I read the New York Times article last week about how, for some parents, shouting at kids has replaced spanking, and I immediately felt guilty.
I've been solo-parenting for the past week while my husband is with our oldest kids, out of state. I've noticed that I've been yelling much more than I usually do, and over things that usually don't frustrate me right away.
My about-to-turn 3-year-old is really pushing limits, trying to see how much he can get away with. After asking him to do something (or, more commonly, not to do something), my voice gets louder and sharper, and there I am, yelling instead of speaking calmly. I'm not saying anything awful, but I'm definitely angry -- and he can tell. It gets his attention, but it's having an effect I didn't notice right away: My sweet-tempered 5-year-old has picked up on my frustration, and when he gets in her way now, she yells at him.
And I cringe.
I'm not a yeller. At least, I didn't used to be. I don't yell at our older kids, even when I'm angry, probably because as a stepmom I've never really felt like I could squander the emotional currency I'd banked; with step kids, you can love them like your own but it doesn't guarantee that they'll love you back.
With my youngest kids, it's different. My stubborn little boy asks for cuddles even after he's pushed me to my limit by not listening. I know my youngest girl won't hold it against me if I raise my voice because she's taken 20 minutes to eat a single bite of rice. But when I shout, it's along the lines of "Pick up your toys right now!" or "Put that down, that's dangerous!" Not “This is ridiculous! I’ve been doing things all day for you!” Or worse.
I think there's a big difference between raising your voice to make a point and screaming something cruel at someone, especially a child, but the New York Times piece doesn't really address this. Of course yelling affects a child -- "If someone yelled at you at work, you’d find that pretty jarring. We don’t apply that standard to children,” says one of the study's lead author's, sociologist Murray A. Straus. But isn't what's being said as important -- or as detrimental -- as the tone in which it's said?
The study doesn't offer an alternative to yelling, though Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, acknowledges that most of the techniques out there don't do the trick. Parents "resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior," she says in the article. "In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”
Maybe what we need to do is just accept that we all lose it from time to time -- even supermoms and dads are only human. So, what I want to know is: How do you keep your temper when your kids are pushing you to your limit? And what sets you off?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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