Thursday, April 19, 2012

Could You Go a Week Without Yelling at Your Kids?

Could You Go a Week Without Yelling at Your Kids? Redbook Magazine
For every mom out there saying, "Sure, no problem," there are thousands more shouting, "Impossible!" Here's how a confirmed yeller got through seven whole days using her inside voice.

By Amy Wilson

"Within each of us, ofttimes, there dwells a mighty and raging fury." —The Incredible Hulk

I don't consider myself an angry person. I can count on one hand the number of times I've shouted at my husband, and I wouldn't dream of raising my voice at a rude salesperson. In fact, in all the world, there are only three people I ever get veiny-necked at: my children, ages 7, 6, and 2.

I'm not proud that I couldn't imagine treating a line-cutting stranger the way I do my own flesh and blood on a daily basis. But strangers don't tend to work my last nerve like my own kids can. What I actually say when I yell at them tends more toward "I don't care how itchy it is — you're wearing that scarf!" than anything truly damaging, but nonetheless, I've been meaning to stop. Two years ago I gave up yelling at my kids for Lent. I should've known it wouldn't go well: If I couldn't last 40 days without dark chocolate, I'd never be able to abstain that long from my primary means of discipline. I went 10 days without chocolate. Without yelling? Four hours.

Recently, however, I've sensed that all my sound and fury is losing effectiveness. As I railed at my children one morning for fighting over Silly Bandz, I saw them cast furtive glances at one another — Here she goes again. That day, I gave myself a new challenge: no yelling at the kids for a week. Only seven days. At summer camp, when I was 9, I didn't brush my hair for a week on a bunkmate's dare. By the end, I could have happily worn a baseball cap for the rest of my life. Would a break from yelling be similarly liberating? I needed to find out.

I send Seamus and Connor, my 6- and 7-year-old sons, to brush their teeth after breakfast, knowing that they can't peacefully coexist for more than 30 seconds. I hear them hollering through the floor. Then a thump that sounds like somebody's head. Then howls of rage.

Any other day, I'd take the stairs three at a time, shouting that they'd better cut it out if they ever want to see Scooby-Doo again in this lifetime. But today I just stand there, taking cleansing breaths, and after a few thump-filled minutes...silence. To my astonishment, their fight ends without my intervention, and no one loses an ear either.

I'm not yelling! I think, terribly proud of myself.

Problem: My kids are. Lowering my own voice has made it glaringly clear that my children live their entire lives at the top of their lungs. I stay out of their scuffles for the rest of the day, just listening to the din around me. Where did my children learn to go full-throttle like this? Sadly, the answer is obvious.

By saying almost nothing at all, I avoid yelling for the entire day — but this tactic won't work for a whole week. Is there a way to execute firm discipline in a kinder, gentler way?

My plan for today is that I will interrupt their fighting, but each time I want to get louder, I will get quieter instead. Just like Supernanny does with her recalcitrant charges.

"Shut UP!" my oldest shouts across the kitchen table.

"No, YOU shut up!" his brother bellows back.

These words are forbidden in our house, but I'm tempted to yell them myself. Instead, I murmur so quietly that they have to ask me to repeat myself: "The next person who says 'shut up' has to do 10 push-ups."

The military-style threat quiets everyone down — except for my 2-year-old daughter, who says, "The next person to say 'shut up,' dem do 10 pushers?" Her brothers, suddenly sticklers for rules, insist she drop and give 'em 10. Maggie doesn't mind, but she's kind of vague on what push-ups are, exactly, and in the ensuing battle over whether her attempts count, my oldest accidentally uses the "S.U." words again, then refuses to perform his own punishment. Soon I'm standing over him shrieking like a demented drill sergeant because he won't do the push-ups I'd prescribed specifically to avoid yelling.

"How's your experiment going?" my husband asks when he gets home that night.

"I yelled at Connor this morning," I admit (on the defensive), "but he disobeyed me to my face!" David listens to my story and proceeds carefully. "Okay, he didn't do his 10 push-ups," he says gently, "but that was just a silly thing you made up. I mean, he wasn't running into traffic."

He's right. I was yelling about the push-ups, but the boys' fight was long over. To stop screaming, I need to learn to quit while I'm ahead.

I take the kids out to dinner with my friend Susan and her brood. Between us, we have five children ages 7 and under, which makes for a big, boisterous table. As our kids squirm and talk at top volume, the woman in the next booth gives me the fish-eye over the rim of her wine glass.

I want to say: If you're looking for a peaceful, child-free meal, lady, don't go to a pizza joint at 5:30 p.m. But I internalize her judgment of me as a bad mom who can't control three children. To prove her — and myself — wrong, I grab Seamus's arm and hiss under my breath: "Use your inside voice now, or I'm taking you right out to the car, mister!"

This quiets him down for a few seconds, then I have to threaten him again, then his brother, then him, then his sister. I'm in a full sweat, while Susan just sits there, enjoying a garlic knot as her daughter bounces on the banquette.

"That lady's shooting us dirty looks," I explain.

"Really?" Susan says. "I hadn't noticed."

