Let’s face it, these last few days have been a stressful roller coaster ride as we watch the economy tumble and job market become scarcer. My email box has been flooded with notes from concerned moms and dads asking for tips on how to stop yelling at their kids. Stress builds quickly and turns into anger. Yelling is contagious, so if you, or another family member, have been screaming, your child may have caught the “screaming bug.” It’s time for a temper makeover. Reducing temper tantrums will take commitment, but it is doable. Helping your kids learn to handle stress in a healthy way is critical any time, but especially now.
Here are seven steps to reduce the yelling, control those tempers and become a calmer and healthier family that I shared on the TODAY show. I hope they help you and your family.
Step 1: Take the Calmer Family Challenge
Begin by gathering the troops and convey your new “no yelling” expectations to all family members.
Explain that while it’s okay to be angry, they may not use a yelling voice to express their feelings. If a family member needs to take a time-out to calm down, he may do so.
Everyone must know you mean business, so take a vow and sign a pledge as a family, posting it on the fridge as a concrete reminder.
Step 2: Learn your stress warning signs
Kids mirror our emotions. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. The best way to stop yelling is to identify your own stress signs that warn you that you’re getting angry.
Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs he or she may have that signal a start to getting upset. For example: “Looks like you’re tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?” (Some signs of an oncoming temper tantrum are flushed checks; a pounding heart; a louder voice; clenched hands; grinding teeth; and rapid breathing.)
Hint: anger escalates very quickly. If a child waits until he is in “meltdown” mode to get in control, it’s too late. Stress comes before anger. Learn each family member’s signs that their anger temperature is rising. Stay cool. Try to give them a sign (sometimes a nonverbal sign is better like an umpire “time out” signal because it reduces verbal battles and yelling) that they need to take a time out.
Step 3: Identify temper triggers
Figure out when and where arguments are most likely to transpire and what they’re over. Yelling matches typically happen at the same time (such as when you get home from work, at homework time or during morning mania) so recognize that and help your family identify the temper triggers.
Step 4: Teach Anger-Management Skills
If you want your family to stop yelling, then you must teach them a replacement behavior for those angry outbursts. Find one strategy and practice it as a family over and over until you can do it the second you feel those anger signs start to kick in. Here are some examples:
~ Use self-talk and establish an affirmation—a simple, positive message you say to yourself in stressful situations. For example: “Stop and calm down,” “Stay in control,” “I can handle this.”
~ Use “dragon breaths”: Show your child how to inhale slowly to a count of five; pause for two counts, and then slowly breathe out the same way, again counting to five. Repeating the sequence creates maximum relaxation. (You might say, “Blow out your anger like those big puffs a dragon takes.”)
~ Teach the “1 + 3 + 10.” formula: As soon as you feel your body sending you a warning about losing control, do three things: First, stop and say, ‘Be calm.’ Then take three deep, slow breaths from your tummy. Finally, count slowly to 10 inside your head.
~ Teach “I” messages: Instead of starting messages with “you,” begin with “I.” It stays focused on the person’s troublesome behavior without putting the person down, so the chances for emotional outbursts (and yelling) are lessened.
~ Label emotions: One way to reduce those screaming matches is for family members to acknowledge their feelings to one another. “Watch out. I’m really getting upset.” “I’m so angry I could burst.” “I feel so frustrated that you’re not listening to me.” Labeling the feeling helps both the yeller and the receiver calm down and get a bit of perspective.
~ Give permission to “take 10”: Let everyone in your family know it’s okay to say, “I need a time out.” Then take a few deep breaths or walk away until you can get back in control.
Step 5: Refuse to engage a screamer
Create a warning signal—such as pulling your ear, holding up a red card or a “time out” hand gesture—agreed upon by all family members—to signify an inappropriate tone of voice. Use it the second anyone’s voice goes one scale above a “normal range,” showing he needs to lower his voice immediately or you won’t listen. Explain: “That’s yelling. I only listen when you use a calm voice.”
Step 6: Reduce stress as a family
Find out what it is that’s adding to your family’s stress. While you may not be able to get dad’s job back or gain back your retirement fund, you can do things to reduce the stress in your home. Here are a few:
~ Keep to routines. Sticking to a routine helps reduce stress because it boosts predictability and security. While everything else around your children may seem to be crumbling, those bedtime rituals, nighttime stories, hot baths, hugs and back rubs remain the same.
~ Cut down. Removing one thing from your schedule can reduce those yelling matches because you’re cutting stress.
~ Find ways to relax. Find no-cost ways to reduce stress as a family. Meditate with your kids, do yoga with your daughter, ride bikes with your preschooler or listen to relaxation tapes with your kids.
~ Rebuild relationships. Are your kids yelling because they’re not being heard? Or has yelling been going on so long that relationships are now jarred? Find one-on-one time with those family members who need you most.
Step 7: Stick to your Calmer Family Challenge for at least 21 days
Change is hard work. Be consistent. Get a monthly calendar and mark off each day you stick to the plan. You should see a gradual reduction in the yelling. If yelling continues despite your best efforts, then there is a deeper, underlying problem. It’s time to seek the help of a mental-health professional for your child or for you and your family.