Rabbi Ross. First of all, my husband and I greatly enjoy your articles. We are writing in because of something that we are confused about in regards to our children. The only time they listen to us quickly, is when we raise our voice. When my husband yells, it’s terrifying even to me, and he says that when I scream it’s ear piercingly loud. I don’t feel that we have a choice; they just don’t listen when we speak calmly. We would love your input. Shayna & Dovy - Brooklyn
It’s apparent that you understand that screaming or yelling is not conducive to a healthy home. When parents shout at their children, they are in essence telling them, “I’m out of control.” As your children grow older, they, too, will use shouting as a method of dealing with stressful situations. Obviously, this is not a message you want to impart to them.
Off the bat, I would tell you both to stop. Don’t scream. It’s really not worth it. If you have the urge to make a point by shouting, remove yourself from the situation. Believe it or not, your kids will be more nervous if you abruptly walk out of the room instead of reacting.
The real question is, why are your children not listening when you talk? Here’s an email from a different mother I received on the same subject:
I told her, “Please hang up your coat,” and she didn’t even look at me. I said it again louder, and she gave me a blank stare and said, “What?” So I screamed, “HANG UP YOUR COAT! HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU NEED TO BE TOLD EVERY DAY?! I’M NOT YOUR PERSONAL SLAVE!”
You need to read the last few lines a few times. Was there a better way the mother could have reacted? The problem was that her daughter ignored her the first time. That’s unacceptable. By repeating her request the second time, she had already lost her credibility. Is it okay for a child to ignore a parent? Of course not! That is precisely the issue that requires addressing!
In this above case, the problem was the mother being ignored. It could also be that your kids leave their toys all over the place and don’t take the initiative to help out, and you are super frustrated. If this is the situation, the issue would be that your kids are not cleaning up, and once again the yelling is an indication of a larger problem.
Whatever the reason, yelling is a horrible idea. Here are some of the negative impacts it can have:
1) It teaches your kids that screaming is acceptable.
2) You are allowing your children see you lose control.
3) You are unintentionally approving of the fact that they don’t respond to a normal voice.
4) Your children will eventually yell back – which will only exacerbate the situations.
Obviously, the best way to resolve this issue is to find the triggers. Realistically speaking, that’s easier said than done. In most cases there are many triggers, and not very many people can psychoanalyze themselves while dealing with children. Additionally, certain triggers can’t be helped. No matter how amazing of a parent you are, something will eventually set you off.
Let’s play a game. Here’s a common scenario, and some choices in how to deal with it. Please choose one.
One of your sons left the toilet seat down while going to the bathroom, which you cleaned 10 minutes earlier. Apparently, his aim leaves much to be desired, as the floor (and the seat) are wet. Upon viewing the carnage, what would you do?
A) Call in all of your sons and show them the floor. Then, in a voice that could shatter glass, scream, “Which one of you did this after I slaved cleaning it up?! Why would you leave the seat up?!” Were you dancing while you were going to the bathroom…how else is this mess even possible?!”
B) Call your sons down and say in a calm voice, “This is what I found when I came into the bathroom. Surely you understand why this is unacceptable. I’m extremely disappointed. I’m not going to ask who did this, rather I’m going to let the culprit clean up the mess and we’ll hope this doesn’t happen again.
C) Clean it up yourself, while thanking Hashem that you are fortunate to have children.
Going with “C” might seem like a good idea, but your future daughters-in-law might not appreciate it. I would go with “B”. Here’s what you would succeed in doing.
1) You would have a conversation about the mess, not about yourself.
2) You earned your children’s respect.
3) You ended the conversation without empty threats.
Let’s try to keep this simple. You should not yell. By the way, this applies to moms and dads. Raising your voice isn’t what we’re talking about, it’s screaming out of control. Here are this week’s tips.
1) Prepare yourself before, during and after each situation. Remind yourself – even verbally, if necessary - that you are in control and you don’t need to yell.
2) Remember that your child is making his or her decisions. Your responsibility is to deal with these decisions in a mature way.
3) If you think you’re about to lose it, remove yourself from the situation.
4) If you are having a bad day, don’t vent on your children; that’s what your spouse is for (kidding)!
5) If your spouse is out of control, don’t contradict him (or her). It’ll only get him more upset. Besides, most times when parents lose control, they know they’re wrong. Telling them to calm down isn’t a smart move.
I will not be sending an email next week (Chol HaMoed). Wishing you all a wonderful Yom Tov.
Remember, the Yomim Tovim give you an opportunity to bond with your wonderful children, but they also allow you to appreciate how important school and structure are. Enjoy!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.