"Maybe we should get the pizza to go," I say.

"Why?" Susan asks, genuinely confused. "They're not running wild. They're just being kids."

She has a point. I'm disciplining my kids to meet a stranger's standards. If their behavior isn't bothering anyone else in the restaurant, then the wino lady is the real problem.
I go way easier on my kids today to make up for the pizza episode. When I find a trail of Goldfish crumbs across the living room, I don't conduct an interrogation; I Dustbust. When Maggie insists on wearing a tutu to the library even though it's 40 degrees outside, I let her wear it stuffed under her coat. I start to actually feel the calm I'm working so hard to project. I even think my kids are more peaceful. When David comes home, I meet him at the door to tell him my progress.

ME: "I didn't yell today! For real!" I shoo the kids upstairs while he raids the refrigerator.
DAVID: "Wow — good for you."
ME: "Kids! I said turn the TV off! Move it!" He sticks his head around the fridge door.
DAVID: "Uh. You're yelling."
ME: "That's not yelling!"
DAVID: "It's kind of yelling."
ME: "This! Isn't yelling! It's how I talk!" David smirks like someone who has just had his point made for him. "How else do I get them to brush their teeth the first dozen times I ask?"
DAVID: "Well, it's not only about decibel level."
ME: "What is it, a tone thing?"
DAVID: "If you notice, I don't really talk to the kids like you do."
ME: "If you notice, you don't really take care of the kids like I do." You can probably guess how the rest of the evening went: not so much volume, lots of "tone."

Okay. Yesterday I thought I wasn't yelling and maybe I was, but today, I do not yell, in decibel or in tone. I smile and ask nicely, no matter how many times I have to repeat myself. This may be considered success, but I'm so stressed from the effort that I might blow a gasket. Then dinnertime arrives.

"I didn't want ketchup on my hamburger!" Seamus howls. "I wanted it NEXT to my hamburger! It's RUINED, and YOU RUINED IT, MOMMY!" I stand still, gripping the kitchen counter, but it's not working — probably because he can see that Mommy Teapot is about to boil over.

Later my friend AJ tells me, "When one of my kids really gets going, I whip out the camera and tell them I want to capture the moment."

"And they stop whining?!" I ask.

"Sorta," she says. "At least it gives me something to do besides throttling them." Huh. I've been meaning to take more pictures of the kids....

My friend Cece calls from Chicago at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. As soon as I answer the phone, all three of my children start pulling on my pajamas wanting their second breakfast — you know, the one kids demand as soon as you finish dumping out the cereal they didn't eat 20 minutes earlier.

"I will make you French toast, but I'm on the phone," I hiss, and after a few minutes trying to catch up with Cece, crack eggs, and break up three fights, I hang up and tell them how disappointed I am in what I must admit is a slightly raised voice. The rest of the day, I focus mostly on the kids, and things go more smoothly.

Suddenly I realize: multitasking causes yelling. If I don't attempt to do anything besides parent my kids — including getting dressed and using the bathroom — why, I won't have to yell!

I wake up feeling enlightened. It's like a juice fast: impossible for six days, but suddenly I can do it forever. I marvel at how far I've come, and we have an amazing, sun-dappled day.

The kids are wild after dinner, and it takes me an extra half hour to get them down, but I don't crack. As I settle into the couch for what is, next to my family, the most important thing in my life — an all-new Mad Men — my heart swells with pride. And then Connor appears at my elbow to say, "Mom, I'm not tired."

ME: "Go to bed, buddy."
CONNOR: "But I'm not tired!"
ME: Firmly: "It's an hour past your bedtime!"
CONNOR: "NO! I want another story!"
ME: Getting louder: "No! No story! Mommy is closed!"
CONNOR: "But—"
ME: At full blast: "I'm DONE! Do you hear me? GO TO BED!"

And just like that, I went Betty Draper on him. I made it until 10:15 p.m. But I still failed.

So there you have it: I couldn't stop yelling for a week. But I did yell less. And I realized when and why I do it, and that, okay, it has less to do with the kids' behavior and more with my own moods. I'll probably keep yelling, but I'll also keep trying to stay calm. If the Hulk can turn back into Bruce Banner, there's still hope for me.

Feel free to leave a comment on this thread...


Monday, April 2, 2012

Traveling Stress Free with Your Family

Your Guide to Stress-Free Family Travel
Experts (parents themselves!) give you their best advice for wiggling out of the inevitable problems you encounter when traveling with kids.

So you've gone online to research a destination, find a flight, or book a room, and now you're ready to hit the road with the kids, right? Not so fast! Even a well-planned family trip can have bumps along the way -- your toddler has a meltdown on the plane or your hotel turns out to be not so kid-friendly. Don't wait until you're caught up in a stressful situation to find a fix. Check out these smart, commonsense tricks of the trade from seasoned travels who've been there and done that with their kids.

For eating on the go ...

Suzanne Farrell, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and mom of two in Denver.

