I sat at the kitchen table and watched as my friend Debbie called to her kids.
They were in the room down the end of the hall so Debbie poked her head around the corner and yelled to ask the kids to come for lunch.
After lunch the kids were playing and wanted their mom to bring something to them so they yelled down the hall.
"How can I teach them to come into the room and ask me nicely when they want something?" Debbie asked me. I took a deep breath and finally told her that the kids learn by example. I asked her how she got their attention when she wanted them to come to lunch. When she wanted them to come to lunch what did she do? She paused, blushed and said. "I get it. If I want them to come to me instead of yelling I need to model the behaviour."
Whenever you experience your kids picking up a behavior that is driving you nuts, first look to yourself. Where did they learn that screaming through the house is the way to communicate? Consider the noise level in your home. If you have TVs on, radios playing and video game consoles beeping and chirping it gets difficult to have a calm and civil conversation. It becomes like trying to talk across the table in a particularly noisy bar. Turn off the TV and radio unless you are actually listening to it and otherwise keep the volume as low as possible.
Besides not screaming down the hall to get your kid's attention, try to maintain a calm demeanour in all cases. You will all benefit. Another strategy, particularly if the kids are downstairs or outside, is to buy a little bell and call them to meals by ringing the bell.
There are also times when our kids scream as a matter of course because they are trying to avoid the situation. What if your child has a full-blown screaming fit every time you go to the mall? He is telling you that he can't cope with the demands of a trip to the mall. He may find it too stimulating. Try to arrange to have him avoid trips to the mall. It's not necessary to his development that he go shopping so arrange for him to stay with his other parent or a friend.
Maybe she just can't handle the uncertainty of a shopping trip. Think about it. You go to the mall with your child. They have no idea why they are there, no sense of how long you will be and spend the whole time looking at people's legs. In this case, let them know what to expect. Why are you at the mall? How long will you be? When will they get to go home? Once they know what to expect you may find they settle right down.
You do want to consider why he is screaming and what you can do to change the situation. But when he's into a total screaming fit refuse to give in to him. If he's making a fuss let him know you cannot understand him when he's yelling and you will be happy to listen when he settles down. If screaming works as a method of communication he will have no reason to change his behaviour.
She may also use screaming as part of a tantrum in an effort to get her own way. It's hard to stay firm when your child is making such a fuss, particularly when you are out in public. But, if you do give in, she learns that it works and will behave in exactly the same way next time she wants something and you say no.
When your kids are trying to tell you something and the volume is rising, whisper. They will quiet right down in order to hear you. Notice your children's voices when they are modulated and pleasant. You can say, "I just love hearing you when you use that calm voice." And they will be thinking, "And we love it when you are calm."
Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.
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