The following is a problem I had that took me totally by surprise. I was 40 years old when my wife and I adopted our two sons. We had no experience with children. I considered myself to be calm, patient and controlled… and others had affirmed these qualities in me. But when faced with two children deliberately defying me and saying to me things that no child should say to their parent, and were pushing other buttons I didn’t know I had… I “involuntarily” yelled at them. Perhaps you’ve been there too? Perhaps you still are there?
(Please see the post script with additional information on how to help your own self-control).
By Jim McNaughton B.S. (Barely Sane)
Those precious little darlings, all the way up to those “terrible” teens; it seems like their only goal is to make you lose it. It seems like they are deliberately looking for your weaknesses and when they find them they push your newly found buttons and make you yell at them. I’ve been there, too. And if you would like, I would like to show you how you can learn from my mistakes.
When I experienced my child doing exactly what I just told him not to do for the millionth time, I felt an involuntary rush of “righteous” anger spilling out of my mouth and I yelled at the child I love. I felt bad afterwards, (I have apologized to my son more than anyone else on the planet), and I decided to get counseling. We didn’t talk about my son much but after counseling I decided I wanted to stop yelling at my son.
The first step was to decide I wanted to stop yelling. I thought about how embarrassed I was after I had yelled, especially if someone heard me. I thought about how helpless I felt when I was yelling. And I realized that the yelling was not producing any of the results I wanted it to produce.
Then I realized that while yelling promises power and control to right the wrong, it actually delivers just the opposite. I realized my son was deliberately doing things he had learned would make me mad so that he could control me (and make me look foolish). I realized that when I yell at my child, my child is actually the one controlling me, and he has the power.
Sometimes my son would stop yelling back at me and get quieter when I yelled at him. My response was to rage louder and louder. I learned from observing my son that getting quieter is getting control. While getting quiet promises to make you look like you’re not in control, that the child is winning, and you are losing, in fact, just the opposite is true. Quietness is the first step in controlling yourself and leading your child.
Now, I really wanted to stop yelling. I learned from Viktor E. Frankl (referenced in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey) that there is a space between stimulus and response for all of us. I had been yelling so frequently and for so long that my brain rapidly went from the stimulus of my child deliberately defying me to the response of yelling at him.
So, I added to my desire not to yell, a redefinition of success. I called it success if, when I was yelling at my child, I realized that I was yelling and that I didn’t want to yell.
When I did that enough times, I called it success if I could stop yelling and count to three and then go ahead and finish yelling.
When I had counted to three enough times, I called it success if I could interrupt my yelling to count to 5 and then go ahead and finish yelling.
I then counted to 10 or 50 or 100, and eventually I realized that I am in control of my yelling, it’s not automatic, and that I have the choice to stop if I want to stop.
I then chose to stop yelling and be quiet when my child was defying me. When I did I experienced a sense of self-control I had never known before. I was free, not only from my child’s control, but free in the face of others who would try to control me by their behavior.
Beware! This is simple to understand and very, very hard to do. It took me 5 years to discover and put this into practice. Hopefully, it won’t take you nearly as long as it took me. Sometimes everything in me still wants to get the last word and “set him straight”. I still sometimes yell, but it is much less frequent and I can catch myself halfway into my yelling and stop.
If you are successful and stop yelling your child most likely will initially escalate their misbehavior. They don’t want to give up their control of you. My son still frequently defies me, still yells at me and still calls me names. But I am in control of myself now and I just speak quietly back to him and watch him do his thing. It doesn’t have the power over me like it did before.
So that’s my story. You can learn much faster than I did, but it still may be very difficult to do. Your kids are worth it, and you are worth it. And the freedom you experience is definitely worth it.
I would like to add an additional tip that can greatly aid in achieving self-control. When anger is triggered, chemicals are dumped into your blood stream that cause “temporary insanity.” Have you ever over-reacted and later, when you have calmed down, wondered what you were thinking to cause you do something you now regret? Counting to 100 (or whatever number works for you) allows these chemicals time to dissipate and the counting activity safely replaces the “temporary insanity” activities. But there is something else you can do.
Oxytocin is a natural calming agent released into the blood when you take some deep breaths (about three deep breathes). When faced with stress, first take three deep breathes, then start counting. Count until you sense the Oxytocin calming you. And until you feel the adrenaline, etc. draining away. And you feel calm (or at least in control).