Updated: Jan 5
A whole lot of shouting going on….
I am hearing a lot of shouting. Both in my house, in other people’s houses and from parents I am talking to. Tempers are fraying. The novelty of being at home, if there ever was one, is wearing off. Children are becoming increasingly bored with the sight of each other and their parents and we are becoming increasingly desperate to hold it all together.
Most of us shout sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up about it too much. But most of us also recognize that it doesn’t often seem to do much good. And there is nothing more disheartening than hearing yourself bawling, at the top of your own lungs “Will you just stop shouting?!” It can make things worse. We can get into patterns where our children basically tune us out until we reach a certain volume, when they finally decide “OK, now you mean it”. We can fall into habits of shouting and we can also make our houses into ones where everyone has to try and shout a little bit louder than everyone else in order to be heard.
So, how can we still the shouting?
1 Notice it happening
Tune into the volume of your own voice and those around you and ask yourself if it is a problem. If you are yelling at each other, but you always do and it doesn’t bother anyone, then it clearly works for you and feel free to carry on. But most people find shouting makes them feel more stressed. It activates a heightened level of stress response and can make our ‘fight or flight’ response kick in. This can happen for our children too. If we shout at them, we might be making them feel frightened or threatened and making it more likely they will either get upset and run away, or shout back.
Take some slow gentle breaths and try to lower the volume, and the pitch, of your voice. Most of us will find our voice starts getting higher when we start shouting. Bringing the pitch of your voice lower can make you sound more serious, like you mean business, without having to yell. Teachers are taught not to shout, unless they really really can’t help it, because it makes them seem less authoritative. Shouting usually means out of control.
3 Give each other some space
A lot of the shouting that is going on right now is about being in each others’ faces too much, or just getting sick of the site of one another. Especially siblings. Try to find ways to be apart, to have a bit of space, even if it means one child is on a screen while another gets your attention for five minutes doing something else.
If you have the luxury of a separate room per family member, try physically separating. If not, try finding some way to erect a barrier for a brief period of time e.g build dens, put a cushion between them on the sofa, put one small child inside a giant cardboard box with pens and crayons and tell them to decorate the inside of a pirate ship while the other sits on the floor and decorates the outside.
One of my friends has instituted ‘reading time’ after lunch where everyone chooses their book/magazine/comic book weapon of choice and retreats to their bed for half an hour after lunch, to ensure that a bit of space is had by all.
Be careful not to push anyone away or make anyone feel excluded who doesn’t want to be. But try explaining that we all need a bit of space on our own and we will all be a bit more friendly later if we have some time to ourselves.
4 Notice the nice voices
If you hear a calmer voice being used, even if only momentarily, praise it! “I love it when you talk to me in your calm voice. It makes it so much easier to help you”. Model using a nice voice yourself and walk away if you need to until you feel ready to come back without shouting! Show your children that it is helpful to apologize for shouting and problem solve alternatives “I am really sorry I shouted. I was feeling cross that we couldn’t get on with breakfast. Next time I will try to walk away before I shout.”
5 Use your attention wisely
Give masses of attention to behaviour you like, cooperation, calmness, and trying. Even if your child screams their head off, if they then manage to calm down and use a quieter voice, tell them how impressed you were that they calmed down. Give hugs freely, even if you have been shouted at. Don’t bear a grudge and try to remember that they might have been shouting because their fight/flight response kicked in and they just need a cuddle or a story or a few minutes calm to switch it off and realize that everything is OK again.
Acknowledge the feeling and try joining forces against it
“I get that you are really fed up right now”
“I am feeling frustrated today. How are you feeling?”
“Is there something making you shout? Is it a cross feeling , or something else?”
“What do you think we can do to make it feel better?”
6 Find the fun, wherever you can
It is a bit dull and annoying right now. Try to find ways to enjoy moments, however fleeting, and focus all of your attention on noticing them. Whatever is good, calm, enjoyable, restful, silly…..
Any I guess apologize to anyone who may have had to hear the shouting. So this goes out with a big “Sorry neighbours, we will try and keep it down…..” from our house tonight.
7 Understand the worry
I had a postcard on my wall for many years which read “Whining is just anger forced through a small hole”. I don’t know who said it originally, but I like it. Although I would also add, “anger can sometimes be worry forced through a megaphone”
It is true for adults, but it is especially true for children. We talk about the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mechanism in one breath, because they are essentially three behavioural manifestations of the same emergency reaction system. Something feels threatening, so we react to it quickly. Our emergency system reacts by either making us get aggressive and fight back, run away as fast as possible and avoid the danger, or by making us freeze and hope nobody spots us. The difference between these three reactions looks big on the outside, but internally, they are very similar mechanisms. Why we ‘choose’ to respond in one way or the other is not always clear. Sometimes it is because of the situation. Strong, tough, brave people can still freeze in certain life-threatening situations, not because they stopped being ‘brave’ or ‘strong’ but because their system interpreted that particular situation as one in which it was better to try not to be seen at all than to face the threat head on. Sometimes some of us feel more comfortable reacting in one way. Or sometimes it is habit, we have just got used to responding in that way. Young children often seem unable to distinguish the feelings that lead to these responses and quite often respond aggressively to any threat. It is not uncommon for children to fight back, scream and shout, even when what they are actually feeling is threatened and ‘frightened’.
We can see this happening in ourselves as adults. We are much more likely to get riled up by our partner doing something slightly irritating at home if we are worried about a big meeting at work. Children react to many ‘threats’ with anger. And it is important to remember that something can feel ‘threatening’ to them, even if it doesn’t look that serious to us. If you are struggling with maths then that is genuinely distressing and threatening. Just because as adults we may be able to see the ‘bigger picture’ that says this will pass, doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel real to the child. So often worry will come out as frustration, irritability, anger or blame.
Next time you are listening to your child shouting, slamming doors, yelling at their sister or kicking things, try wondering what the threat they have seen is. What is making them feel under threat that they have to react like that to? It doesn’t excuse the behaviour. But it can really help to understand it.
Best wishes to you and yours
Dr Helen Care, Clinical Psychologist