they tolerate misbehavior. Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that. They are mean. A parent who qualifies as mean does not yell. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say cool, calm, and collected.
From a child's perspective, a parent (or teacher) is mean if the child discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what he says. No means no. It does not mean maybe. "I (parent) want you (child) to do thus and so" means the child is going to do it. It does not mean anything short of that.
Mean parents do not negotiate, backtrack, equivocate or blow smoke. They do not threaten or give second chances. For example, if a mean parent tells a child to go straighten and clean his room and the child pushes back or fails to perform the task properly, mean parent might go clean the child's room himself and then ground the child to the home for two weeks with early bedtime. Mean parent in this example gave the instruction once. The child had one chance to either obey or disobey. If the latter, mean parent did not repeat, complain, berate, bluster, give a second chance, threaten, jump up and down while flapping his arms, or yell. He was calmly intolerant; therefore, he did not yell.
I have polled hundreds of audiences on the issue of yelling and discovered that the percentage of parents who frequently yell has at least tripled in the last fifty years or so. The percentage of children who do habitually disobey at first instruction has risen accordingly. During that time, the nature of the child has not changed. The increase in yelling is due to parents of two generations ago being generally more intolerant of misbehavior.
Their intolerance expressed itself in several ways, including that they did not repeat themselves, did not give reasons and explanations, replied with "because I said so" if asked for a reason or explanation, and used consequences that instilled permanent memories. The payoff to children who grew up with these intolerant, mean parents was rarely if ever being yelled at.
Sorry to disappoint, but if you yell at your children, you do so not because they are strong-willed or argumentative or can't take no for an answer. You yell at your children because you are weak-willed, accept invitations to argue, and can't say no and mean it. Stop trying to change your children. Change you.
(Visit family psychologist John Rosemond's website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.)