How to Stop the Cycle of Yelling

This mother learns two tricks that help her attempt to learn from her loud mistakes.

My children were about to get into the bath. My husband had to work late, and I just wanted this long month, long week, and long day to be over. With the water running, I felt like I had hit the home stretch.

It was thundering outside and my son kept whimpering at each rumble, a high-pitched mouse whine, a noise that could be awarded “No. 1 Most Annoying in the World!”

“Thunder scares me,” he squeaked, not moving toward the tub.

His innocuous comment shriveled my ego like it had been hit by an ACME Shrink Ray gun; it diminished me until I was smaller than my son. I was insulted. “I’m right here,” I said, letting out a long sigh of exasperation. My tiny pre school-sized ego was offended that he didn’t feel like I could keep him safe in a storm.

I, his mother, was right there as protector, so why was he scared?

At the next crack of thunder, he jumped and whimpered again. My small self attacked and I yelled, “STOP!! I don’t want to hear one more whine. Either go up stairs and cry in your room, or get in the bath!” And I walked out of the room.

I sat on the couch and cried. Great, you are the worst mom on earth, looking a scared little boy in the eyes and yelling at him. That’s really going to help. You don’t teach strength by yelling. Dante puts mothers like you into a special level of hell.

After a few moments, I went back and I knelt beside my son (who still had not gotten in the freaking tub) and I said, “I don’t want you to be scared of the thunder. I want you to feel safe. It is my job to keep you safe. But I shouldn’t have yelled. I’m tired. I’m cranky. And I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?”

And he gave me the biggest naked hug ever and said, “Yes.” 

As a child, I broke apart when yelled at. It shook some part of my soul loose, it exposed my delicate underbelly. I was too sensitive. I was told so many times, “You’re too sensitive,” but no amount of yelling ever made me less so.

I am still too sensitive. I took a scared comment from a little boy, and I was hurt by it. My pride in myself as the protector of my children was insulted and I attacked.

I, the yelled at, had become the yeller. Who knew they were two sides of the same coin? Sensitivity leads to pain, which leads to anger, which leads to yelling. And my yelling causes more pain, starting the cycle over again.

Feeling like a slimy slithering swamp creature, I called on my friend Ginny and my brother for advice. Ginny told me to warn my kids before I got too angry.

This seems so simple, and in my head I would have told you I already did this, but so often I am fixated on trying to control my anger that I never communicate with my children that they’re starting to irritate me. Now instead of trying to tell myself that I am enjoying an hour of robot karate chops to the shins, I warn the kids to start wrapping this game up after 15 minutes rather than karate chopping them on their heads after 30. This one small step has diminished a large percentage of my outbursts.

For more habitual situations that continually cause anger, like rushed morning routines, my brother told me to make steadfast rules with firm consequences. That way the kids know that if they don’t get ready for school on time, they lose specific, predetermined privileges, and I don’t have to yell at them all morning to hurry up.

And of course, , which I hadn’t taken that night of the thunderstorm is Alcoholics Anonymous’ rule of HALT — avoid getting too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. That night I was hungry and tired, which didn’t help.

Plus, instead of yelling at myself for being a bad mom, I am attempting to learn from my loud mistakes.


Heather September 12, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Great advice that I am implementing ASAP! Are you sure you aren't a family therapist? Always full of great, practical advice and SO funny!
Rebecca Broadway September 12, 2012 at 01:34 PM
good stuff. I still cant believe that when my child sleeps I can recall all of his preciousness and delight in all the gifts he brings... while in the heat of our morning rush to get out the door I can grab him on my hip like a football, only wearing a diaper and thank sweet baby jesus that I have a job to go to. I am a yeller.
q0rban September 26, 2012 at 02:04 PM
It's always humbling to lie in bed at night and realize that I was the one all day that was not acting their age.


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