It's back-to-school, as well as the start of kids' soccer, for parents across America. Kids are tired out from the mental work of negotiating new classroom rules, new classmates and new teachers and coaches – each of whom brings his or her own style and routines.
And the parents? We're tired too! The summer was such a nice break from hectic mornings! Now, we're back to the rush of waking early each day to pack lunches and backpacks, rouse sleepy children and get them fed and dressed and (if we're lucky) get their teeth and hair brushed, find homework scattered in odd corners and locate favorite sneakers. And somehow we manage to shower and get ourselves out the door at the same time – only to find the school bus is late (as bus drivers learn new routes) and then, late ourselves, we hit bad traffic as all of America returns from summer fun to the reality of work.
It's stressful. And exhausting. How did we ever become so efficient and smooth last spring? The start of fall feels like a wild animal we'll never tame.
And what happens when we're tired and stressed and the kids are tired and stressed? Are we on our best behavior? Are they on theirs? Ummm, not so much. And in the midst of all this, the Wall Street Journal tells us we can't yell at our kids. Yeah right, you say. Good luck with that one.
But wait a second. Maybe they're right. Here's what the Wall Street Journal reported: A team of psychologists who studied nearly 1,000 two-parent families over the course of a few years found that 13 year-old children whose parents yelled at them or made demeaning remarks were just as likely as kids whose parents had hit them to face an increased risk of depression and aggressive behavior at age 14. And here's the kicker: This was true even for kids who had a warm relationship with their parents when the parents were not yelling. As one of the study's authors explained, when we yell at kids or demean them (e.g., calling them "lazy" or "stupid"), it hurts the kids' self-esteem, making them feel incapable and worthless.
Well, that sure wasn't our goal, was it? We want to produce children who feel self-assured and ready to share their talents with the world. We sure as heck don't want to look back and realize we produced a kid who is insecure or beats himself up for his lackings.
Moreover, yelling just isn't all that pleasant – for the kids or for us. We don't like yelling. And they sure don't like being shouted at. In addition, yelling at or berating our kids also reduces our own authority and power with the kids, one psychologist claims, because kids feel more responsible for their behavior when they're being corrected by someone they respect and admire.
This past Saturday, a dad coaching the opposing soccer team spent the entire game yelling at the kids in a tone that implied the kids were idiots for their mistakes on the soccer field. It was hard for many of the parents to listen to. It made me listen more closely to my son's soccer coach, and I realized that every comment he made was encouraging in tone, rather than discouraging. "Don't worry," "Nice try," "Aw, tough luck." And mostly, "You can do it" and "Next time!"
For the record, as may already be clear, I am far from a perfect parent. Just ask my kids. But, how about we give it a try? I will if you will.
Let's try an experiment – one month of no raised voices and no berating the kids. We'll try our best to maintain that "dispassionate" factual voice the experts recommend. Try picturing yourself saying, without raising your voice: "Just a heads up, you'll miss your bus if you don't go right now and I have a 9 a.m. meeting downtown. If you make me late for my meeting, no playdates for two weeks." Or: "This is the fifth time I've asked you to brush your teeth. Unfortunately, that means you have lost your screen time this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow you'll cooperate more quickly so I don't have to repeat myself." Some psychologists recommend adding words of empathy, such as: "I know you're tired and you'd rather skip it, but, guess what, nobody actually likes brushing teeth. It's just something we have to do."
C'mon, let's give it a shot. Send me your best and worst moments, plus your tips and tidbits on how it goes, and we'll all check back with each other in a month. Post your updates here in the comments and tweet them to me @carrie_wofford using the hashtag #TryingNotToYell. And, remember, if you slip up, you can make it a teachable moment by acknowledging you made a mistake and modeling how to apologize. Or, as a wise friend noted, you can model for your kids how to have a sense of humor about how stressful life can be. Good luck to us all.