This guest post was written by Dr. Ali Hill, a business leader, Sociologist, and mom. She works with individuals and groups to harness the power of authenticity and empathy to establish successful businesses, thriving communities, and happy families. For more ideas on how to build meaningful connections with the people who matter most, log onto www.dralihill.com.
As a parent, you are the leader of your family. Whether it seems like it or not, you are powerful. And as Uncle Ben famously said to Peter Parker in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
When it comes to the responsibility of setting the tone for how your family members interact, the most important behaviors for you to model are to talk with your kids rather than at them, and to resist the temptation to yell, even when you have reached your personal patience limit.
I know that this is easier said than done. When somebody is screaming and losing it in front of you, it takes real willpower not to follow suit. However, this is exactly when you need to respond rather than react.
Here’s a way to stay in control:
When you feel yourself getting sucked into the screaming vortex, look down at your hand – either one is fine. Use the fingers on your hand as a reminder to take five deep breaths, for at least five seconds. This pause enables you to focus and regroup. It also does some other important things. First, the deep breathing slows your heart rate and keeps your adrenaline levels from climbing. Second, it gives you at least five seconds to think about how you want to respond thoughtfully, rather than react without thinking.
There is something very powerful in this five second pause. Not only does it keep you from getting into an argument that you didn’t want to be part of in the first place, it also gives you a chance to rationally work through the issue. By not raising your voice, you have avoided the fight or flight response, and all the other counter-productive ways the mind and body respond to the stress of yelling.
Now, what happens if you succeed in staying calm, but your kids don’t stop yelling? At this point, I would recommend that you look them in the eye and say something like, “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way. Either take a few breaths and do whatever you need to do to calm down – I’ll wait – or I’m walking away from this interaction.”
This shows them that you are paying attention and taking them seriously. However, it also makes it clear that if they won’t stop, you are done with the conversation. If you can safely leave them alone, you should. And remember, as the leader in your family, you take the power with you when you walk away.
While this may be hard to do, it is important to remember that screaming matches with your kids have real, long-term consequences, both in terms of your relationship with them and their relationships with others.
When it comes to your relationship, if all of you are always screaming, everyone is going to be a lot less likely to open up, trust, be vulnerable, or engage in conversations that are difficult. Same goes for relationships outside your family. Once your kids come to associate close relationships and/or hard conversations with the trauma of yelling, they might avoid either (or both). If they hesitate to connect and interact in order to prevent yelling, they will miss out on friendships, relationships, jobs, and many other important opportunities.
As their parent, I know you want to set them up for success. Make today the first day you choose to stop yelling, and start developing stronger relationships with your kids.
To learn more about how to stop screaming, start talking, and connect with your kids, check out Dr. Hill’s super helpful video.