the mothering arts

Keeping it simple…

The last few months have been a very intentional quieting both within myself, and within my home, as much as I am able.

But y’all…I’m a yeller. I’ve been yelling since the bigs were little. Over time, plus the ambient noise of six children, I’ve become a really LOUD yeller. It’s not pretty. I’ve never liked that about myself or my parenting, but I’ve never really understood how to change it.

I’ve received back in spades: all my kids yell. Loudly. They all speak in short clipped tones that verge on disrespectful. I was all tied up in knots a few months back, just taken a back as to where this had all come from. Picture me sitting in the school room all worried, fingering a notebook I was writing in. Quiet. And then, some kid did something, and I immediately yelled: “STOP THAT RIGHT NOW YOUCOMEHERE AND LEAVEYOURSISTERALONENOWORYOULLBEINTIMEOUT”. (Which immediately elicited a squeal from said party being yelled at- loudly.) Back to staring off into space, thinking, worried, about this yelling problem in our house….a few minutes later, same kid, same problem. Never leaving my chair, “STOPTHATRIGHTNOW….” (and same response)(and I failed to put said party in time out like I said I would last time.) A few minutes after that, I’m holding Elliana, and two boys get in a fight. The one yells at the other “STOPTHATRIGHTNOWYOU…” (meaning the other boy begins to squeal and fight). I look up, shocked….and then something clicks. Gee, I wonder where they are getting it from? They speak and act the way I speak and act towards them. Boy, do we have a problem.

Thing was, I didn’t have a solution. How do you change the yelling? I realized that the way I spoke and yelled was very disrespectful in tone. Not that I had no respect for my children (because I do), but my tone said the exact opposite. They, in turn, were speaking and acting towards me disrespectfully, which created this endless cycle of anger, frustration, disobedience and punishment.

For some reason, most of the parenting books I have read over the years talk about the ‘big’ issues without giving the nitty gritty on the ‘how this looks in every day life’. I’ve always had the heart knowledge of where I want my children to go in life, but not had much head knowledge in how to live that out and model it to my kids.

I was so thankful when I ran across the blog Parenting Passageways a few weeks ago. Carrie manages to distill a tremendous amount of information from a variety of sources into kind, short, understandable, bite-size posts that really break things down and give needed tools. So much of this stuff I learned years ago in college (developmental age, etc) and had remembered my first few years of parenting when the bigs were littles, but somehow, I had completely forgotten so much good stuff.  There is so much to unpack, but today I wanted to touch on directing your child because that’s where I began to realize why I yell all the time. See this post by Carrie for a much more in-depth background of this.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

1) I talk too much.

Call this the curse of the ENFP who happens to be an English and History Double Major. I use my words. Absolute waterfalls of ’em. My kids are not adults. I use five dollar words where penny words suffice. Short and sweet! K.I.S.S.!

2) Kids are not adults.

This seems like such a duh statement. But how often have I looked at a kid and said some variation on this theme:



wouldhehaveagoodjobthatsupportsus? (Finally pausing for a breath).

(Commence absolute glazed over eyes which then make me angry.) Even a nine year old can’t unpack all the emotional issues presented, for one, and two, why does it matter anyways? That’s not modeling the habit of attention to him.

3) Show, don’t tell. (Or yell.)

One of the things Carrie really brings out is that it’s not helping anyone to stand there and repeatedly tell a child to put their jacket on. Giving the instruction once is one thing- but repeatedly (over a twenty minute span) telling a child (and then, usually, yelling) “get your jacket on!” just spazzes everyone out. And who knows the reasons why the child might not be putting the jacket on? Maybe the child doesn’t have the dexterity to both hold the jacket and slide an arm through. It is much better to look at my preschooler Josiah and tell him that “It’s time to put our jacket on”. If he struggles, stop what I’m doing (<—key point!) and go over to him and help and show him how to put his jacket on. “Can you make your arm slither like a snake through this hole and come out the other side?” NOT stand there frustrated at his failure to listen and obey, which is unfortunately the default for me more often than not.

