I come from a noisy family. My mom, my dad, both of my sisters, and myself – we all are short-tempered and excitable. Even if we are pleased with something, we are pleased enormously, and we scream about it.
I remember I woke up one morning and heard loud voices coming from the kitchen. I was disturbed. I thought my mom and dad were fighting over something. I tiptoed to the kitchen and pushed the door. My parents turned to me and smiled. They looked perfectly normal: mom cooking, dad drinking his morning coffee.
“What were you fighting about?” I asked.
“Nothing!” They looked amazed. “We were just talking."
We had a great hoot back then, teasing each other about being a stereotypical Italian family from an old movie – passionate, loud, having heated discussions even about boring stuff like the weather.
It never bothered me much. Sometimes my friends asked me to lower my voice as we were talking on our way home from school. Meaning, they were talking, I was bellowing. But that’s about it.
I started to think of my noisiness only after I saw a picture my little daughter had once drawn. It was a family of lions. The picture was cute and pretty good for a seven-year-old, except one thing – those lions had no ears. I was confused and I pointed it out to her (after giving her credit for a good job, of course). She raised her eyebrows “Really? Ha-ha, I’ve forgotten."
But something that happened earlier convinced me that it wasn’t due to carelessness those poor beasts ended up deaf. Subconsciously, my daughter decided that they would be better off without ears.
A few days before the lion drawing appeared, I had lost my temper (again) over a mess in her room: “I thought I told you (indeed I did, not once) to make your bed and put your stockings in the drawer, didn’t you hear me?!” No response. She didn’t look guilty or frightened. She looked zoned out. Sitting quiet and solemn, her hands on her knees, staring right through me with a blank expression on her face. It scared the soul out of me.
“Bunny, do you hear me?” I said worriedly.
She sighed, same blank expression. She only looked me in the eyes after I took her by the hand. It was almost as if she woke up from a deep sleep. “Can I go now?” she asked looking peaceful and calm, cheerful even.
This was wrong. And something about it was spooky. The occurrence made me think about my communication habits in order to find the answer.
You may not be a loud or easily irritable person. Maybe before you became mom or dad, you saw those exasperated parents at grocery stores shouting at the top of their voices and thought: I will never do that when I have a child. But you would be amazed at what sleep deprivation and constant interruptions of all your normal activities might do to your nervous system (and if you add maternity blues on top of all that…)
Parenting can be very frustrating. It involves a lot of suppressed anger. Thankfully, we have long progressed from corporal punishment, which used to be one of the anger coping strategies. The anger of today’s parent comes out in shouting instead. You try so hard not to lose it, but your kid does something particularly outrageous in a public place, again, and here you are, screaming your heart out in the middle of the street. It looks innocent enough compared to spanking, but let’s look deeper.
All parents tend to lose their temper now and then. Especially when their kids pass a certain milestone of their development and along the way acquire a number of rather undesirable skills (such as rolling on the floor, kicking their feet, whining, bargaining, and using all that is at hand to get on your nerves).
They challenge our authority, they test the waters of independence, ignore what we tell them, do things they know we disapprove of, in order to test us and make a statement. It’s their way of saying, “I exist, I want this, and I don’t want that."
This is an important stage of their development and, I'm afraid an inevitable one. The problem is not the threshold itself, but how we cope with it. We take our children’s misbehavior personally, we think that they do not appreciate what we do for them as parents; that they do all those nasty things out of spite.
Of course, we know a great deal about developmental psychology, we have a couple of books on the subject in our home library. We are aware that the best way to deal with such crises is a reasoning and calm discussion. We are informed that a violent tantrum may be just a part of a kid’s cunning plan aimed to get us to do what they want, and the best way to stop them is not to respond to a provocation. It’s a battle of wills. And the moment we raise our voice we have already lost it.
First of all, you must have noticed that it’s futile. Shouting never results in anything positive. You probably feel bad about it later and blame yourself.
Second, as latest research shows, shouting at your children can only increase their behavioral problems.
It should be mentioned here, however, that the mode of shouting is very important. If you yell to shame and blame your children, combining shouting with insults and ridicule, it becomes a form of emotional abuse and may be extremely harmful. Low self-esteem, aggressive behavior, insecurity, fear, and poor social skills are not rare among children who were exposed to loud shaming on a regular basis.
A raised voice is not always bad, though. By loudly describing a problem, we call attention to it, but what if screaming is a chronic mode of communication? That may become a serious issue.
Depending on your child’s temperament, yelling may affect them more or less. Young children and babies perceive it as a threat and feel endangered whenever they hear a loud noise, especially deep male voices. They wince and shake at sudden pops and squeaks.
If you are a family of shouters, it may have a serious effect on your kids’ brain and future well-being. Yelling overpowers children, they feel defenseless and frustrated. They don’t see the difference between you shouting at them and you hating them – it confuses and upsets them.
They become timid and socially awkward, and may struggle to find friends. Kids that have been yelled at frequently have problems dealing with conflicts – they prefer to ignore them and withdraw, instead of defending themselves and proving their point.
They also are likely to have low results at school due to concentration problems. Children develop defense mechanisms against a rise in volume and become immune to it. This partly protects them from screaming’s deleterious influence, but in the long run, this has a negative effect on their ability to concentrate on what the teacher is saying.
The most frightening aftermath is distorted self-image and lack of self-confidence. In a noisy environment, kids feel constantly threatened; they don't get the feeling of security that is necessary for growing a healthy personality. They need to feel safe, respected and, foremost, loved, to become confident and whole.
It doesn’t mean that if your spouse or you are loud, your kids are condemned to have developmental issues – far from it. Yet you must be aware of the possibility and build your communication mindfully, avoiding unnecessary screams and outbursts, especially with infants. You may need to extend the limits of your patience and learn to cope with anger; personality training and special programs for parents may help a great deal.
While finding your solution, keep in mind that your child may be very different from you, they may be much more fragile than you were at their age. Something that used to be funny and enjoyable for you may seem stressful and undesirable for them.
My daughter turned out to be very sensitive. She perceived loud voices as threatening and unpleasant. She learned to tune it out, yet it rendered her incapable of focusing on what was being said. So whenever I raised my voice she failed to receive the message, even if I hollered quite amicably from another room, asking her to come over.
One metaphor worked perfectly in our case: the longer is the distance between two people (both physical and emotional), the louder they shout. When people fight, they’re miles away. When there is peace and understanding between them, there's no need to raise voices. When the two are close, they whisper.
The low voice became a language I had to adopt in order to communicate with my sensitive, melancholic daughter. The more important the thing I am going to say to her, the lower my voice, and I almost whisper when I say “I love you, bunny."