We choose not to yell at our daughter as a means of communication or discipline. I recognize that one day I will likely end up yelling at her or saying something quite unkind that I will immediately regret, and I know that I will have to be gentle and loving with myself when I make that mistake (or series of mistakes), and to trust that she will not be scarred for life as a result.
I have never yelled at the children I teach, other than to shout a name across a playground or gym to get someone’s attention for safety reasons. I do my best to avoid contributing to the escalation of big feelings and behaviours by raising my voice or using unkind words. I try to invite kids into my peace instead of engaging in their rage, getting down on the same physical level as them, making eye contact where appropriate, speaking respectfully, gently, and confidently (often so quietly that children need to literally stop what they are doing to hear me-after all, everyone wants to know what the teacher is whispering, as it could be something juicy!). At both school and home I have found this to be the least stressful way for me to cope with being knocked off guard by kids’ verbally or physically aggressive outbursts. I often have to remind myself to take that extra moment to slow down, breathe, and calm my own mind and body before I can confidently and calmly respond instead of react to a situation. I find that I have to work a lot harder on this style of parenting and teaching on days when my own needs have not been met, such as adequate rest and nutrition.
I try my best to set limits and speak to children the way that I would like to be spoken to in a time of crisis and confusion. The way that a surgeon spoke to me when telling me that my father’s cancer had unexpectedly metastasized and that he had done all that he could do. The way that my husband assured me that despite the hard patch we were going through in our marriage during our years of infertility and loss, that he wasn’t going to let me push him away and was not going anywhere. The way that my sister gently and lovingly told me that even if I spent thousands of dollars more on further diagnostic testing to determine the exact cause of his pleural effusion, my cat was never going to get better.
Big emotions can rock our worlds and make even the most level-headed and peaceful person feel like they are going crazy. I want to model a loving and peaceful way of coping with my own big feelings. I don’t pretend that nothing bothers me, or ignore my own feelings. I let my daughter know when I feel angry, upset, sad, frustrated, etc. by naming the feelings and talking about what I can do to make myself feel better.
Tonight I was privileged to experience a reinforcement that what we are doing is working.
Willow was in tears this evening and told me that she was “frustrated” because her dress-up bin necklace was “being very difficult”. I asked her what we should to do solve that problem. She asked for help to unravel the knotted necklace, then decided that she needed some time without the necklace because it made her feel angry. She requested her monkey to cuddle so that she could feel better. I could almost see her cortisol and adrenaline levels decreasing and her oxytocin and serotonin levels increasing as she smelled and snuggled her monkey and covered him in kisses. I wish that I had been able to both recognize and cope with my big feelings at 2.5 years old (or even 25 years old) with the maturity and grace that this child demonstrated tonight.