4) Turn the negatives into positives by showing and modeling.

In the case of the math lesson, a much better approach would be to work through the corrections together, maybe on the board (so that he’s using his whole body) and ask him to discover, think about the problem. When he solves the problem correctly and finds the details he missed, congratulate him- “When you paid attention, you got these problems correct! It’s always easier when you slow down and look closely! Great job!”

This has to be the single-most difficult aspect for me. My husband seems to do this reversal much better than I. One of my older children really struggles with the habit of attention and it It is easy to get angry with him because he fails to do it over and over—but on the flip side—I’ve suddenly realized I’ve never actually modeled to him the habit of attention either. I haven’t done anything to build that emotional/mental muscle! It’s a two-fold process, particularly with older children. First is the modeling, and then, providing opportunities to practice that skill.

5) Kids under the age of seven live in their bodies, not their brains.

This is one of those things that just about any mom could tell you by observation. Kids under seven are going, doing, being- it’s often what makes potty training difficult- because they are busy doing/being/going somewhere else and they don’t want to stop. They don’t reason through why they are choosing to jump on the couch- they are just enjoying the moment and the sensation of bouncing!  But somehow, when it comes to disciplining (and discipling) my younger children, I often forget this very fact.  I can’t find Carrie’s specific post about it, but she talks about how (from the Waldorf perspective) singing and doing a thing through a transition is natural for a child, but telling a child to do something (or asking them why they are doing something wrong) makes a kid move from their body to their brain- which is where the breakdown usually happens. (Of course, the reasoning comes a bit later and you can have those sorts of discussions, but at the younger age it is somewhat self-defeating). If a child is jumping on the couch, it might be a better approach to tell them to hop off the couch softly like a little mouse and come over here and play with this neat car, versus yelling “get off the couch!” and getting frustrated when they don’t respond and continue bouncing…that sort of thing. (She also mentions that distraction is key at this age- in a good way- distracting them out of bad behavior into something good…) It’s something to really think about- I’ve been experimenting with this approach and I’m seeing some good fruit from it. Heavens knows I’ve yelled the rules at them a thousand times, but I need to help and show them how to follow those rules in a gentle, healthy way.

If you’ve stuck through this whole post (sorry, word girl here)…what do you think about all this? What have you noticed in your own home life? Are you a yeller like me? Or a reformed-yeller? What works for you?


  • Lisa

    What works for me you may not want to hear. I stopped yelling when I sent them to school after 5 years of homeschool. I am a better mom when I have some space, much better mom. I am also a better mom as they have gotten older. They are 14, 13 and 9 and I swear this is the best time as a mom. They have some self-control, some discipline and there is very rarely a reason to yell. Is that because I spent so much time early on training? Probably. My point is not that you should send them to school, it’s to have hope that things can get better and they will in time. We yell and get mad because something they do is in the way of what we want. Your points are very good on your blog. Have plenty of grace for yourself. Parenting/mothering has got to be the hardest job ever. Blessings for trying to do better!

  • Sandi

    Can I just say…I love you and your heart. Your so honest and I appreciate it. Boy, do I know what you are talking about! I have one who struggles with attention, being hyper, impulse control……the repetition wears me out. I yell sometimes. I am getting better because like you point out, I have been learning it just doesn’t work. Modeling and practicing goes so much further.
    I also find routine (self discipline for me) helps calm the storms. That and keeping them more busy then free time. And by that I mean having planned time frames for them. You have more and younger ones then I do but each one knowing where and who he is with during the morning focused hours makes the free play in the afternoon go much smoother.

    Your doing a great job with your kids. You do know that right? Your the perfect mom for each one of them. :o) Though I am not in your daily life….your heart for them is so evident.

Tell me what's on your heart~

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