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The Phrase That Got Me to Stop Yelling at My Kid

How do I parent? I do as I see fit and certainly don't ask the kids for their opinions. I also sometimes yell. (I also sometimes resort to dropping things into my latte that perhaps I shouldn't ... )

But yes, I am a parent who yells when I get frustrated on account of kids not listening.

The last few months I found myself yelling a heck of a lot more than usual, beyond the inferred level of "it's acceptable to yell this much in a one week period" that all us parents try to keep tabs on. But my habits have since changed, thanks to one single phrase my daughter brought to my attention.

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Yelling runs in my family. Mom mom yelled. Mom dad yelled. My earliest memories of one set of grandparents was of them standing in the kitchen and just yelling at each other for reasons that did not require yelling—reasons like making a sandwich. (I'm serious.)

I'm also 100 percent Armenian by descent, which makes me a loud person by default—we talk loud, laugh loud, use our hands and tend to yell just because. I was never threatened by yelling, I just always considered it one of the many levels of speaking. Getting yelled at made me listen, getting yelled at made me tough. I was raised to consider yelling a part of life and communication: Yelling makes you louder and makes other people listen, too. I can go from zero to 100 without a second thought. No big deal.

Our cycle to nowhere continued: I got more angry and she felt more attacked.

But I'm learning I might be wrong.

My older daughter is 5 years old. She's amazing (proud mom here), but she's also a typical 5-year-old who enjoys certain independence and can push hot buttons just for kicks. She's my good girl, but we had a particularly rough few months in the yelling department. She'd ignore me if I told her to get her shoes on for school, so I'd yell. She'd walk away if I asked her to come help me with something in the kitchen, so I'd yell. I'd yell without a thought other than "I need to yell in order to stop this new sassy attitude."

Most every time I'd yell, she'd cry, "Why are you yelling at me?" and then I'd get even more frustrated and yell more about how her not listening makes me yell. Our cycle to nowhere continued: I got more angry and she felt more attacked. And then I opened my colleague Katie Hurley's new book "The Happy Kid Handbook."* Light bulb.

Thumbing through, I learned my daughter is a dominant introvert (with small trickles of extrovert in between) according to the offered definitions. Huh? No way. But I'm totally outgoing ... and of course my daughter is just like me in every way! (See how ridiculous that looks in print? But I really thought it.) As it is, introverts can apparently get so lost in their own thoughts and literally not even hear you when you're talking to them. So I decided to give my daughter the benefit of the doubt and test this theory at my next opportunity.

My girl was playing on the floor with her Legos and it was time for a bath. "It's time for bath." I said. Nothing. "It's time for bath," I was invisible. A little louder, "It's time for bath." (Am I alive?) At this point I'd usually yell "IT'S TIME FOR BATH GET UP NOW OR ELSE I'M TAKING ALL OF THOSE AWAY!" but I didn't (it was hard). Instead, I leaned down beside her and firmly said, "Hey, I'm talking to you. How can I get you to listen?"

She looked at me. Her response was plain: "Just say, 'May I have your attention please.' I almost laughed, thinking she was mocking me. She was all-in serious. As though this would ever work in a million years. But I agreed to try things her way and figured I'd go back to doing zero to 100 yelling when this suggested technique proved ineffective.

To my shock, it's working.

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"May I have your attention please" is proving to be a magical phrase at our house. When she won't hear me (or won't listen), I'll take a deep breath to calm myself down before opening my mouth to scream, say the phrase, and then she'll stop what she's doing and look up. I haven't been yelling (nearly as much), she's listening more and we're both happier on a day-to-day basis.

I'm really hoping this sticks (it's been about two weeks).

*It should be noted that I am mentioning "The Happy Kid Handbook" not because I happen to know author and mom.me contributor Katie Hurley, but because it truly did ignite a light bulb in my brain for how to handle these perceived "attitude swings" in my 5-year-old. And no, Katie has no idea I'm including her book in my post at the time of this writing.

Photo courtesy Jill Simonian

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