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Parents: how not to shout

As parents, we all know that shouting isn’t a great idea. None of us embarked on parenting with ‘Shouty Mum/Dad’ as our ideal destination. But somewhere along the way, we get sucked into it. Especially when nothing else seems to work and the kids just won’t do as they are told. Most of us shout because we don’t know how not to shout. how not to shout

Shouting simply models to children that raising your voice is an appropriate way to get what you want. Usually, it starts off as a last resort – we ask calmly, we ask calmly, we ask calmly again. And when we still get ignored after all that asking, we end up shouting.

But shouting can quickly become a habitual dynamic. The children learn that Mum/Dad doesn’t really mean it until they start shouting. And Mum/Dad learns that they might as well just go straight to shouting because that’s the only thing that ever works.

Whether you’re stuck in the shouty parenting trap or just keen to avoid it, here are some simple tips on how not to shout.

Try whispering if you want attention

If you feel like you have to shout to be heard over the children’s noise, try whispering. I know it is counter-intuitive but if you have ever lost your voice as a parent you will know that everyone’s volume in the house goes down when you can only whisper.

Shouting is fundamentally competitive. Everyone tends to join in and get louder and louder in their quest to be heard. Whisper, and the people around you lower their volume too. The best teachers are those who know how not to shout. I’ve watched great teachers use quiet almost-whispering voices to bring a noisy class of 30 infants to attention just by counting backwards from five. Try it.

Don’t give instructions from another room

If you yell instructions to your children from another room, you are easy to ignore. Especially if you are asking your child to stop doing something they like (e.g. watching TV) and come and do something they are not so keen on (e.g. get ready for bed). They will just pretend they didn’t hear you and you’ll end up shouting even louder!

And if you start an interaction with your voice raised, you are already half way to losing your cool. It might all start off calmly – but after you have shouted that instruction louder and louder several times you will definitely start to feel annoyed. And once you are shouting and annoyed, things are likely to go downhill. That’s because our minds and bodies are very closely linked. If we raise our voices, our emotions will soon follow.

Get up close

If you need to speak to your child – either to give an instruction or in response to poor behaviour, get up close to them. We instinctively don’t shout in people’s faces. So if you are up close – about an arm’s length away – and addressing your child face-to-face, your voice is likely to drop in volume automatically. And when our volume goes down, our emotions will follow. (And if you do find yourself in a state where you could shout in your child’s face, you need to remove yourself from the situation and find somewhere to calm down.)

Don’t keep asking

If we are up close to our child asking them calmly to do something and they ignore us or don’t do what we ask, they are making a conscious choice not to co-operate. If you keep repeating the instruction, the only thing that’s going to change is that you are going to get cross. And you’ll probably end up shouting. So, my top tips on how not to shout? Only ask twice and then follow through calmly with an appropriate action or consequence. Draw the line before anyone starts raising their voice, not after. (See The secret of calm parenting.)

There are other factors that will help too – building a good relationship with your child, setting ground rules, having reasonable expectations and dealing with your own stress will all make a positive difference. But if you want to know how not to shout, this is a great place to start.

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