Forever engrained in my mind will be a scream so maniacal, so ear-piercing, so desperate that my older daughter ran and put her arms around her baby sister. They were afraid, but no more afraid than I was of myself. Yelling was my cry for help, my distress flare sent into the sky, my lowest point of desperation. That scream, the one that actually hurt my throat, is one of my greatest regrets and one of my greatest blessings.
Although I did not know how I was going to stop yelling, I was certain I didn’t want my children to grow up afraid. I wanted to be remembered for my smile, not my scowl. I wanted my children to wear love like armor, not scars from sharply delivered words. I wanted to be a safe haven, not someone to avoid. I wanted my children’s inner voice to sound like grace, not inadequacy.
Fast-forward six years to today. I am no longer a yeller. Yes, I get sad, frustrated, angry, hopeless and insecure, but there is a profound difference in what I do once I get there: I don’t stay there.
My ability to come back to love, patience, grace and positivity did not happen overnight. Maintaining a sense of calm in challenging situations took years of work and painful introspection which I catalog in my first book. But for today’s purposes, I’m going to start small. I want to help someone right now with actionable steps. This small-step approach to change is the whole premise of my new book, ONLY LOVE TODAY. Unlike most books, a powerful takeaway can be gained through a two-minute reading from any point in the book. When taken to heart, the words have the potential to inspire lasting change in your heart and home.
The beauty of the seven suggestions below is they will improve any relationship, not just parent/child. Above all, these suggestions provide what I believe is most critical to ending yelling in your home once and for all: HOPE–hope for who you already are and hope for who you can become.
1. Find your truest voice
Your truest voice speaks fears. It speaks truths. It speaks hopes. It speaks desires. It speaks dreams. It speaks hurts. Unlike the voice that barks empty threats and sweeping generalizations, your truest voice can be heard. Unlike the voice that spews sarcasm, accusations and defensiveness, your truest voice feels like peace when it is spoken. Unlike the voice that hurls insults and patronizing words, your truest voice won’t drive you away from the people you love.
I found my truest voice by writing down my thoughts in tiny notebooks. Over the past several years, I’ve released trapped emotions, let go of suppressed memories and liberated shameful thoughts in my pocket-size notebooks that I carry with me at all times. Through these pages, my angriest voice got weaker and my truest voice got stronger. Through the notebooks, I was able to put feelings into words. I was able to gain clarity. I felt heard by something far greater than myself, and that gave me comfort.
Whether it’s through a notebook, an easel or the lens of a camera… whether it’s through dancing, singing, cooking or meditating on a rubber mat… whether it’s through running, coloring or coin collecting, finding your truest voice and listening to what it uncovers will bring healing.
2. Go public with your intention
Making a public declaration of my goal was instrumental to breaking my yelling pattern. I informed my daughters what I was trying to work on. I let them know that when I felt like I was losing control, I would say these words: “I’m having a hard time right now.” When they heard that phrase, they knew I either needed space or to do what I was asking them to do. Talking about my outbursts before they happened provided my family with a “heads up” to be gentle with me when I was on the edge.
Other public declarations might sound like this:
I’m making an effort to use a kinder tone of voice. I may need your gentle reminders.
I’m making an effort to let you do more things on your own without my comments, judgment, or criticism. When you say, “I got it, Mom,” I will step back.
I’m making an effort to use a peaceful response in times of stress and overwhelm. Would you put your hand on your heart when I am hurting you with my words or tone as a reminder of my promise?
Post your declaration and read it often. I keep this one by my bedside to recite each morning before I get out of bed:
“Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection, or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next.” RMS, Only Love Today
3. Look directly at your loved one before responding
In moments of frustration, challenge and overwhelm, I make sure I am looking directly into the faces of my loved ones before I respond. In that critical pause, I see people who count on me to care for them, love them and guide them. I see people who are learning how to live by watching me live. I see people who will use similar responses when they are having a hard time. Taking a three-second pause to look at them, really look at them, enables me to model a response I would be proud see them use in stressful times. Really seeing them helps me come back to a place where my voice can be heard instead of hurtful.
4. Stop self-sabotage with a sticky note
Once you get into the habit of being hard on yourself and focusing on your mistakes, it’s difficult to stop. But breaking a yelling pattern is not going to come from a place of shame and condemnation. Positive change is going to come from a place of grace and encouragement. To help me when I get into a pattern of harsh self-judgment, I put a sticky note in my pocket. Each time I do something kind, helpful, loving or patient, I make a hash mark on the note. At the end of the day, I look at my hash marks–whether it’s two or 22—I celebrate the times I chose love over the alternatives.
Recording every positive action with a mark makes this an active process. We are then more apt to notice our goodness, which shifts it away from the failings. By focusing on our positives, it has the tendency to carry over to others.
5. See what is good in others
Another way to stop the yelling pattern is to challenge yourself to voice any and all positives about your loved ones—what they say, what they do, and who they are.
“I appreciate the kind way you responded just then.”
“I love the way you dug into that meal I made! Thank you for that!”
“You treated your sister so lovingly. Did you see the way she looked at you?”
“I love spending time with you. You come up with the best ideas.”
Human beings, no matter age, respond to praise and affirmation. They will want to do more actions that make you proud. Be sure and notice the joy in his or her face and grab it. Hold on to it. Let it then give you hope that you are making progress and creating a positive home environment.
*Important note–If there is an issue or problem you need to mention, make it a statement with no judgment. I use Sandy Blackard’s positive approach of Saying What You See: “Your clean clothes are on the floor,” instead of, “Pick those up.” This way, my child is the one who comes up with the solution. Sandy writes, “By listening and letting children solve their own problems, they learn how to get along without your intervention, which you can then point out as a strength.” Through Sandy, I’ve learned the power in leaving out all suggestions unless I know my suggestions will feel like help to my child. My daughters know what is expected of them (they have a list they mark off each morning and each evening that must be completed before screens can be enjoyed.) Utilizing lists alleviates nagging that turns into yelling.
6. Post and recite mantras until they become go-to phrases
Plastered throughout my house (on kitchen cabinets, bathroom mirror, closet door and the daily calendar) were pressure-reducing mantras. When I saw them, I recited them. Like stop signs, they helped me slow down to love and be loved:
Mistakes mean we’re learning.
It’s good enough for today.
You are doing the best you can.
7. Give yourself grace
Sometimes by 8 a.m., I can already name a few things I wished I’d done differently. But instead of beating myself up over them, I remind myself of this: My humanness allows my loved ones to be human. My courage to get up after I stumble gives my loved ones the courage to get up after they stumble. Loving myself despite my failures, flaws, and imperfections gives the people in my life permission to love themselves “as is.” Love doesn’t have to be perfect (or anywhere near it) to be felt, absorbed, and transformative.
You can feel like you’re failing and still BE LOVE.
You can feel like you’re in the dark and still be someone’s light.
You can feel like you’re going under and still lift someone up.
Love prevails over failures, flaws, and imperfect days.
That’s what I believe. That’s what I live. And that brings me hope.