Don't go overboard. When you're traveling, you're going to run into some temptations, such as chocolate chip cookies on the plane or at the hotel. Stick to your kids' normal eating habits when you can, but it's okay to give them a treat, especially if you balance it out with healthy choices.

Pack smart snacks. Food keeps the kids' energy up and helps prevent meltdowns in stressful travel situations. But you want the snacks to be as substantial as possible -- this means keeping sweets to a minimum. I like to offer goodies such as pretzels, cheese sticks, peanut-butter wraps, and a homemade snack mix made from whole-grain cereal. My 4-year-old loves helping me make it, too.

Bertie Bregman, M.D., chief of Family Medicine Service, Allen Pavilion of New York Presbyterian Hospital, and father of four in New York City.

Boost immunity beforehand. It's definitely scary to have a sick child in an unfamiliar place. The best thing to do is make sure everyone's immune system is strong weeks before any travel. You can help do this by having your kids eat well, take vitamins, and get plenty of sleep. It won't prevent every type of illness, but it's a good start. And carry contact information for local doctors and hospitals just in case.

Bring the basics. We always pack medications, including a fever and pain reliever (acetaminophen, ibuprofen), a stomach med, a thermometer, and, of course, plenty of bandages. Also, a bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes can be a lifesaver when you're traveling.

Know local hospitals. If your child does get sick, the first place to go is the front desk at the hotel. They should have information for the local medical professionals. But it?s also a good idea to make a list of the ERs in the area (and how you can get there) before you leave home.

On the plane ...

Veda Shook, flight attendant for Alaska Airlines and mom of two in Washington, D.C.

Keep the kids happy. I try to hide a little surprise for the kids, so if they're getting restless on the plane they can pull out a new toy, book, or game. That usually buys us more time. You should also bring an empty sippy cup to fill up at the water fountain once you've passed through security. Kids often can't wait until service comes through the plane to get something to drink. Having your own can prevent a midair meltdown.

Go nonstop. I'd rather pay extra -- or even drive an hour more to a different airport -- to get a nonstop flight than risk delays and the other hassles of taking a connecting flight with kids. But if you can't avoid connections, be sure to allow enough time between flights for your children to stretch, go to the bathroom, eat, and unwind without having to rush to the next gate.

Cut down on bags. With all the baggage fees, sometimes it's easier to buy bulky things, such as diapers, when you get there. You can also ship a box to your destination, which is often cheaper than the $25-$35 second-bag fee. If you stay with friends or family, ask to borrow their car seat, crib, and other gear.

On the road ...

Jennifer Huebner, spokesperson for American Automobile Association (AAA) and a mother of two in Orlando.

Research routes. For long drives with kids, I plan the route in advance, keeping in mind back roads and timing to avoid rush hour. If you're in the heart of a big city during gridlock traffic, it's not just stressful for you -- it can make the kids tense, too!

Take breaks. Build in travel time to stop every couple of hours. That gives kids a chance to move around and play. I'll even add in a quick trip to a children's museum or a big play area for them to blow off steam. Experts suggest you take a rest every two hours or 100 miles -- for kids, you should do it more often than that (after 90 minutes or less).

Be prepared. I always make a few different to-do lists, including a mini menu of snacks or a reminder to check that the car seat's installed properly. I also have a master list that tries to anticipate the kids' needs along the way, from baby wipes to games to keep them entertained during the drive.

When booking a room ...

Kammy Shuman, travel agent at Encompass the World Travel and a mother of two in Parma, Ohio.

Consider all-inclusives. These resorts are particularly nice for families because everything is right there. You don't have to worry about renting a car and car seat and driving everywhere. The cost of most food, drinks, and entertainment is already built in, so you don't have to pay every time. (See for ideas.)

Think location, location, location. When choosing your room, try to be as close to the pool, the beach, or the main attraction as possible. If you have a kid who's potty training or has to go to the bathroom a lot, you don't want to have to keep running over the sand and up 10 flights to your room.

Pick a kid-friendly place. The first thing I consider when planning a family trip is whether that hotel has kids' programs and babysitting services. Some resorts are amazing if you've got a baby. They have things such as bottle warmers, extra diapers, and even a nursery so certified staff can watch your little one while you hit the spa. Shop around hotel Websites in your ideal area to see what's available for kids.

Check into overseas options. If I'm traveling out of the country, I make sure there's food I know my kids will eat close to the hotel. It's also good to find one that offers room service, which isn't as common abroad. If you have a jet-lagged child, you don't want to have to go out in the middle of the night to find food or snacks.

For a safe stay ...

Colleen Driscoll, executive director for the International Association for Child Safety and mom of three in Baltimore.

Childproof your room. Make sure there's nothing that can harm a cruising toddler or a sleeping baby. I always pack a little kit that includes things such as a night-light, outlet covers, latches, and a travel safety gate. FYI: Some hotels will provide proofing kits or even do it for you if you ask in advance.

Have a backup plan. Don't be afraid to change rooms or even hotels if you?re worried about your child's safety. We did it after discovering our room had a tile floor. Our daughter was starting to crawl, and we felt like we couldn't safely put her down.

Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Parents magazine.