The result of the 30-days-without-yelling-at-my daughter challenge
30 days colored and only 2 faults marked in my calendar. The purple days just mean I couldn’t find the blue pen.
I did it! Out of the 30-day challenge, I yelled only twice. So, let’s say I did it for 28 days, not straight… Anyway, I did make a shift to make this happen.
As I mentioned before, I have been trying to avoid getting mad at my daughter for quite a while (you can read more about my efforts here and here). I have been practicing some techniques (breathing, removing myself from the room, keeping quiet, talking to my daughter about my inner struggle), the biggest thing is really trying to get to the root of a problem and so it´s not like from hysterical mom I went to mindful mom in one day. It´s been a long process.
But the challenge is like a sort of graduation in my inner process.
In order to not yell, I’m learning to hold myself back, to not react to something that triggers my anger right away.
An example is when my daughter gets mad and threatens to throw things downstairs or on the floor (if they are breakable), or simply throws them.
She did this during my challenge. I saw her throwing this little mirror she has and a scissor.
At other times, I would have yelled right away: ¨WHAT ARE YOU DOING? NOW GO AND GET IT RIGHT NOW! Things would escalate to me being more pissed off because she would never obey my orders. I’d get mad, she’d get mad, maybe more things would have found their way downstairs, maybe I’d make her go and get them, she would cry and finally we would reconcile.
This time was different. I felt the urge to yell, but I didn’t. I breathed deeply instead. I said: ¨That’s not cool. I´d like you to go and get it¨. She didn’t and I didn’t get mad at her.
I also have Summerhill School, the book (check the link for some quotes of it), stuck in my mind. All the liberties those kids are allowed, all the examples of Neill letting kids break stuff and find their self-regulation with time, without him or the staff reacting. I thought: ¨What the hell, it’s just a little mirror, I’m not going to make a big scene over this.¨ Besides, it’s never that little thing, but some unmet need that needs to be addressed.
I decided that’s better to not do anything at first than do something stupid or disrespectful. This is a lot about learning to give limits, but in a gentle way. I probably wasn’t given limits in a very gentle way in my own childhood and this makes the work harder, but I´m determined to learn it.
Later, I went to pick those things up and I said to her: ¨You can get mad, but you were throwing these things in the nature, the nature is not a trash can. I´m sure you can work out a better way to release your anger like we talked before¨.
She seemed a bit surprised that I was so calm. I said to her: ¨Nothing you can do will make me yell anymore, I´m cured from that¨.
I even used it against her: ¨Why are you yelling at me? I don’t yell at you.¨ It felt great being able to say this, knowing it was true, even though I was being manipulative anyway…
The tip of the iceberg
I’m considering myself more advanced in the art of not getting mad, but I have to say that not yelling is just the tip of the iceberg. Not yelling is almost easy compared to not getting mad in general (and using other sorts of unpleasant behaviors – angry faces, angry tone of voice, nagging).
It´s not just about shutting up, it´s about changing how you do things in moments of stress, or even better, how you prevent them from happening.
Through watching my own thoughts at moments I’d typically yell, I learned also that many of my requests and expectations are out of boundaries. Or that the limit I want to enforce has to be more intelligently enforced.
This is teaching me to be less controlling. If I ask my daughter to do something and she says no, I have to evaluate this well: Is what I asked so necessary? Can she sleep without her shower today, or brushing her teeth? If not, how can I approach it in a non threatening way?
It’s a big challenge to be less controlling, even for me. You might not know how in real life I can be big time permissive. I give Luísa a lot of freedom (some people would say too much), but even I make absurd requests and expect them to be attended. Reconsidering my requests, (one of Alfie Khon´s suggestions in his book Unconditional Parenting) has been keeping me from enforcing insane requests (from my child´s point of view).
This is not easy to do, because it means you have to question yourself, not only about small stuff like skipping the shower for one day, but about your values on good manners and discipline, since taking your child´s perspective opens a whole new world to what´s ok and what´s not.
It´s not just yelling and getting mad to be aware of, but simply getting pissed off or angry. I’m not yelling anymore (or so far), but I still get angry. And from the point of view of my girl, my angry state is out of boundaries. It may seem reasonable for me that I get angry because she got her only coat dirty on the day of our departure to the winter and I can easily get infuriated when she lies down in bed a night and refuses to pee for the last time (maybe making me wake up at night to change the sheets). So, I start repeating myself angrily about why she needs to do.
At each struggle I face I have been more able to see more of the big picture and try to change my behavior, with better results of what I expect from her.
It may seem that I just want to be less strict than I already am, but no, the whole exercise has been helping me to evaluate when a limit needs to be gently ensured as opposed to my permissive or authoritarian pull.
An example is my daughter wanting to have ice cream at the end of the afternoon. At times, I let her have it because it´s so hard for me to say no, but now I.m more aware of the limits I have to give and I´ll stick to a gentle no: ¨I know you fell like having a treat right now, but we are having dinner soon, so you can have it tomorrow instead¨. She will protest, cry but I’ll stick to the no, without getting upset at her reaction, I´ll say a couple of: ¨I know you really want it, I’m sorry it´s too late for this now,¨ and then I’ll just shut up.
At times, I tell her: ¨I don’t want to be repeating what I just said, so I´ll keep quiet from now on¨. She gets crazy at this, and then it´s time to focus on something else, a distraction maybe, but not a distraction from the reasons that were given for the limit, it´s more like a help in moving on, I guess.
The challenge is like meditating. It’s watching yourself like an observer: you feel like yelling, but you don´t, so you watch some emotions and thoughts go through you, you take a conscious decision and you act upon it.
Did you try this? How did it go for you? If you didn’t, how about joining me?