Mahatma Gandhi led a peaceful revolution against the British Empire’s control over India throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s one of my favorite quotes, and one I think of often as a father and husband. If I want things to change in my family, I have to lead that change. How can I expect something from my children if I do not possess that thing myself? I have to teach them and lead by example.
With revolutions happening in Egypt, and possibly Libya, I have decided to lead a revolution myself - within me.
So, I begin with a confession: I yell.
My wife hates it and so do I. My Dad yelled, I yell, and more than likely, if I don’t quit yelling, my kids will yell too. They’ll yell when they’re mad. They’ll yell at their kids, and their wives will hate it too. The cycle will continue.
I don’t want that.
I’m always trying to be a good man, but this is one thing that I struggle with A LOT.
Many times a day, I yell at my son Joseph because he’s playing in the bathroom continually flushing the toilet until only the squeaky sounds of desperate hardware trying to do their job can be heard and the toilet bowl is as dry as Death Valley. Or, he’s playing with the soap - filling the dish until the soap bar turns to mush, then he smears it on the mirror, all over the faucet and on his toothbrush. Fun!
Nearly every morning I yell at my son David because he’s running late for school. Since Jorie and I have implemented a behavior system based on earning points for prizes, he’s done much better by “stowing his gear away neatly” in his cubby in the closet. Still, there are days when he can’t find a glove, a hat, or even his coat and in vain he “searches” only to get frozen mid-stride by the hypnotic spell of cartoons, until I yell at him to un-freeze, reminding him of what he’s supposed to be doing.
On their way out the door I’m chasing and barking at them like a Blue Heeler herding sheep. I don’t even know how many times my son has been late for school and gotten tardy slips. It’s partly his fault, but since my wife is driving all the way across town to his school…it’s her fault too. But, since I’m the daddy, and my children (and my wife) are my responsibility, it’s also my fault. Maybe I should yell louder?
Nope. In his book Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime: The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids, clinical psychologist Dr. Ray Guarendi recommends that we quit yelling all together, and perhaps the best way to do that is to quit, “cold turkey.”
Once we begin to talk softly, our children will listen to us, if only out of curiosity. Chances are, though, the effects will wear off and we will re-enter the vicious cycle which leads to us yelling again with little effect on our children’s listening habits. Dr. Guarendi says, “To get durable listening, speaking quietly is only the first step.” He explains further:
You must provide a reason for your children to listen. In other words, you must make it in their best interest to heed you. How? By backing your quiet request with a quiet statement of the consequences for ignoring you.
- Hazel, please clean your room by 6:00 P.M., or you’ll stay there until it’s spotless.
- Wyatt, don’t squirt your water pistol at the dog, or you’ll lose it for a week.
- Angela, please leave your brother alone, or you’ll sit on the couch for twenty minutes.
To paraphrase an old saying, one deed is worth a thousand decibels. Your consequences are going to do your talking, not your words. Will your kids ignore your quietly conveyed choices? Most likely. But, in time they’ll find out you mean what you softly say. You don’t need volume to be reckoned with. You are willing to act in the event that diplomacy is unsuccessful.
As I think about Dr. Guarendi’s suggestions, it seems that there is a process of steps that must be taken for a parent to succeed. The first step is the realization of the problem: YELLING! The next is the willingness to change. The third is to take action. The fourth, is follow through - Be Consistent!
We all have our ugliness, our issues and baggage. But we’re adults. We have the ability to change the things we don’t like about ourselves. I invite you to begin your own revolution. And, to our little ones, let us all speak softly, yet love them LOUDLY!