I want to tell you a little story.
I’m with my kids in their bedroom, trying to get them to tidy up and put on pjs before bed. The room is a mess and I’m already a little annoyed when I see the state of the room, but I’m ok. I assign each child a specific job and I start grabbing dirty clothes. My daughter starts picking up. My son starts playing. I ask him to stop playing and pick up. My daughter finishes what she was picking up and now I ask her to get into her pjs and go brush her teeth. She drops her dirty clothes where she is standing, pulls out five things from her pj drawer, drops them on the ground, puts on her chosen pjs and goes downstairs to brush her teeth. I call her back to put her things in her drawer. I remind my son not to play, just pick up. I ask my daughter to put her dirty clothes in the hamper. She starts screaming at her brother. I sort out the scuffle. Remind him to pick up. Remind her to take her dirty clothes. All the while, I am also tidying the room, and dealing with my toddler. I go to help my son and keep him on task. I’m getting frustrated that he is not listening to me. My daughter has forgotten her dirty clothes. I pick them up and go to put them in the hamper. I discover that earlier in the day my daughter has stashed a bunch of toys at the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper. I call her back from the bathroom where she is supposedly brushing her teeth but is in fact spraying water on the mirror with a squirt bottle.
This is not that bizarre of a scene. I’m sure something similar goes on in every family. I find that this procedure goes best if I only give the kids one instruction at a time, and if I am as specific as I can be so that essentially, I’m verbally walking them through every step of the process. This way, they can’t get sidetracked or overwhelmed by the task because it’s broken down into manageable pieces.
Now, imagine that one step is “Please pick up the necklace and put it on the shelf,” but you can’t remember the word necklace or the word shelf. On a daily basis, my ability to recall basic vocabulary is seriously impaired by lack of sleep. Every step of that clean up routine involves great mental effort for me to just give out basic instructions. Many of my instructions actually come out like this “please pick up the…the… the…gold thing. Yes, that, there. Put it on the…the…shelf.”
Of course, it gets worse the more stressed I get. So, for instance, if I’m already a little annoyed that their room is so messy, and as the whole scene drags on, and I just want to get to the part where we are reading stories together, or where they are in bed so I can have a break, the more I begin to stumble over my words. When this is coupled with the frustration of feeling ignored (because kids don’t want to clean up, or go to bed, and because kids get distracted because they live in their imaginations) but which to me feels disrespectful, and means I have to repeat myself when I’m already struggling as it is to say simple things even once, I start to lose my temper. And eventually I find myself yelling, partly to get their attention, but mostly because I’m so frustrated that I can’t form a sentence.
This is not an exaggeration. This just happened again as I was typing this. Aaron was putting away laundry that I had folded earlier today and I tried to tell him that the pillowcase, though in a pile with some towels, needed to be put somewhere else. But I was staring at the pillowcase, knowing it was a pillowcase, and yet totally unable to say the word. “The uh, uh, …the, uh, pillowcase has to go in the closet.” It’s like being under water, my brain grinding away slowly, while everything around me is going on at normal speed.
I read a great article recently called I Think I Know Why You’re Yelling that I will probably talk more about in the future, but today, the part of that article that struck me was the first reason you might be yelling: you aren’t taking care of yourself. I remember a friend explaining one of the concepts of Non-Violent Communication to me and saying that all fear and anger are the result of your needs not being met.
It was like a light bulb going on when I realized that 50% of the reason I yelled at my kids in the scenario above is my frustration at not being able to speak properly. (The other 50% being my need to feel respected, and my need for a tidy home, and my need for a break at the end of the day).
Sure, there are other things going on here too. Sure, we need a better system during the day so the bedroom mess isn’t a surprise at bed time. Sure, we need more follow through with the children so that they ignore us less often. Certainly there are things that we can do better.
I’ve known for some time that my parenting has been suffering due to sleep deprivation, and I’ve written before about often feeling like the only solution to baby sleep is for them to become preschoolers. It’s not a very pleasant place to be, feeling guilty about yelling or being impatient when you are exhausted, and feeling like the only solution is waiting it out.
But I do find that I can be gentler with myself about the yelling, and feel less guilt, when I understand where it’s coming from. Not that this gives me a carte blanche to just keep yelling, but I have found that being compassionate with myself about the yelling has actually helped to reduce it.
Have you ever stopped and sincerely asked yourself why you are yelling? Have you been surprised by the answer?