Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
COLUMN– This week’s Q-and-A is for parents. If you are a parent, chances are you can relate to our questioner’s concern – at least occasionally.
Do you have any suggestions on how I can quit yelling at my kids? I do well for a while, but it seems that I keep losing my temper. I don’t usually have anger problems with other people, but my kids drive me crazy sometimes.
This is such an important question, as you and I both know what it’s like to feel as though we’ve violated a special promise we made to protect and carefully guide the little people in our care.
I love how parenting genius Dr. Haim Ginott validated this dilemma in the introduction to his classic book, “Between Parent and Child:” “No parent wakes up in the morning planning to make a child’s life miserable. No mother or father says, ‘Today I’ll yell, nag, and humiliate my child whenever possible.’ On the contrary, in the morning many parents resolve, ‘This is going to be a peaceful day. No yelling, no arguing, and no fighting.’ Yet, in spite of good intentions, the unwanted war breaks out again. Once more we find ourselves saying things we do not mean, in a tone we do not like.”
There are many reasons parents end up losing their tempers with their children. If it were as simple as committing to never doing it again, most of us would never lose our temper. Understanding the precursors to anger and frustration can be helpful as you work to undo the frustrating pattern you’re experiencing.
Another parenting expert, Dr. Wally Goddard, suggests in his book, “Soft-Spoken Parenting,” that “the problem of anger doesn’t actually begin with the misbehavior that seems to cause it. It begins much sooner. Often we remain quite unaware of the background of irritation in our moods that sets the stage for anger. Sometimes our children get the residue of disappointment from work or loneliness in our souls.”
I encourage you to pay attention to patterns in your situations when you find yourself yelling at your children. You might find that you most often lose your temper with them right before dinner, or when it’s bedtime. Perhaps getting them to do chores will ignite tempers on both sides. You might find that you struggle with one particular child, but take it out on the others. Watch carefully so you can understand some of the conditions that may trigger the yelling.
These patterns can provide critical clues to help you create peace in your home. The solutions that arise from these observations will be much easier to implement than trying to force yourself to be calm. Even though preventative measures take more time and energy than simply reacting in the moment, they will be more likely to create the peace you are seeking.
If patterns or environmental factors don’t seem to be contributors to your yelling dilemma, you might consider reviewing some child development books. Some of the things that drive us crazy with our children are often developmentally normal and will pass with time. Learning to have some patience, flexibility, and humor for these developmental phases can sometimes provide the peace you’re seeking in your home.
Some of the resources I have found most helpful include the two books I’ve already cited in this article along with “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen” and “How to Listen so Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Continue to seek out both individual and relational answers to your situation. Hopefully you can discover the solutions to a calmer home environment.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.