Do you ever yell at your kids?
Okay, maybe it’s not a full-fledged, lung-bursting roar loud enough to give the Lion King a run for his money, but do you raise your voice in anger when your children misbehave? Maybe you’re not the ranting type, but do you clench your teeth and, like a Doberman ready to strike, growl out your words one at a time?
“Do . . . what . . . Daddy . . . says . . . NOW!!”
I admit there are times when my boys successfully push all of my buttons until I bark. In those emotionally charged moments, right before their eyes, Trent and Troy witness their loving, huggable, and otherwise tender daddy undergoing a complete metamorphosis—much like Bill Bixby’s character Dr. Banner in the Incredible Hulk. Dr. Banner would warn those who provoked him, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Sure enough, someone would goad him and Dr. Banner’s outrage transformed him into the Hulk.
That’s happened to me more times than I’d care to admit.
I’m not alone. Yelling at children when they misbehave seems to be a challenge for the majority of parents I’ve met. No wonder Dr. Kevin Leman’s book, Have a New Kid by Friday, and Hal Runkel’s ScreamFree Parenting are best sellers. What parent doesn’t want the household to run smoothly? Now that Trent and Troy are nine and seven, do I still need to remind them EVERY time to say “please” and “thank you”?
I have yet to find one mother who enjoys listening to her children fight over the Lego’s or dolls or cars or the remote control. After years of training them, we wonder is it too much to expect kids to share their things and play nicely together? Is it really so difficult for a three-year-old to stop pulling his sister’s hair the first time he’s been asked to stop? Shouldn’t a sixteen-year-old be able to tell time, to honor your wishes, and to be home by a decent hour?
And then there are those days when it doesn’t matter what you say to the kids—they’ll just do the exact opposite. When our kids don’t follow instructions (for the hundredth time that day) what inevitably happens? Our resolve to remain calm fails us. Like a volcano, we start to seethe within. Before we know it, we unleash a flurry of hurtful, angry words.
It’s understandable that because they’ve crossed the line, we’ve got to enforce the rules with a consequence. But if we deliver the punishment in anger, I believe we’re doing more harm than good. Worse, if we become emotionally involved out of anger while punishing their bad behavior, we might just come across sounding as if we hate them—which is not the case.
See if this analogy helps.
Imagine that you ran a stop sign and got pulled over by a policeman. What happens? The officer approaches your car as you roll down your window. In a dispassionate voice, he asks for your drivers license and proof of auto insurance. After you fish them out of your purse or wallet, he looks them over, scribbles a few notes on his pad and, maintaining his cool, calm, and collected posture, asks you whether you realize you just ran a stop sign.
Regardless of your answer, he enforces the law while preserving a professional, emotionless disposition. He maintains a “just doin’ my job” attitude throughout the exchange. As he hands you your $380 ticket, the officer explains you can challenge the fine by appearing in court.
After a friendly reminder to keep a sharp eye for that stop sign in the future, he turns and leaves. There’s nothing about his words or his body language that could be mistaken as vindictive, cruel, or unkind. If you ran the same stop sign that afternoon, and if he pulled you over again, you’d get the same treatment.
Now, imagine the identical scenario but with one difference: before you can roll down your window, the officer leaps out of his police cruiser and stomps toward your car with the veins on both sides of his neck bulging in stereo. With the force of a drill sergeant, he jabs a finger in your face and bellows: “What kind of driver are you? HUH? You could have hurt someone back there, pal. You might even have killed someone. Don’t you know better than to run a stop sign? Look at me when I’m talking to you!! Just wait until the judge sees this!”
The primary difference between these encounters is that the second officer took your poor driving personally. He got emotionally involved when all his job called for was to enforce the law. I know if an officer spoke that way to me, I’d think the guy was in serious need of a vacation—or was off of his medication. In other words, to get emotionally charged up while disciplining our kids has no upside and plenty of downside. After all, our goal isn’t to make our kids cower in fear over us.
Proverbs puts it this way: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (29:11).
In light of that scripture, my desired approach when disciplining Trent or Troy is to be clear about what their offense is, firm about the need for a consequence, and then, before carrying out the punishment, I step back and check my spirit. I want to make sure I haven’t allowed myself to become so emotionally involved in their disobedience that I become a Hulk-like monster towering over them.
How about you? What techniques or approaches to discipline have you discovered that minimizes the yelling?