Many parents admit they yell too much, but do not know how to avoid exploding when irritated. It takes effort and discipline to defeat any addiction, whether it’s overeating or cigarette smoking and the screaming addiction is no different. Thankfully, when we really want to grow spiritually, we are given Heavenly guidance.
To get their needs satisfied, children have only five tactics: get mad, bad, sad, sick or crazy. It is up to parents to be role models and show them more mature ways to cope with life’s frustrations and losses. The following will help:
1. Get adequate sleep. People are more irritable and aggressive when sleep-deprived. With less than seven hours sleep, the body produces stress hormones that cause you to be agitated and make it difficult to control your harmful impulses.
2. Avoid junk foods. Sugar gives a short-term lift, but robs the body of essential B vitamins, weakening the nervous system. More than 150 mg. of caffeine a day (about 2 cups of coffee) reduces calcium, which is nature’s tranquilizer.
3. Dispute the toxic beliefs. Violence feeds on lies, like:
“Screaming reduces stress by letting off steam. So it’s really a good thing to scream at them.”
“Parenting tips are for normal children; mine are not normal; they are wild, defective and bad.”
“Screaming is the only way to get them to behave.”
“I can’t help it. They make me scream. I can’t control myself when I’m nervous.”
“Wimpy parents who don’t hit end up with spoiled brats who walk all over them.”
“I got hit and it didn’t harm me.”
Replace these beliefs with spiritual truths:
“They’ll mimic my behavior, leading to more abuse. Screaming is ona’as devarim, as destructive as eating traif.”
“Every act of patience will come back ten-fold when they are older! If I scream, I teach my children that screaming is the way to solve problems. I can train them to be disciplined only if I am disciplined.”
“If I were given $1million each time I refused to yell, I wouldn’t yell! In fact, I’d beg them to misbehave so that I could earn more. This proves that I can be disciplined if I focus on spiritual rewards.”
“I can be firm and set limits without violence.”
“It did harm me! That’s why I lack self-control today and have such low self-esteem!”
4. Thank them for irritating you. Critical parents send the message that, “Messes and mistakes are dangerous.” The thought of danger produces stress hormones that weaken the nervous system, making it more difficult to be disciplined. Train yourself to think, “My children are my personal trainers. All irritations are Hashem’s way of forcing me to be self-disciplined.” Practice in your imagination. Imagine a child misbehaving, like mashing banana into his hair, hitting a sibling or being insolent. Imagine saying, “Thank you for giving me another opportunity to improve my middos.” It sounds crazy, but it works! The words push you out of your lower brain and into your upper brain.
5. Separate yourself from the child. If you feel like you are a nuclear reactor about to spew toxic radioactivity, get away. Do not talk, as you are likely to say things you will regret. Go to another room, close the door and take slow deep breaths until you are calm.
6. Recognize trivialities. You can hear about a plane crash, God forbid, and feel nothing, yet get frantic because the floor is filthy. Ask yourself is it ikar or tafel?
Ikar refers to events which are life-changing, truly dangerous or of lasting significance, such as birth, death, marriage, major illness, abuse, etc.
Tafel refers to events that are uncomfortable, inconvenient and irritating, but with no lasting scars: minor physical pain, mood swings, delays, cancellations, traffic, things that break, wear out, fade, get stained or lost, shrink, appliances that break-down, clothing issues (unless it’s immodest), food issues (cold/hot, salty/spicy, fancy/plain, etc.), appearance (weight, hair, etc.), social snubs and slights to one’s honor, minor monetary losses and minor embarrassments.
Most of life’s irritations and frustrations are trivialities, although your initial response may be, “This is awful! I can’t stand it!” Saying the word “triviality” signals your brain to “work it down” and avoid the drama, anger, blame, guilt and fear which do nothing but elevate cholesterol level, raise blood pressure and create more inner anguish. Saying “triviality”does not mean that we ignore the problem, but that we handle it as calmly and as effectively as possible.
To help keep trivialities in the realm of tafel, think of a ruler with calibrations from 1 to 10, with 10 a true disaster and anything in the area of 1 to 5 as a triviality. Use the ruler to measure your level of sadness, frustration, anger, etc. Remember, trivialities often don’t feel trivial at first. Take 3 seconds to measure. And never tell others that their “10” is only a “1.” This is insulting and alienating. For example, when my daughter complained that her son, almost three, is not yet toilet trained, I wanted to say, ‘It’s a triviality.’ Boruch Hashem, I didn’t! For her, it is a major event, as it affects whether he will be accepted into a cheder and impacts on her self-esteem as a mother. I did say that anger will make him more tense and delay the training process. And I showed her a one-day training plan.
Do not trivialize issues affecting your mental or emotional well-being:
“My eight year old told me that his teacher slapped him for not having his finger on the word. Some parents might ignore this behavior, but I was determined to speak up about it.”
Just as we avoid bal tashchis, not wasting food or damaging a physical object for no reason, we must try not waste our emotional energy on anything that is not eternal. “I saw the effect of teaching my children to recognize trivialities. My ten year old got a pair of gold earrings for her birthday and lost one within a week. Yet she was able to say, ‘It felt like a 10, but I know it’s really a triviality.’ I hugged her and told her that this was a big victory.”
Put up signs on the fridge that say: “Material losses are trivialities. We fix or forget it. We do not get upset about anything that has no eternal value.”
7. Do not extrapolate into the future. Often, what bothers us most is not what the child is doing now but our fear of how it will affect his future:
“If he’s wetting the bed now, it means he’s a total failure.”
“If she’s such a slob now, she’ll never get a shidduch, and if she does, she’ll be a terrible wife.”
“If he’s not getting good marks now, he’ll be a total failure as a human being.”
Put the future in a box labeled “Hashem’s business.” Our business is helping them develop good middos right now. We don’t know when the seeds we plant will sprout.
8. Reward good behavior. Many mothers hate good-behavior charts and prizes, but children need to see tangible rewards as much as adults need a paycheck. Talk the victory language even if you are feeling down – and especially when you are feeling down! Children need love most when they are least lovable. And we do, too!
Spiritual tests don’t look like Mount Sinai experiences with thunder and lighting and major miracles. The smallest irritation is an opportunity to develop our “soul powers”: kindness, self-control, compassion, determination, gratitude, humility, self-sacrifice and faith. Think of which middos you might use when:
The baby-sitter doesn’t show up: ______________
Your child loses his library book: _____________
Your child flunks a test: ________________
Your child is chutzpadik: ________________
Your child whines, “She hit me”: __________________
The children are fighting again: ___________________
Your child doesn’t want to get up in the morning: _____________
Be grateful for the opportunity to come closer to Hashem by working on your middos.
“I often told my children that the harder it is to do a mitzvah, the bigger the reward. It’s like firecrackers going off in shomayim [heaven]. One day, my seven-year-old said, ‘Since you told us about the firecrackers in shomayim, I now want to do only mitzvos the whole time.’ Then he gave me $1.00 from his own money for tzdakah.”
Have in mind at all times that your acts of self-control, usually unseen and unappreciated by anyone other than G-d, will be rewarded!
My KIDS TOOL KIT is now available. It contains rulers to measure difficulties, points to encourage behavioral change, COPING CARDS to transform pain into spiritual victories and other helpful tools for parents. Call Perl Abromowitz, 718-640-1878. Or order from www.miriamadahan.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.