Practice self control in front of your children
By Kathryn Rea Smith, PH.D.
Children are known to misbehave. They whine, complain and throw tantrums. They make messes. They talk back and refuse to listen. They use their outside voice inside the house. Sometimes they hit, kick, and bite. In short, children can be quite provocative. Some adults can stay calm in the face of such provocations but others lose their cool and start to yell. In this article, I will make the case for staying calm and present a recipe for change for parents who wish to stop yelling at their children.
Why is staying calm so important when doling out discipline? The main argument for staying calm is that it’s good role modeling for the child. One of the primary responsibilities of parenting is to promote the development of impulse control in the child. We want to raise children who know how to remain calm even in the face of provocation. What better way to do this than by staying calm when they do things to provoke us? Consider the alternative: Jimmy feels provoked when his brother breaks his Lego creation. Jimmy starts yelling at his brother. Brother starts to cry. Mom, in response to all the fuss, storms into the room and screams “Aargh, Jimmy, stop yelling at your brother.” Mom wants Jimmy to learn to control himself even when he’s been provoked and is upset, but she’s not demonstrating self-control in the face of Jimmy’s provocation of her. There is a serious double standard at play. The message is you must control yourself and not yell, scream or storm around—unless you happen to be the parent!
“…as they watch you make progress in the area of self-control, they will feel hopeful about their own ability to improve self-control. ”
Perhaps you are a parent who tends to “raise your voice” when disciplining the children and you want to stop this habit. What can you do? First, acknowledge your awareness that you are yelling too much and inform the children of your intent to stop. Then, the next time you yell or scream at the children, as soon as possible, apologize for losing it. You could say “I’m not happy with the way I handled the situation. I did not want to yell at you and I’m sorry I lost control. Now, let’s talk (calmly) about the things you were doing when I yelled at you.” You must apologize for your loss of control, but it’s also important to address any inappropriate behaviors on the children’s part that provoked you.
Let’s face it—having to apologize repeatedly for the same offense quickly gets old! After a few of these apologies, you are likely to start “catching” yourself in the middle of yelling, at which point you can get yourself back on track. Again, honest communication is vital. Tell the child, “Hold on—I don’t want to yell at you. Let me get myself under control so we can talk about this” or, “Oops, I forgot to use my inside voice just now.” This is role modeling at its best and most effective. Children will notice and appreciate your efforts to control your impulses when angry or provoked. They know how hard this is to do, and seeing you struggle for and re-gain control will make them feel better about themselves and their own struggles. Also, as they watch you make progress in the area of self-control, they will feel hopeful about their own ability to improve self-control.
When parents are engaged in a process to learn self-control in the face of being provoked by the children, there can be a spirit of camaraderie and empathy in the household. After all, everyone is working towards the same goal. Dad can honestly say, “Learning to control yourself when you are mad at someone is really hard, isn’t it? But it’s definitely worthwhile. I’m glad we are working on this together.”