About 20 years ago, a parent leader, Claire Foreman, told a bunch of us parents that if we feel like yelling at our children, just cry instead. She reminded us (I think we knew it somewhere) that yelling undermines children’s confidence and connection. I made the decision to stop cold-turkey right then and it revolutionized my parenting.
I had grown up with yelling. It was just the way parents handled any problem with a child–not only my parents, a whole block, probably a whole neighborhood, maybe a whole city [Queens], or a whole generation of parents handled difficulties this way. The child spilled milk: yell. The child got a bad grade: yell. The child hit her brother: yell. The child complained about getting hit: yell. Anyway, you get the picture.
The concept that it was possible to raise children without yelling was not in my repertory of possible behaviors. So for about 6 months, I followed her advice and when I could feel the yelling rising, I put my head on the table and wept. I wept about whatever frustration I was feeling at the time. And I wept about all the times I’d yelled at my children and wished I hadn’t. And I wept about all the times I had been yelled at as a child. I didn’t talk about any of this to the children; probably too much for them to absorb. And I didn’t blame them for my tears (very important).
My children, instead of feeling lost and bad as they did after one of my fits, stood next to me and patted me on the arm. They categorize my parenting now as pre- and post-Claire periods. They’re pretty grateful to Claire.