Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lessons from a Week Without Yelling

Day 8

Defying my own meager expectations I have managed to go an entire week without yelling, though I've come close nearly every day. In the noble spirit of science - or to distract myself from the truth of how I’m barley pulling this off - I have documented the circumstances for future analysis.

Scenario #1
I am reading an article on my phone. Perhaps it is about how systematic racism in mortgage lending created the urban ghetto. Perhaps it is a slideshow featuring cats. Lucas whines “MaaaaaaaMAAAAA! You’re not listening to me! I want a cookie noooooooow!”

Reaction: I start to snap at him in anger, but catch myself. I remind him that interrupters don’t get a response. He might try getting my attention with a polite “excuse me” before making an outrageous and doomed request.

Lesson: Don’t get distracted by devices in the middle of the kitchen. Take time away to catch up on emails or sociopolitical topics or cat memes.

Scenario #2
The kids are fighting about the need for universal healthcare or a toy or something. Adele is wailing and Lucas is screaming. My calm words of wisdom go unheard.

Reaction: I raise my voice in an attempt to overcome the din. My blood boils as my voice gets louder and louder with no effect. I avoid true yelling, but get that scary-calm booming tone and say “BOTH OF YOU. STOP. TALKING. NOW!”

Lesson: I need to find a way to diffuse out-of-control kid tantrums. They will keep happening, and without a noise-cancelling plan I will slip back right into my old yelling ways.

Scenario #3
It is 9:30pm on a school night. They kids have been in bed over a hour but are still up. And loud. We’ve gone in several times to quiet them with no success.

Reaction: I speak to them in a very harsh tone. It’s not yelling, but it’s pretty close. The words are threatening and mean, and I feel like crap afterward.

Lesson: When I can’t think of a way to calmly address the kids’ behavior, I get frustrated very quickly. I can’t back down and a battle of wills begins. That has to change if I’m going to ever put yelling behind me.
~ ~ ~

So it really comes down to figuring out in advance how to to handle recurring situations. I also need a way to back down from tense situations without feeling I am giving up. It helps to view these fights as just practice. The real work happens in the downtime.

We also had one wonderful example of that utilitarian shouting I defined in my earlier post. I glanced outside to see Lucas thrust a flaming marshmallow in his friend’s face, then chase her around with it as she fled in terror. A perfect occasion when shouting was called for. He stopped at once, though upon realizing the marshmallow was being taken away pitched a gigantic fit. It took a fair amount of patience not to go OFF on him for being less concerned about maiming his friend than losing his third jumbo marshmallow of the evening. Instead I sent him to his room until we both calmed down, and we talked about why what he did was a really bad idea. Yeah, it was a good week.

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