Why do we yell, even when we know it’s ineffective? Instead of handling things calmly, we get into a shouting match with our kids or spouse. Or we raise our voices louder than theirs just so that we can be heard. Sometimes it gets so bad that we run around like some alien creature, creating chaos wherever we turn, when our goal is actually to have more calm. Scream-free parenting? Hardly!
Why do we do things that seem to be insane or seriously disturbed? Because in that moment, we are seriously disturbed and insane!
When we feel threatened as a parent, the threatened state triggers a natural and automatic process that actually changes our brain and body chemistry. It’s the same process that gets triggered when we are in an emergency, like a car accident. Hormones are produced that flood our body, and all our blood rushes to our extremities so that we can act quickly. We begin to respond from the primal and animal part of our brain, and the more rational parts of the brain shut down to preserve energy. In that moment, we only know two things – run away or stand and fight! Needless to say, neither of these are powerful parenting tools.
I think I’m going to get buttons made and mail them to all my friends and clients, or maybe emboss the phrase on a stone that we can all carry around in our pockets. This is a critical piece, and yet so hard for us to remember. Why? Because when we feel threatened, our brains shut down, literally.
This means we need to develop strong tools and habits to help us when we do get into those moments, because they are really difficult to get out of without a fight. So what are the tools?
- Know your hot-spots. We all have things that set us off, whether it’s the teen who talks back, or the missing assignments, or the melt-down in a public place. Being more aware of where your threats hide out can be a powerful step to avoiding being triggered in the first place. We can enter into sensitive situations more consciously and purposely, and hold an intention to keep our cool.
- Pay attention: For most of us, there are warning signs in those moments before we lose it. Cars don’t generally go from 0 to 120 MPH in a second, and neither do we. Pay attention to the signals that tell you to be aware of your response. Maybe your heart starts to race, or your breathing gets shallower. Sometimes I feel a pit in my stomach, or notice the hairs start to stand up on the back of my neck when things begin to get tense.
- Be even more aware when you are tired or overwhelmed. When our defenses are down, we get triggered even more easily. The end of the day is probably not the best time to enter into situations where we are likely to be triggered. When I notice that I’m worn out or tired, I ask my husband to review missing assignments with my son, because I know it is a sensitive area for me.
- Break the cycle. Before you end up in full-on threat mode, do something to calm down and shift yourself. Take a few deep breaths, take a sip of water, get some space, take a time out. The goal is to get back into the more rational, problem solving part of your brain. I had a coach once tell me that if you take a sip of water, the animal in your head thinks, “the threat must be gone, I’m at the watering hole.”
- Be curious. If you can replace that natural knee-jerk response with one of exploration and curiosity, it can help avoid being triggered. Ask yourself, “what’s going on with me that this situation is impacting me so significantly?” Or be curious about the situation, “what’s up with my kid (or my spouse) right now that they are behaving this way?”
- Make it right. It is important in maintaining relationships that we acknowledge when we screw up. Let your kids know that you didn’t intend to lose it, and have a conversation. It can be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about a very natural reaction that we all have (including them) when we feel threatened. It will help them understand what it means to be human.
I’m not letting you off the hook by telling you that when you yell at your kids, it is most likely a normal and automatic response. That’s true. Regardless, your job as a parent is to grow through your experiences and model healthy behaviors for your kids. There are few of us that would say that yelling is a healthy parenting tool (either for us or for them). So take a few reasonable steps toward scream-free, and see how it can improve your life and your relationships.
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Article originally appeared on ImpactADHD.com and is reproduced with permission of ImpactADHD®.