I was starkly reminded of this at the beginning of the week.
It was Monday morning and, as usual, I gave the kids their 5 minute nudge to get ready to leave for school: socks on, shoes on, lunches and water bottles in bag and coats on. Five minutes later I looked to see my youngest still laying on the sofa, lost in the world of YouTube. Grrrrrrrrr! So I shouted at him to move and get ready for school. He leapt up and did what was asked and off we went to school. I didn’t think any more of it.
The next morning the same routine. I gave the kids their 5 minute nudge and this time my youngest immediately jumped up and got to it. Excellent you may think, but the speed at which he reacted made me think.
He was worried I was going to shout at him again.
This broke my heart. I don’t know many parents or carers that haven’t shouted at their child. We all know we shouldn’t but during times of frustration it’s sometimes difficult not to. Children can become so absorbed in what they are doing or at times or they will ignore requests as a way of testing boundaries or trying to get what they want. This can push the buttons of the calmest of us and it can be difficult to resist that urge to raise our voices. Yet, by raising our voices, we can make children feel intimidated and threatened. If a child feels this way they may instinctively adopt a fight or flight response which, if not considered in context, may come across as argumentative or belligerent. If you shout at them the likelihood is that they will either shout back or turn on their heels and walk/run away. This is not your child just being awkward, difficult or rude. Their response, in fact, is a primitive response based on our need for survival.
This understanding of our instinctual primitive response will help us see how shouting can trigger behaviours in children. If children and adults feel at risk or threatened they will adopt a flight or fight response. If they go for flight they will be gone, if they chose fight they will shout back. If we then consider how things escalate, it is often because we have raised our voice. Yes, we could say that they should’ve done what they were asked to in the first place but they are children, yes children. They are learning and as they get older they will test boundaries. This is absolutely normal in terms of child development. It is how we respond which will determine if a situation is resolved quickly or if it will escalate. If you shout, the likelihood is that things will escalate very quickly.
This is the same in schools. A school I taught at had a ‘no shouting’ policy for teachers, for exactly the reasons above. Of course, teachers shouldn’t shout anyway but they are human and get frustrated and desperate as most people do. However, the impact of this policy was phenomenal and it helped create a supportive and safe learning environment because children knew they would not be shouted at.
This moment of clarity I had this week, with my own child, made me reflect and consider my parenting. The way in which we manage our child’s behaviour will impact on how they respond and therefore we need to try to get it as right as we can. And for the times when we don’t get it right we need to reflect, reframe and carry on doing the most important job in the world!