How to yell less
With four kids under age 10 in our household, we’re exposed to our fair share of sibling squabbles, as you might imagine.
My children have the typical arguments over toys, food, clothes, seats in the car and chairs at the table. We also experience over-the-top disputes, where I find myself mediating conflicts over a gummy bear. During these petty arguments between my children, more often than I would like to admit, I run out of patience, lose my temper and end up yelling at my kids. And after yelling happens, no one feels good.
Promoting sibling harmony
When I came across the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life, I was intrigued.
In the book, psychologist Laura Markham presents strategies for us as parents to be less reactive and, instead, proactive when regulating our own emotions, connecting with our children and coaching them to develop relationships. After reading the book, I came away with the following understandings that I’m working to put into practice in my daily life:
Easier said than done, right?
When emotions are running high, for both children and adults, our brains can react with a “fight, flight or freeze” response, even if there isn’t an emergency.
Here’s an example from my life: My 4-year-old steals my 6-year-old’s LEGO guy. The 6-year-old gets overwhelmed and frustrated and pinches his younger brother. In seconds, there’s screaming, crying, more pinching and hitting. Then there’s me — my brain (in fight, flight or freeze mode) responding to the screaming and crying as if it really were an emergency.
I’m overwhelmed and frustrated, not making a rational decision about how to respond. I end up raising my voice to stop the conflict.
Markham notes that we as parents can be more peaceful by “returning ourselves to calm.”
We can use mindfulness — noticing and acknowledging when we’re stressed or when our fuse is short — and shift our emotional state using calming strategies.
Simply taking some deep breaths before we intervene with our children’s conflicts can help us have a better chance of responding with patience.
Another way to be proactive in our efforts to help our children develop their emotional intelligence and healthy sibling relationships is to make time for connection. Some research says that if you have a positive relationship with each of your children, they’re much more likely to have positive relationships with each other.
When we spend one-on-one time with our children, it helps us develop closer relationships and trust. In our family, it’s a bit challenging to give four young children individual attention each day. But between my husband and myself, we’re working to make this a priority both through routines and spontaneity.
Don’t control. Coach!
It’s easy to make snap decisions for our children, but this isn’t always the most effective action. In her book, Markham differentiates between coaching versus punishing.
Going back to my LEGO guy conflict between my boys, it would probably stop the fighting if I just sent them both into timeouts, but that would just be a short-term solution.
My boys would not be learning how to navigate conflicts and the same type of conflict would likely surface again with a similar outcome. Ultimately, we can’t control our children’s behavior, but we can work to model and teach effective conflict-resolution strategies.
Markham reminds us that no parent is peaceful 100 percent of the time. There will be times that we’re overwhelmed, distracted or tired — and our emotions will get the best of us. But we can’t go wrong when we open our hearts to learn and grow — and when we give our children extra time, attention and strategies to help them be their best selves as well.
Megan Devine lives in Northeastern Minnesota. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and check out her blog at kidsandeggs.com.