The other day, I learned about a recent study which showed that “harsh parenting practices” (practices which fall under the abusive line, but are still considered extreme), or frequent yelling, can shrink your child’s brain during adolescence.
I have always admired mothers who don’t yell at their kids. I never thought I would be a yeller. I certainly don’t yell at my siblings, friends or colleagues, so why would I be the type of person who yells at her children?
I’ll tell you why: because children test your anger and patience in ways you could never imagine. That’s why.
And, yes, I’m a yeller.
I yell at my kids for a few different reasons. Sometimes, they just do something so insane, your first reaction is to scream: “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
And, you know what? I’m often really proud of myself for not screaming. I just yell! I save the screaming for the shower, or for muffling into my pillow later that night.
Another reason I yell? Out of fear.
Sometimes, my three-year-old walks straight into a path of extreme danger. Sometimes, my older kids run with scissors. Sometimes, they drop a glass and it shatters into tiny pieces all around their bare feet.
Nothing stops them in their tracks faster than me shouting like a crazy woman. And, sometimes, that’s for the best.
Patience runs thin
I also yell out of desperation and repetitiveness. In complete fairness to myself, I always start off making requests to my children very kindly:
Can’t anyone have a bit of sympathy for mothers whose requests frequently fall on deaf ears? Sometimes, I feel like these parenting studies are just adding to the problem. Our kids are growing up with so much more privilege than we had; they are more protected (because there is so much more information on child safety than there was previously) and, incidentally, they are also more likely – than ever before – to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Are you really telling me this is because they – regularly – drive me to the brink of insanity and I yell too much?
My grandparents were doing serious chores around the farm by the time they were five. They needed to help so the family could survive and thrive. There was no option to give them extra cuddles or sit down to talk about their feelings. They were part of a team and knew from an early age that: the world did not revolve around them. If they misbehaved, there were serious – often painful – consequences.
When I was young, I was frequently left on my own to be “bored”. No one tried to entertain me, and, as a result (though perhaps equally due to my nature), I became a self-sufficient, independent woman. Do I feel hard done by? A bit. We all carry some trauma from our childhood. I still blame my mother, rightly or not, for a lot of my problems. But I love her, too. And, now that I’m a mother, I understand why she would sometimes act like a complete psychopath (especially during my teenage years).
As we become more affluent and digitsed as a society, maybe our kids are feeling less purposeful. I know, with my own anxiety, it’s always worse when I have the time to think too much.
Are we giving our kids enough age-appropriate tasks to contribute to the family team? I am not a fan of coddling or “helicopter parenting”, but I am also aware that, perhaps, my independent nature might make me less sensitive to my children's’ feelings.
And I admit – since I learned about that study I have made a real effort to speak to my kids more kindly. And, a lot of the time, if you use kind words with your children, they will respond positively.
But they still won’t put their shoes on, no matter how nicely you ask. Take my word on that.