Before you go on reading this, do something for me… Sit or stand as you normally would, and fold your arms as you normally would… Then, fold your arms the opposite way, with the opposite arm on top of the other. Chances are, that felt really weird and quite uncomfortable. Some of you probably even struggled to figure out how to do it the opposite way. That is a simple demonstration of the power of habit.
We all have habits. We create habits to make life and decisions easier. We tie our shoes a certain way. We have a morning routine that is the same almost every day. Most people even brush their teeth a particular way. We program our life and put it on autopilot in so many ways so that we aren’t so overwhelmed by every little decision and task, but sometimes we program reactions without our own rational consent.
Some habits are positive and promote healthy patterns of happiness and growth. Some are for utility only and don’t really matter that much. Finally, we have negative habits that are destructive and undermine our best judgment and success. Yelling at our kids or our spouse is one of these kinds of habits. I’ve never talked to a parent that would promote yelling with a straight face or say, “You know what I need to do more of to teach my kids and build a better relationship with them? I need to yell more!” Most parents that struggle with yelling explain their yelling like this, “I don’t like yelling. It makes me feel worse, but I don’t know what else to do and it feels like I just can’t help it.”
Phrases like, “I just can’t help it” or “it’s automatic” or “I just lost it” are a good indication that a habit has formed. Yelling is not simply a product of anger. Anger can certainly contribute as a major trigger of yelling, but yelling is a habitual reaction to anger rather than a product of the anger itself. I can guarantee that even parents that do not yell at their children also feel anger, they simply have found other ways to respond to the anger to resolve the anger and the source of their frustration.
The Parts of a habit
Any habit has 3 basic parts; trigger (Antecedent), Behavior and reward (Consequence). These are the ABC’s of habit formation and habit correction. The cool thing about human Moms and Dads is that we have this great reasoning capability that other animals don’t have. This gives us the ability to choose what we will do or how we will respond to triggers in our environment. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same primal reactions to stress and threatening situations, it simply means that we can inhibit our instinctual reactions for long enough to select a better course of action. It may not feel that way sometimes, but it is true. The question is how do we train ourselves to change something that is so automatic?
3 Steps to Stop Yelling in 21 Days
1. Week 1: Make a check in a pocket journal anytime you get the urge to yell. Carry a little notebook and pencil or pen that will fit in your pocket everywhere you go. Don’t put it in a purse or bag. Wear it somewhere on your body so you will not forget about it. Any time you start to feel the urge to yell, make a tally mark. Just focus on recognizing when the trigger/urge arises. If you have time, you could write down what it was that triggered the urge to yell, but if not, a tally will suffice. At first this will be difficult for many. If you find yourself having a hard time recognizing the urge to yell before it happens at first, try to recognize it as soon as possible. If you start to yell, make a tally and think of what triggered it. Make an honest record. The objective is not perfection, just recognition and incremental improvement. By doing this, you will get better at recognizing your triggers earlier over time. Awareness is the first key to any positive change.
2. Week 2: Identify and implement a positive alternative and implement it. Before you start your second week, take 15-20 minutes to evaluate what the triggers of yelling were the previous week and what a positive alternative behavior would be to replace the yelling. Write your alternative response down in your pocket notebook. Your responses could include, singing, taking ten deep breathes, reciting a poem or verse of scripture, or designating a positive, calm sentence to recite to your child when the urge arises. Continue to use your pocket notebook to mark your urges and following your marking, use your alternative response instead of yelling.
3. Week 3: Write the benefits of not yelling in your pocket journal. During the next seven days start to recognize and write down the benefits you see when you stop yelling. You could note the differences you see in your child or the way you feel. If you need to continue marking your urges for more practice, feel free to do so. Make sure you continue to apply your positive alternatives to yelling. If you cannot always write down the benefits you see during the day, take a few minutes each night before bed to write them down.
In a previous blog post I talked about our APP’s that set the stage for how we interact with our kids. Our APP’s include…
The procedure above can be a powerful tool in correcting our programming, but does not necessarily alter our attitudes and perspectives that greatly influence how we see our child and our role as a parent. These can have an enormous impact on the longevity of our new habits. The 21 days procedure above can be a powerful step in the right direction and can help you take the edge off of the relationship enough to do some of the other internal work to not only stop the behavior of yelling but change the entire cycle of anger and yelling and replace it with cycles of healthy respect and communication.
When I teach TRU Parenting, I suggest that parents give up control and trade it for influence, give up perfection for improvement and give up the right way for A GREAT way. Remember that the urge to yell was born out of something deeper inside you. There are reasons why those things that trigger you, set you off. There are reasons that it is hard for you to let go of the control, perfection and “right way” of dealing with those triggers. Remember that your child has his own perspective and the more that you grow to understand and work with instead of against that perspective, the more effective you will be in teaching and building lasting supportive relationships. All of these things grow out of your desire and application to first upgrade yourself.
If you enjoyed this post and could use a little extra help to make this charge to stop yelling a reality, Sign up for our Stop Yelling in 21 Days Coaching Course that starts Jan.25th, 2016! Learn more by clicking the image below.
Enhance your ability to stop yelling with the “Quick Calm Toolkit!” In the Quick Calm Toolkit you’ll get worksheets to track and magnify your efforts and commitment to stop yelling as well as receive a short audio recording of a quick technique that will help your decrease your stress, anxiety and frustration in literally 2 minutes to make the challenge to stop yelling much less of a challenge! To get TRU parenting updates and the amazing Quick Calm Toolkit, enter your email below!