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They Wont Listen Unless I Get Mad


Dr. Ray, My kids won't do anything I ask unless I yell. And they won't stop doing anything unless I yell some more. I'm getting louder by the day. - Old Yeller


One earmark of an addiction is habituation. In simple words, habituation means you need more and more of something to get the same effect. Even from this distance, it sure sounds as if your kids have habituated to your normal tone of voice, thus pulling you into more and more volume to get a reaction.

I suspect you weren't always in such loud shape. At one time though you might have to strain to remember you were probably calm during most discipline. But if words acted as your discipline and not consequences, as usually happens, the words lost impact. Then you were hooked into using even more words and louder words to make yourself heard. Alas, habituation is a stubborn phenomenon. Once it grabs you, it's easy to use more of the same approach, only to get more of the same response.

You see the end of all this. Yelling makes you feel mean and guilty, and your kids ignore you anyway. Nobody benefits. (Doesn't it seem that kids can outmaneuver us just by being themselves?) A nice thing about parenting, and discipline, is that we get a lot of chances to get smarter.

So how do you withdraw from the yelling addiction? Probably the least painful way is to go cold turkey. Cease yelling and return to normal speaking volume. I know, that's easier yelled than said. But to get Serena to hear soft words again you must start using soft words again. Otherwise, you'll just start yelling at her to listen when you talk softly.

Sometimes, merely talking softly works for a while because it's such a shock to the kids' systems. They're so stunned they listen, if only in a mindless daze. Sometimes a quiet tone works because Everhard wonders why, all of a sudden, you're so calm. He's wary about what you're up to. Then again, he might feel sorry for you. It's been years since you've talked so softly. Maybe you've finally cracked.

Even if the kids start to listen again, don't expect it to last. It's a honeymoon phase. To get durable listening, speaking quietly is only the first step. The second step is where you'll really make yourself heard.

You must provide a reason for your children to listen. In other words, you must make it in their best interests to heed you. How? By backing your quiet request with a quiet statement of the consequences for ignoring you. Examples: "Hazel, please have your room cleaned 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 1,000 decibels. Your consequences are doing 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.

Please try these ideas, they should help. I said, try these ideas, they should help! I'M TELLING YOU ONE LAST TIME, GIVE THESE IDEAS A TRY! I'm sorry. Let me try again. Please try these ideas, or I'm not going to answer your questions anymore.



Ray Guarendi. "They Wont Listen Unless I Get Mad."

Reprinted with permission of Ray Guarendi.

The Author

Raymond N. Guarendi, aka Dr. Ray, is a practicing clinical psychologist and authority on parenting and behavioral issues active in the Catholic niche media. Guarendi is an advocate of common sense approaches to child rearing and discipline issues. Guarendi received his B.A. and M.A. at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, and his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1978. He is the author of You're a better parent than you think!: a guide to common-sense parenting, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It; Straight Answers to Hearfelt Questions, Discipline that lasts a lifetime: the best gift you can give your kids, and Back to the Family.

Copyright © 2003 Ray Guarendi
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