We’ve all been there, peeking in at the sleeping child, resolving to do better after a day of shouting ‘NO!’ ‘NOT THAT ONE!’ and ‘FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING, JUST STOP!’ constantly. But sometimes, the next day rolls around, and within minutes (or sometimes seconds) the pattern starts again.
So, if you want to break the cycle and stop shouting at your child, expert, psychotherapist and mother of three Anna Mathuris here with advice about why we shout, how we can stop it, and what we can do to break that cycle.
Firstly, perhaps it’s important, though, to ask if sometimes it’s ok to shout? ‘If it’s down to safety, then yes, like an alarming alert that’s there to keep people safe,’ says Anna, but adds: ‘I think we know from the guilt that comes with shouting, that something is at conflict within ourselves. Often it’s an outspill and overflow of our own emotional response. A good way to make us realise this is that, if we’ve had a good night’s sleep, if we’ve got good support, we’re not burned out and overwhelmed, we respond very differently to our children.
‘The more burned out, the more we’re juggling, the less resources we have to regulate our own emotion.’
So, while often, we can feel our shouting is about the child, their behaviour, or our failures in parenting, Anna says often what can help is to make sure we’re looking after ourselves.
‘We’re always parenting ourselves – you know that moment in the morning where the alarm goes off and the kids get up and there’s that part of you that thinks ‘I want to stay in bed all day, have a bath, drink tea and not parent’? Then the other part says, ‘Come on, up you get’? We’re always parenting ourselves. And when we’re tired and stressed it’s that more knee-jerky child part of us that pops out.’
So, how can you take control of your inner child, so that you can in turn try and cope with your children? Here’s Anna’s tips…
If you find yourself shouting, ask yourself what you need.
That night-time guilt you often feel after a long, hard day, Anna says, is a helpful alarm – and instead of letting it shame us, should be used to ‘prompt us to get skills, or support, or space,’ she adds. ‘There’s a need in ourselves that hasn’t been met that stops us from processing our own feelings and containing them.’
She continues: ‘We’re so fixated on the needs of our children – do they need food or a nap etc – and we don’t do that to ourselves. Often our overwhelm and lack of emotional containment comes when we’ve been ignoring our own needs. If you find yourself shouting, ask “What is it that I’m missing?’ Is it balance, is it a hug?”’
Think about how you are being parented
When it comes to having your needs met, Anna says one of those things parenting may need, themselves, is a bit of parental love.
‘Have you got friends that are supportive that you need to speak to get some mothering for yourself?’ she says. ‘We need that as women, mothers need to be mothered too, somehow - whether it’s going for a massage or having a chat and a walk with a friend. Who are those nurturing people and have you been speaking to them?’
Probably always good advice, but never more than in 2020, Anna says it’s key to look after the captain (that’s you btw…I know, terrifying. Don’t think about it too much...)
‘There’s so much focus on our kids and are we teaching them to be worried or anchored,’ says Anna. ‘Where, actually, if the focus is on us, and we can find ways to anchor ourselves, then they will be ok.
‘If you think about being on a flight, if there’s turbulence, you look to the crew, the people who know. And if they’re flapping, you won’t feel safe. If the crew know what’s going on and they can respond and stay calm, the passengers will stay calm. So instead of focusing on the kids’ behaviours, sometimes we need to think “How am I addressing my anxiety, grief or resentment?”, because that’s what they’ll see. What do you need?’
In the moment though, thoughts of anchoring, parenting and our needs can flash out of our brain as we see red – if we’re already at that place, Anna says there is still something you can do. Breathe.
‘You’re having a stress-response,’ says Anna. ‘So many of us mums see that as failure, like “I’m not coping well”. But if we think about any other circumstance in life, if someone was repeatedly shouting in your face, or being mean, or hitting you, you’d say, “I’m not taking this, I’m leaving!”
‘Even when it’s your child, we still will have this flight or fight response that comes out. So, often there’s a thundercloud between a normal human response to stress and the maternal sense of responsibility and love that we have for that child. And they come into conflict like a thundercloud inside of us, with panic and anger and fear.
‘If we can just take a moment to step outside, behind a door frame, or microwave or whatever it might be – as long as the children are safe – and do some deep-breathing (use hypnobirthing if you remember, it’s the same technique) to tell your nervous system you’re safe – then your rational brain can kick in.
‘Find a breathing technique that suits you and use it when you don’t need it, practice it, so when you do need it, it’s reactive. My kids know now, I say, “Mummy’s feeling stressed, I’m just doing my breathing so I don’t shout”.’
Name your emotions
As well as admitting to yourself that it’s ok to feel out of resource, Anna says it’s also ok – and potentially even a valuable learning experience – to do so in front of your children.
‘Teach your children we can have all different emotions and get through it,’ she says. ‘I will say to my kids, “Mummy’s feeling really tired today, I’m feeling very grumpy”. They’ll hear that then a few hours later I’ll be smiling and laughing with them. It gives them a sense of safety with emotion, that you can feel things and express it and it doesn’t mean the end of the world. Sometimes even just naming it is a way of validating it in itself, that you’re a human and it’s an emotion you feel – you’re more likely to accommodate for that once you’ve named it. Also do so with your partner. Say, “I’m feeling really hormonal today, every noise is making me want to smash something” and then they know.’
Be aware of your resources that day
‘Guilt and shame sit between the reality of who and how we feel, how we are and how we expect ourselves to be,’ says Anna. ‘And sometimes it’s just being more honest with ourselves about how we are and where our resources are at. We have different resources every day depending on how tired we are, what news we’ve seen, where in our cycle we are…
‘We know the kids are different every day, we need to apply that awareness to ourselves. We need different things each day and the more we meet that need, the more energy we’ll have to contain and process our own response to stress that is parenting.’
Know that sometimes it’s hard, because it’s hard
Often, we need someone to tell us, out loud something that is simple and perhaps we already know. This, is one of those things from Anna: ‘It’s not failure to find it stressful. It is stressful. Sometimes it’s hard because it’s hard.’
She adds: ‘That’s affirming for some people because they say, “I’ve not got it as hard as so-and-so”. There’s a woman down the road from me who has 11 kids. So for ages, if I was having a hard day, I’d think, “I shouldn’t be finding it hard” but using other people’s circumstances to invalidate your own emotions is so common, but so unhelpful. Someone else’s broken leg, doesn’t make your stubbed toe hurt less.’
As yourself, ‘What is the fear?’
‘Often in stress there’s fear,’ says Anna. ‘So ask yourself, “What’s the fear?” It might be “I fear I’m doing a bad job or I fear I’m out of control” because as soon as we recognize it and name it, we can do something about it.
'Otherwise we’re left with shame and guilt and it pushes our self esteem down, we start comparing ourselves more, and we end up in a place where many mums do, "We don’t deserve help, we don’t deserve support or the love of our partners and kids" and it doesn’t need to be that way.'