Stop Yelling, Daddy!

Local dad Joey Guido (Daddy Brain) shares another insightful article with us! Thanks again, Joey.

Stop Yelling, Daddy!

No matter how hard I try, no matter how mindful I attempt to be — I sometimes find myself yelling at one or both of my kids. It never lasts very long and it’s always after an extended amount of crying, screaming, food throwing or obsessive-compulsive behavior that rivals Mr. Monk’s (from the USA TV show).

It seems that I can not get through a weekend without yelling about something. And this weekend was no exception.

It was our 11-year anniversary. The babysitter cancelled on us, so instead of a romantic adult dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, we settled for a family outing at Quaker Steak & Lube. As the name suggests, this is not your ordinary “anniversary dinner.” At least not for us.

Max, 4, began a tirade of wanting more macaroni and cheese WAY before he was done eating what he had in front of him. Relentless, he continued to repeat his desire for more. I tried many ways of reasoning with him to stop. Since his brother Joss, almost 2, was flinging his mac & cheese off his plate, I deftly gave some to Max who ate it and stopped complaining. OK, that wasn’t so hard.

Now Joss starts screaming. Not because I gave his brother some of his food, but because he’s done. He’s ready to go. NOW. My wife has barely eaten & my beer is far from finished. We do our best to eat what we can. I realize this situation is a great way to help people lose weight. Under this type of stress, one simply does not have an appetite!

On the way to the car…
Everything has calmed down. I’ve managed to hold it together until I try to put Joss in the car. He grabs onto the metal rods holding up the passenger side headrest. He clutches them with the will and the strength of a gorilla who’s really hungry for the very last banana (or the most desirable mate).

Now he’s just trying to tell me (in his 2 year old way), “hey dad, listen, sorry but I’m not ready to get in my car seat yet. Maybe you could give me a minute…” But I’m not hearing him. I just want him to sit in the car seat!

I finally pry his fingers off the headrest and get him in the seat. He’s screaming and fighting me and then he kicks me in the face (not intentional)!

That was it. I saw red. I lost it. I started screaming at the top of my lungs in the middle of the Quaker Steak & Lube parking lot about how he was “being a bad boy. BAD BOY! Stop it! Stop it now!”

Another weekend tainted. Another chance at setting a good example lost. It doesn’t matter (at least not at that moment) that I set hundreds of good examples for my boys every week. This is simply not a habit I am proud of, it’s not who I want to be. My father yelled a lot when I was a kid (big surprise there), and now I am teaching my kids the same thing. And I can’t seem to stop.

The whole incident may have lasted 20 seconds, but three days later I am still ashamed & incredibly disappointed with myself. It’s not that my son’s behavior was acceptable. It wasn’t. But he’s not even two.

The problem is that my behavior is unacceptable — at any age.

I’ve given this much thought, because I realize “trying harder” to stay calm is not the answer. It won’t work unless I address the underlying factors that are causing me to be so volatile. Joss’ behavior was only the catalyst.

The real problem is my frustration. I’m tired & overwhelmed. My wife has diabetes and gallbladder problems, and I’m scared of losing her. I miss my boys all day while I’m at work. And although I am very happy to have a good job, it is quite often VERY FRUSTRATING! We’re 800 miles from everyone we know, everyone we can depend on for help. We are alone out here in Wisconsin. Money always seems to be an issue, and there’s a ton of stuff to do in order to maintain our home.

Hey, I know most (if not all) parents have this same amount of stress. I’m not saying my case is special. But I’m having trouble finding a solution.

Yelling has always seemed like an inferior way to handle a situation with my boys, unless they are in immediate danger. Now, author Mark Brady, Ph.D., reveals that yelling at our kids goes way beyond parental guilt and hurt feelings. In his book, A Father’s Book of Listening: Essential Practices for Truly Loving Our Children, he explains that yelling can cause long-term emotional damage, and it can negatively affect brain development.

“If you’re a parent who attempts to control, reprimand, discipline or get your kids’ attention by screaming at them, psychologist Sarah Radcliff suggests this is a negative parenting pattern that you don’t want to continue. Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not, research shows that screaming parents cause their children considerable harm.

A study in a 2001 Journal of American Psychiatry agrees: emotional abuse was more predictive of mental illness than either physical or sexual abuse!”

This came as a shock to me. But this next part is just plain scary…

“Screaming at children significantly impairs their brain development. Dr. Allan Shore, at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, explains that a number of times, all through development, children’s brains undergo massive pruning — as much as 50% of the brain’s 200 billion neurons. And which brain structures ultimately receive the bulk of that pruning has great impact on development.

If you scream at your children, you repeatedly activate structures in the limbic system like the amygdala and the hippocampus — structures that regulate “flight or fight” reactions. Repeated activation tells the brain that the environment is not safe, thus a maximum amount of interconnecting neurons in these areas must remain intact.

Because pruning has to happen, neurons will be pruned from structures like the frontal cortex where higher-order functions tend to be regulated. Thus, screaming at your kids works to impair their intellectual and emotional development…”

This information has helped me be more mindful about yelling at my boys. It seems the stakes are much higher than I thought. It is difficult though. Realistically, I know that sometimes I’m going to raise my voice. Like most parents I’m exhausted, overworked and stressed — in other words, I’m out of balance.

But for my kids’ sake, I need to keep my cool when I’m feeling bombarded by whining, tantrums, harping, freaking out, destructive behavior and other nasty things that healthy 2 & 4-year olds have a tendency to do. I’m not saying to let the kids rule the home. I’m just suggesting that there are other ways to deal with them. Ways that don’t involve long-term damage.

And remember, you are not alone…

We’d love to hear from other local dads as well! We’d love to know more about local dads’ groups and events, and whatever else you’d like to share. If you’d like to contribute, you can e-mail us at raisingmadison [!at]hotmail.com.

In addition to his blog, Daddy Brain, Joey Guido is also a speaker working with dads, students and families. Find out more at www.joeyguidospeaks.com.

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