Being a parent can be tough work, and when kids don’t cooperate, it’s easy to lose your cool and raise your voice. But is there a better way for parents to get their point across? In this exclusive Q&A, author, longtime nurse, and temperament specialist Rona Renner gives us the lowdown on parenting, discipline, and her new book, Is That Me Yelling?, which offers frustrated parents everywhere effective communication strategies that focus on their child’s unique temperament.
As a nurse, what inspired you to write Is That Me Yelling?
I worked as a nurse for many years in hospitals and clinics. I was fortunate in 1991 to be trained at Kaiser Permanente to be a temperament counselor. Since then, I’ve been passionate about working with parents to understand their children’s behavior and to develop strategies based on several factors, including temperament traits. Temperament is a person’s natural, inborn style of moving in the world. For example, some children are mellow and easy-going, while others are intense and strong-willed.
In the classes I taught, I frequently heard parents say, “Why am I yelling so much?” or, “I’m losing it all of the time with my child, and I can’t stand the person I’ve become!” The parental stress and lack of support I was seeing often had negative consequences for the entire family. I wrote Is That Me Yelling? in order to reach a large number of parents with easy-to-understand strategies and stories so they would not feel so alone in their struggle to be good parents. I wanted to write a book based on the experiences I had as a parent of four children, as a parent educator, and as a radio show host. I learned to yell less, and I knew that other parents could as well.
What sets Is That Me Yelling? apart from the myriad parenting books out there?
Unlike many parenting books, Is That Me Yelling? invites parents to see themselves as the expert regarding their child. Learning about their child’s behavioral style helps parents decide what approach is best for their child—a strategy that might be different from what the neighbor’s child needs. Also, the concept of becoming more familiar with oneself supports a parent’s ability to see the triggers and consequences of yelling. I ask readers to keep track of why they yell and to dig deeper into the possible causes so that they can plan for change.
I offer clear steps to help people notice, accept, and manage their strong feelings and reactions. Any parent will tell you that getting angry is easy to do, and anger and other emotions can quickly take over and lead to out-of-control yelling. Is That Me Yelling? combines techniques to manage emotions; compassionate stories to reduce feelings of guilt and shame; and suggestions for non-yelling discipline approaches.
Most parents have yelled at their kids at some point. How is yelling ultimately ineffective?
Most parents will yell at their child, and in no way am I saying that a parent is bad because of that. Yelling happens, but most parents I talk with report that their kids either tune out, withdraw, or learn how to do what they want even if their parent yells. Many parents also report that they see their children learn to yell at a younger sibling or friend, since children learn by what we do.
“Discipline” means “to teach,” so yelling is ineffective in teaching children how to solve problems and resolve differences in a respectful way. Sometimes yelling gets a child’s attention, but each parent has to ask himself or herself, At what cost?
Can yelling have lasting, negative effects on children? On parents? How so?
It’s difficult to say what the consequences of yelling are on a particular child, since it will vary based on many factors. If a parent is attentive and loving most of the time, but yells now and then, chances are a child will grow up with a healthy view of himself. When a parent yells frequently and says hurtful things like, “Why are you always so mean? Why can’t you do what I ask just once? Look how good your brother is,” children think that they are bad, and that could affect them for a lifetime. Research shows that parental anger impacts a child’s academic and emotional functioning. Yelling matters, and the words parents say matter. Some children may wind up becoming more aggressive themselves, or they may internalize parental anger, and as a result experience shame, depression, or other emotional problems.
Many parents report that when they realize they are frequently yelling they feel guilty and incompetent as a parent. Some parents recognize that they sound just like their own parent who yelled too much, and they become determined to find other ways to discipline their child.
Do you have any tips to help parents better manage their own stress before losing their cool?
There are different kinds of stress. Sometimes people are stressed because a work project isn’t completed yet, a child is having trouble at school, a partner is ill, or a new baby is born. Different circumstances require different strategies. I don’t think it’s useful to tell people to relax or to not be stressed, since stress is a part of our lives. What I find most helpful in my life is to continue to become aware of myself. I pay attention to my feelings, thoughts, breathing, and sensations in my body. I work to understand what things in my life I can change and what stressors I have no control over. Once I can identify the things that are causing me to act or feel in ways that are uncomfortable, I ask myself, What do I need?
Sometimes I just need to slow down and come back to my center, and other times I have to talk to someone else about an issue, and often I need to give myself some time and space to figure out what needs to change. Throughout the book, I suggest that parents continue to learn more about themselves and to develop self-compassion and acceptance for what they observe and experience.
There is a section in the book where I present the A-B-C-D-Es of not yelling. A brief description is:
A = Ask yourself what you are feeling and thinking.
B = Become aware of your breathing.
C = Calm down before you discipline.
D = Decide what your child needs.
E = Empathize with what is going on with your child.
The emphasis of A-B-C-D-E is to take your time before you discipline.
In your book, you talk about the four Cs of discipline. Can you briefly touch on these?
When a person is in a state of awareness that comes after doing the A-B-C-D-Es, it is easier to come up with effective ways to guide and teach a child based on what is needed in the moment. The four Cs of discipline I describe are: communication, choices, consequences, and connection.
The way we communicate what we want our child to do is essential. I suggest being clear, simple, and respectful. Choices also need to be simple. When you give too many choices to children they become confused and overwhelmed. Consequences are a way to hold children accountable for their choices and behaviors, and it helps if the rules of the family are clear (not a simple task). At the core of effective discipline is the connection that you have with your child on a day-to-day basis. Spending focused and enjoyable time is the foundation of disciplining without yelling.
Why is it so important to tailor your discipline approach to fit your child’s unique temperament?
What works with one child may not work with another. A sensitive child might respond quickly to your firm look or slightly raised voice, while an active, impulsive child may only respond when you take action. It’s vital that we think about the child we are communicating with and adapt our parenting style based on a child’s age, temperament, and life circumstances.