THE BLOG
02/26/2014 12:55 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2014

The One Word That Keeps Me From Yelling at My Kids

Joy Gabriel

I've unofficially nick-named my 2-year-old daughter "Old Yeller." She yells all the time and I have no idea why. She yells when she's mad or impatient or frustrated or I can't understand what her little 2-year-old tongue has tried to tell me 10 times already (You want to... Eat a lolly? Find your dolly? Ohhhh! Poop in the potty!) just like every other 2.5-year-old out there. She also yells when it's Christmas morning and she's excited. Or when everyone is laughing. Or I'm talking to someone else. Anyone else. She just yells.

Does she have a hearing problem, is it developmental, is this just how she expresses herself? I have no idea. My guess is the latter because if you remember, she came out screaming.

My, that baby has a lot to say, the nurse told me.

After the colic screaming stopped, the adorable baby-talk babbling began, except she yelled it. So loud and so excited at 4:30 in the morning did she yell that baby talk that I thought we were going to get kicked out of our apartment (luckily, that apartment had a straight-up crazy woman living next door who had been power sanding her bathroom for 10 years, so I don't think she minded the noise much).

Sometimes the yelling is funny, sometimes it's maddening and it's almost always (heaven help me for this confession I'm about to confess) annoying.

The yelling grates on my nerves until I start to feel I am being specifically tortured and punished for something in a past/present/future life for which there is no redemption.

Hyperbole aside, it's a thing that keeps me up nights. I'm trying my darnedest to understand her so I can know how best to teach and guide (or in other words: parent) her.

I have a feeling it's a phase and this too shall pass.

Nevertheless, I do not know why she yells so much when I make such a conscious effort not to yell at her.

I believe in setting clear, firm limits a child can understand. I don't believe in communicating or enforcing them via screaming. Especially with this issue. The same way I don't believe you can teach a child NOT to hit BY hitting them, I don't believe you can teach a child to speak respectfully by screaming in their face.

I have a dear friend (a product of loving parents, she is quick to note) who nonetheless yelled at her. Sometimes, she tells me, her mother would scream the rafters down and once the dust settled tell her "you just won't respond to anything else." I used to hear that just from the child's side, but now I hear the mama in it. (Ah, motherhood). I hear a frustrated woman (likely at wit's end) in search of a way to help and guide and discipline her child. I get that. But I also see my friend who, good intentions aside, internalized this screaming to the extent that it has become The Voice in her head. It's what she hears when she makes a mistake or even just when she's anxious or having big feelings ... so it's hard for her to have any compassion with herself. She only knows how to be hard on herself. How to worry there is something wrong with her that can't be fixed.

I am positive this was not her parents' intention. I believe their words (in whatever tone, with whatever delivery) likely came from a place of love. The best they knew how to give it. Isn't that where we're all coming from? But it was not received that way. That love felt like a brick.

And so I wonder if maybe this mother -- in her desire to teach and train and raise a respectful adult -- was maybe coming from fear more than love. Maybe she experienced the common mothering anxiety we feel when our kids behave badly (Oh no, she will never learn to say/do x and will be a huge failure! Oh no, I'm raising a brat! A serial killer!) and maybe this thought, this fear, drove her to nip it in the bud by any means necessary (you don't negotiate with terrorists!)

Every mother I know worries. Ultimately, I think it mostly boils down to are the kids doing OK and are we doing right by them. Sometimes, we confuse that worry with love. If I hold my breath enough -- if I wring my hands enough -- or pray enough or will it enough then I can manage it or control and then it will be OK. Please, please, please let it be OK.

But that's not love.

Love is you already are OK. Right now right here today. In this moment of screaming craziness. This behavior isn't acceptable but your feelings are. There is room and time enough to work this out. This is OK. You are OK.

Love is faith.

Love says, Breathe Honey, This is a child not a serial killer. This child is a child.

I think this world needs more love. More kindness. More compassion. More patience. I think this world needs people who are willing to speak respectfully when someone screams at them. Who are willing to be patient with petty annoyances and difficult problems too. Who are willing to choose Love when the easiest thing to do is strike back (do not negotiate with terrorists). More seeing us as a team, in pursuit of the same goals (despite our differences) rather than enemies (because of our differences).

If I want to live in such a world, if I want that world for my children, then this little voice inside tells me (small but confident because it is not afraid, it does not need to scream) I need to start with the world inside the walls of my own little apartment.

I choose to follow that voice because I believe it to be true. I believe that voice you hear when all the fear fades away -- that voice can only lead to love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

The greatest of these is love.

When it comes down to it, I don't know how my daughter is experiencing any of this. I'm smart enough to know I can't possibly define (let alone meet) each of her needs. Maybe she'll grow up, roll her eyes and say gosh mom, you shoulda just yelled at me.

But when it comes down to it, I can only live according to my values, and I don't think I'll regret standing on the side of love.

I hope Old Yeller agrees.

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