Moms. Dads. Caregivers.
We all yell. And if we are at all aware of emotion and its power, we all have felt guilty about it. Monthly. Weekly. Me: daily.
I’ve had to work hard through this. I used to think that any sort of negative emotion towards my children should end me in prison. A whole day was soured in exchange for a moment of ill-temper.
But I’ve learned that yelling isn’t necessarily a sign of unhealth. And yelling won’t necessarily damage your kids.
We know that both of these things definitely can be true, and have seen and felt their unhealthy consequences.
If you’re reading this, you probably want the best for your child. You probably don’t want to damage their attachment, which will ruin all of their future relationships. You want them to grow up in the healthiest environment possible. You want them to fully believe in their worth.
But still we find ourselves yelling.
Sometimes, truly, a parent needs to raise their voice just to break into the child’s world and be heard. We forget about their own passions, self-efficacy and free-will as an individual.
Sometimes, truly, they are loose-your-mind frustrating. We forget that their little brains are processing all the things and learning and growing and figuring out the world and are sometimes just wholly exhausted from it all. All we see is that they can’t follow direction so well.
Sometimes, truly, a parent or caregiver just has emotion of their own unrelated to the child and has a lower tolerance of riff-raff. We forget that we are imperfectly human, not immune to mood.
This is life.
A child exposed to too much yelling becomes unhearing. The yelling becomes a low drone, a Charlie Brown background noise.
No parent wants to be a Charlie Brown adult. We want our words to have meaning to our kids.
So how much yelling is too much?
Here we have to consider the child. As a parent, no matter what we are trying to judge, our responsibility is to consider the child.
Our job is to tend, to nurture. To ensure that he or she grows in physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual stature. When considering the potential ramifications your behavior has on your child, it can be terrifying. So in all you do, even on your bad days, consider the child.
What a child sees when an adult is yelling at them is a towering giant. Big crazy eye, veins popping, cigar hanging out of their mouth. At least that’s what it can feel like.
In that moment when you are yelling, slow yourself down and try to see it like a movie.
Observe your child. What does his or her eyes look like? Is their body staying in the same spot? Are they overtly trying to not feel your emotion?
If your child looks afraid or is backing away, you’ve crossed the line.
Then observe yourself. Are you saying all the things that come to mind? Is it an emotion you can easily pop out of, the next sentence being a whisper if that would be required? Have you lost care for your child? Has your point of view become more important than hearing theirs? Has what they have done (or not done) become of more value than their heart?
If you’re no longer concerned about protecting them, you’ve crossed the line.
Even in your anger the job of the parent is to protect their children. Teach them by modeling how to handle their exasperation and frustration and anger – all very real emotions – without hurting another person.
The important thing that is if the line has been crossed and your child feels afraid and unprotected, it needs to be unashamedly owned. Apologies cannot be expected from children if they are never modeled from their caregiver. And a caregiver needs to give one if they have begun to scrape away value from their child.
And that is the key. If you have caused them to begin to question their worth, it needs to be rebuilt. Because imparting the vision of their own value to the child is the responsibility of the parent.
A child cannot succeed apart from vigorous intervention if they doubt their own worth. And anger has the profound ability to quickly and effectively strip their perceived worth.
No parent is perfect. Thus, you will (like me, probably frequently) need to apologize to your child.
But in that is such a beautiful opportunity. You can talk about emotion. You can demonstrate that you aren’t perfect. You can show them that one’s heart has more value than a single situation. You can teach them that one mistake doesn’t make them a failure. You can teach them that they matter enough to spend the time teaching them all these things.
Apologizing to your child allows you to be more human together. The most solid bridge can be made over the passing negative emotion by looking into your child’s eyes and telling them how valuable they are. Speaking Kid-ese if you have to, finding their hiding spot, holding them until they relax. Right through their eyes and into their heart so that they can actually feel it.
A child holds intrinsic value and unprecedented potential. Hold on to their worth, even in your anger, even when getting them to school feels like herding a pack of donkeys, even on the worst of all your days.
Even in your anger, consider the child and hold on to their value. Then any sort of yelling won’t ever be too much. For the rest, there is forgiveness.