Before the pandemic, I wasn’t much of a yeller. I have a kindergartner and a 2-year-old who are definitely a handful, but my tendency has generally been to shut down when I’m frustrated with them. I get cold, not loud.
Then COVID-19 hit and I became a truly accomplished yeller. At first I yelled because I was afraid. I live in New York City, the former epicenter of the pandemic, and the virus was new and terrifying. I screamed at my boys when they touched something or got too close to someone else. Now I yell because I am exhausted. I am so sick of pretending it is reasonable to work and parent full-time. I am in a perpetual state of being thisclose to boiling over, and I’m not alone. Surveys suggest 40% of parents say they’re yelling or even screaming at their kids during the pandemic; 25% of parents said their mental health has significantly worsened.
That said, I don’t actually want to yell at my kids all the time. I don’t much like the way it makes me — or them — feel, plus research shows it doesn’t actually work in the long term. So I spoke to several experts who offered advice if you, like me, find yourself yelling and would like some help piping down.
First, understand why you’re yelling more.
It seems obvious, but experts say it’s important to dig a bit into the “why”—if for no other reason than it helps foster some self-compassion.
“The very short story is that we’re all more triggered than usual, and when we’re triggered, we’re more likely to lose our tempers with our children,” Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of “How To Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids,” told HuffPost.
Some parents’ triggers are significant: lost jobs and wages, illness, mental health concerns like depression and anxiety. Others are “just” grappling with the everyday challenges of working from home, overseeing remote learning and being disconnected from your support system or the activities that generally help you cope with stress, like going to the gym, Naumburg said.
Personally, I hadn’t really considered how much the lack of daily support feeds my current stress. Even just being able to escape to a quiet office and chat with fellow parents for a few minutes is an important outlet for me, and one I no longer have.
“Many of us are spending more time at home isolated from adult support, but still have to deal with the daily pressures of work, deadlines and home chores like groceries,” said Judy Arnall, author of “Parenting With Patience.”
“We have little adult company,” said Arnall — and all of the support, humor and camaraderie that comes with it.
The pandemic has required an insane level of multitasking from parents. (As I type, I’m simultaneously trying to oversee my 5-year-old’s online phonetics lesson.) But as much as possible, parents should do one thing at a time, Naumburg urged. Particularly when you’re having a really hard moment or day or you’re doing something really important.
“Focusing on just one thing at a time will decrease your stress, help you focus on what really matters, and make it far less likely that you will lose it with your kids,” she said.
When you want to yell, do literally ANYTHING else.
Naumburg’s go-to strategy for parents who are on the edge of losing it is to “notice, pause and do literally anything else,” she said. Tune into your personal signs you’re about to explode (my shoulders tend to ride up, which she said is a common one), take a deep breath or two, then do anything but yell.
“Count to 10,” Naumburg said. “Recite a prayer or mantra. Jump up and down. Cluck like a chicken. Go to the bathroom. Do whatever it takes to calm down and get the tension out of your body so you can refocus and reengage with your kids. It might take a few minutes, but that’s OK.”
In a heated moment, put your own needs first.
There are a lot of things parents can do instead of yelling during a really tense moment, said Arnall (who pointed me to her list of 70 calm down tips). But her top one is for parents to take care of their own mood — and themselves — first.
“Say to yourself, ‘STOP. BREATHE. What do I need?’” Arnall said. “Then go and meet your needs first.” If you realize you’re just really angry and you need to yell, maybe go into the bathroom and scream into the toilet, she said. If you need a moment of calm to yourself, pour yourself a glass of water and drink it.
If your need truly hinges on your kiddo’s behavior — so, like, you need him to stop smacking his sister, or you need her to actually put on her shoes — keep in mind that instead of yelling, it’s more effective to go over to your kid, hold eye contact, and tell them in an authoritative voice what needs to happen, Arnall said. But consider their age. Kids 5 and up will certainly respond to this type of intervention; younger kids just may not be there developmentally yet and you’ll probably have to really help them along.
Naumburg also urged parents to take a look at how much high quality sleep they’re getting every night — which is not an easy ask given everything happening in parents’ lives and in the world around us, but it is an important one. Surveys certainly suggest the pandemic has led to a sharp rise in clinically significant insomnia and symptoms of depression and anxiety (which can impact sleep), prompting some experts to warn about “coronasomnia.”
“We just can’t function or parent well when we’re exhausted,” Naumburg said. “I think most parents know this, but they may not realize that fatigue and exhaustion are directly linked to anxiety and depression, all of which make it far more likely that we’ll explode at our kids.”
Cut yourself a lot of slack.
“Yelling isn’t ideal, but it’s not necessarily the end of the world, either,” said Naumburg. She urges parents to think about the bigger picture: Has yelling become the main way you interact with your kids? Are you yelling more than you’re not? Can you balance the yelling and the difficult moments with moments of fun and genuine connection?
If, after taking stock, you’re concerned the yelling has gotten away from you a bit, don’t sweat it — you can get back on track by considering some of the steps here and taking care of yourself.
Or maybe you’ll realize that you’re not actually yelling as much as you thought.
“We’re not going for perfect,” Naumburg said. “We’re just going for a little better than before.”