I’m not a fan of yelling at children. In my more self-righteous parenting days (when we had just one adorable toddler), I used to say that yelling at a child was the verbal equivalent of hitting them.
I still believe that, most of the time. Obviously, yelling at your kid to stop before they run into the road doesn’t count. But I admittedly do yell out of frustration sometimes. Usually when I’ve asked someone to do something nicely a few times with no response, or when people are repeatedly dawdling as we’re trying leave the house.
I still don’t think yelling is necessary in those instances; after the fact, I can usually think of another way to have handled it. In the vast majority of yelling situations, I think there’s always a just-as-effective (and sometimes more) non-yelling solution.
Oh, if we were all perfectly patient parents all the time!
However, all of that being said, we had a situation last night where I believe a yelling rant at my kids was the only solution to the problem at hand.
Here’s how it went down.
Last night, we let the girls (12 and 8) stay up late to watch a couple of episodes of the original Little House on the Prairie TV series. Little House. Totally benign, right?
Yeah, not so much when it’s the Halloween episode. Headless horseman. Freaky music. Ghosts and graveyards.
Nothing truly horrifying happened, of course. It’s Little House on the Prairie, for crying out loud. But it was suspenseful and truly a little freaky. Especially to our girls, whose imaginations tend to gallop away with them.
At our house, combining a spooky Little House episode with a late bedtime is a recipe for disaster. Let’s just say our girls can take fear to the extreme.
Let me reiterate, just so there’s no confusion.
FREAKY TV SHOW + OUR TIRED GIRLS = MAJOR FRIGGIN’ ORDEAL
I knew it was going to be a rough night when The Muse started freaking out about going to sleep. She’s the older one, but also the one who tends toward hysterics when it comes to fear. Thankfully, Dolittle asked if they could sleep with the light on (they sleep in the same bed, just like Laura and Mary). So we all went upstairs together to go to bed.
Then Dolittle decided she couldn’t sleep with the light on.
Then The Muse freaked out about the idea of turning the light off.
I tried talking The Muse down, to no avail. I tried acknowledging her feelings and comforting her and praying with her. No dice. Trying to lighten the moment with humor didn’t help. Logic and reason didn’t make a dent. Annoyance and impatience, shockingly, didn’t either.
I tried negotiating with Dolittle. Offered for her to sleep in BoyWonder’s room. That freaked them both out because BoyWonder kicks, and that arrangement would mean The Muse would be sleeping alone.
Tears. Wailing. Begging. Hysteria. Mayhem.
Finally, fed up, I told them I was going to bed and to work it out themselves.
After about ten minutes, Dolittle came down the hall to our room. The Muse was still refusing to have the light off. Dolittle’s crying because she can’t sleep with it on. The Muse, predictably, has worked herself into a terrified frenzy that no amount of discussion could touch.
It was almost 11:00 pm.
I marched Dolittle back to the girls’ room.
Then I lost it.
Like a raving lunatic.
I shall show you in all caps, since that’s how it sounded (what with the yelling and such).
BOTH OF YOU BACK IN BED. NOW.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW RIDICULOUS IT IS THAT YOU TWO ARE HAVING SUCH A COW ABOUT THIS?!
YOU ARE AFRAID OF SOMETHING IN YOUR IMAGINATION, FROM A MAKE-BELIEVE TV SHOW MADE 30 YEARS AGO, THAT WE JUST WATCHED IN FRONT OF OUR COZY FIREPLACE IN OUR SAFE, WARM HOUSE.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT SOME KIDS ARE AFRAID OF WHEN THEY’RE GOING TO SLEEP?
THEY’RE AFRAID A BOMB MIGHT HIT THEIR HOUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. THAT MEN WITH GUNS MIGHT COME INTO THEIR HOUSE AND TAKE THEM AWAY. THAT THEY MIGHT GET BEATEN IN THE MORNING.
DO YOU KNOW WHERE SOME KIDS ARE SLEEPING TONIGHT?
ON A CARDBOARD BOX ON A SIDEWALK IN THE COLD. ON A FLEA-INFESTED BED ON A DIRT FLOOR. IN FILTHY, UNSAFE PLACES WHERE THEY HAVE REAL, LEGITIMATE FEARS THAT SOMETHING AWFUL MIGHT HAPPEN TO THEM.
YOU ARE LAYING HERE IN A WARM, SAFE BED, IN A WARM, SAFE HOUSE, WITH A CD PLAYER PLAYING STORIES THAT CAN TAKE YOUR MIND OFF YOUR FEARS – AND NOT ACTUAL FEARS, MIND YOU, FEARS THAT ARE PURELY IN YOUR IMAGINATION – AND YOU’RE BOTH THROWING A CONNIPTION FIT OVER A FRIGGIN’ LIGHT BULB.
YOU GUYS ARE SO SPOILED BY YOUR NORMAL LIVING CONDITIONS, YOU HAVE NO IDEA. LET’S JUST HAVE A SMIDGEON OF PERSPECTIVE HERE, SHALL WE?!
THERE ARE MILLIONS KIDS WHO WOULD GIVE ANYTHING – ANYTHING – TO BE LAYING WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW,
AND THEY WOULDN’T GIVE A FLYING FIG WHETHER THE LIGHT WAS ON OR OFF!!
I AM DONE WITH BOTH OF YOU TONIGHT. THE CD PLAYER IS GOING ON. THE LIGHT IS GOING OFF. AND THERE WILL BE NOT ONE MORE WORD OF DISCUSSION ABOUT IT. NOT. ONE. WORD.
Then I hit play, switched off the light, and left.
I could tell about 2/3 of the way through my rant that they got it, but I was on a roll so I finished it anyway. I think they know that when Mom starts pulling out the “millions of kids would trade places with you in a heartbeat” arguments – especially in my all caps voice – there’s no choice but to give up the tantrum. Not one peep out of either of them.
And they slept fine. All was well this morning.
Are you impressed that I didn’t swear? Me, too. I’m not a swearer, anyway, but I had to hold it back last night.
The only other solution I can think of would have been to let them come and sleep in our room. But I feel like we’ve coddled them enough in the fear department. At some point you have to confront the fear to learn that the boogie-man in your imagination isn’t real.
I think in this situation, the yelling really was the equivalent of slapping a hysterical person across the face. They needed something to jolt them out of it. I still dislike the idea of yelling as a discipline tool, but this was one instance where I thought – and still do think – it was the right choice.
Good thing I love these little people.
What do you think? Other than in matters of safety, is yelling ever a legitimate parenting tool?