by JAMES WILKINSON
Do you yell at your kids?
Not just when they are in danger (I think that might be quite a normal reaction) but every time that they annoy you or disobey you? From what I can see a lot of people use verbal aggression as a parenting technique. I know that I have.
I caught myself raising my voice the other day and suddenly it struck me how aggressive it sounded. I tried to put myself in my daughter’s shoes.
Here is a grown man (incredibly well built and powerful I might add!) standing over a little girl and raising his voice and altering his tone to make it sound more threatening.
It started with a firm tone that gradually escalated into verbal aggression when the instructions were not followed. I then stopped myself, took a couple of deep breaths and did the only thing that I could possibly do in the circumstances. I apologised.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you honey. I didn’t mean to frighten you. It just makes me so very cranky when you won’t do what you are asked.”
And that is it isn’t it? We get angry and lose control of the situation when our kids will not do what they are told. We raise our voices and try to verbally force them to obey our instructions.
When our expectations are not met the instructions become firmer and more aggressive in line with our diminishing patience. Kids certainly need our direction and guidance although I’m not quite sure what screaming at them is trying to achieve?
Is raising one’s voice the only way we know how to demonstrate that we are serious?
Is verbal aggression (like physical violence) used to induce a fear response in order to gain compliance? Are we trying to scare our kids into doing what they are told? If we are, is that really much different to the threat of physical violence?
A firm and serious tone can quickly develop into aggressive yelling without realizing it and I felt horrified when I thought that I may have elicited a fear response in my daughter from raising my voice at her.
From then on I tried to control my responses and not let her get the better of me in that way. Fancy a small child having psychological control over a grown up like that?
On many occasions I have found myself getting extremely frustrated by my daughter’s antics and the only way I know how to diffuse these situations is to totally change my response.
Maybe the problem is not in her understanding but in my teaching.
Instead of getting angry at her, I smile at her. I’ll tell her that she is very funny and that I like her jokes but now it is time to be serious for a minute otherwise she will be subjected to a thousand tickles from which she will never survive.
If that doesn’t work then I’ll try to change the subject completely and redirect, talking about the upcoming day or a recent event while we both perform the required task that was causing the trouble in the first place.
When all else fails we start to remove her privileges. The threat of losing a favourite toy or activity for a while is usually enough motivation to get her moving. I prefer to take away the small things first and save the big ticket items like TV shows for occasions that are not negotiable (like medicine administrations).
We tell our child in a clear and normal voice what the consequences of her actions will be and if she does not comply then we always follow through. I say ‘always’ but we have only had to do it a couple of times and now she knows that we are serious.
We also try not to be too rigid with her as she is only three (almost) and prone to misjudgements.
She will always leave the compliance to the very last second and on those occasions she has missed the final countdown she will then panic at the thought of her incarcerated toy and desperately try to rectify things.
The most important thing to us is that she complies and while I don’t want to be seen as a pushover we don’t actually want to punish her so we cut her a little bit of slack. Better late than never.
The other interesting point to note is that kids become desensitized to verbal violence after a while and parents have to yell louder and with more ferocity in an attempt to get the message across (just like physical violence).
Personally I find that trying to force my child to do anything by shouting at her doesn’t ever work. I much prefer to not have the battle in the first place by using non-violent, creative techniques and by not letting my anger and frustration show in my voice or my actions.
Additionally, I am not comfortable with teaching my child right from wrong through fear of violence or pain and verbal aggression is just like physical violence in that it is designed to create fear.
I do not want my child to be afraid of me…
James Wilkinson is a stay home dad, the husband of a corporate wife, a writer and a musician.You can find his blog here.