Updated: May 26
I'll be the first to admit: I was a yeller. My first reaction to handling my children was to give the "Mom Look," and when that didn't work I resorted to raising my voice. When THAT didn't work, I was that chaotic Mom shouting nonsense about how disappointed I was, my expectations, and "why did you do that?" Finally, I learned how to discipline my child WITHOUT yelling, and I don't plan on going back to it.
My parents were very young when I was born, and my childhood isn't one to write magical stories about. However, I fully believe my parents did the best they could given how they were raised themselves. They were yellers - the sound of my parents raising their voice sent me to tears. I chalked it up to being a sensitive child (which I was). I learned quickly to do what I was told, 100% correctly - THE FIRST TIME. Of course, I wasn't a saint. There were sassy moments in my teen years, and I made mistakes! But I did my best to prevent the yelling.
And I watched my sister being raised the same way. She was a rotten child, always up to no good! She seemed mean even at two years old (remind me to tell you the story of how she purposely peed on my Monopoly game). My parents fussed and yelled. She was spanked and received time-outs. Yet, she was still a turd! IT DIDN'T WORK! My theories as to why she was awful piled up, and I gladly shared them with my parents whenever I could. But I truly had NO idea.
Fast forward to becoming a parent myself: I'm 25 years old, I've been married for two months, a professional nanny for eight years, and a brand new public school teacher. We lived in a two bedroom apartment with our grumpy lab and a brand new puppy. My kids walked into my apartment one weekend with their birth mother for a sleepover and BOOM! Within 24-hours, we were figuring out the logistics of raising them in our apartment, childcare, schools, schedules, and more!
We knew they had some behavior challenges, but we were hopeful that with consistency, love, and a calm home, they'd be able to regulate their emotions. And I wasn't wrong. Within a year of living with us, they made INCREDIBLE progress! My daughter (who used to be a puddle of tears the second you looked at her) could verbalize why she was upset. My son (who just cried and said 'I don't know' over and over) could finally form full sentences to explain what was frustrating him. My kids' problems could be solved with a quick hug and kiss, and BAM! They were cured!
WRONG! The Honeymoon Phase slowly faded away, and we were faced with constant issue after issue. Teachers were texting me while I was teaching (we were all three at the same school luckily), and I'd have to walk down the hall to "lecture" or "give a stern talking to." My daughter regressed in potty training and hid it. My son couldn't focus and refused to complete a task we all knew he could do. Tantrums at home turned into hour long scream sessions, the hitting of sisters, the punching of pillows, and yelling. A lot of yelling. But I wanted to discipline without yelling.
We tried time-outs, time-ins, talking through it, deep breaths, consequences, etc. None of it worked! I finally had enough. I was tired of looking at my kids and labeling them by their behaviors. I was tired of not being able to be a "normal" family because they couldn't "act right." I was tired of comparing our family to others. I was tired, depressed, and over it. So, I did what I do naturally after a lot of mistakes/trial & error.... I hit the books.
I found this book, and our lives are changed!
At first glance, I didn't think it was for my family. My children weren't "explosive" all the time. It was only during tantrums. They weren't "problem children." They had just been through trauma and are still working through it. But still, I bought it and read on.
It's not just another "here do this and your problems will disappear" book. It's a strategy book! It starts off with giving you a few scenarios of different families handling their explosive child. The scenarios were far harder than mine, and I felt guilty that I was complaining. However, I noticed similarities. My child was inflexible. She did have some lagging skills. And she was extremely easily frustrated! The mixture of scenarios, scripts, and strategies gave me some real insight. And none of it involved disciplining her with yelling!
My Quick Summary
Step One: There are certain skills some children lack, for whatever reason. There's no blame to why they lack these skills, but it impacts a lot of what they do. The author doesn't believe in labeling the behaviors or diagnoses. He believes the first step is discovering the lagging skills and the unsolved problem. He has a specific rule of not "clumping" the behaviors. So I would see her tantrum as "difficulty considering rational outcomes when her brother doesn't want to play with her" as one scenario. A separate scenario would be "difficulty considering rational outcomes when Mom cannot play." It's the same lagging skill, but two different unsolved problems. Never once are you supposed to mention the behaviors that occur during this difficulty, so it's easier to see what the problem, or trigger, is.
Step Two: Now that I know what her difficulties are, I can make a plan of action. The author describes three different "plans."
Plan A is how most people discipline - "I see you're struggling with this, and I have decided this is how we're handling it."
Plan B is how we discipline now - Empathize, Define the Problem, Invite.
Essentially, you practice coaxing out the problem from your child with active and reflective listening skills, NEVER introducing the problem or solution. It's simply to gain more information from your child.
Next, you define the problem to them using those "difficulty statements" you learned about them earlier, while also adding YOUR concerns. "I notice you're having difficulty sharing your toys. I'm worried that if you don't share, you may miss out on playing with others."
Lastly, you INVITE your child into solving the problem! The way to fix the problem you both identified and your concerns. The child has an active voice in this decision. "So, you're struggling with sharing your toys. I'm concerned you'll miss out on playing with others. What do you think we can do?" Your child would give you some ideas (and some will be crazy or unrealistic). But the goal is to decide a mutually appropriate and realistic solution for the problem. You also both agree to revisit this solution if it doesn't work.
Plan C is when you don't need to solve the problem right away - "I don't want to share my toys." And your response? "Okay, you're not sharing your toys." This is usually for behaviors you're not prioritizing right now. You should only work on ONE behavior at a time, or else it'll get overwhelming and frazzled.
The overall point of Plan B is to allow your child to vent, feel heard, be a part of the solution, and know that you're working TOGETHER to solve the problem. You're not supposed to rush your child into solving it, and you can offer ideas to get them thinking - but you are a guide, not the decider.
How We Discipline without Yelling - Using Plan B
Using Plan B, we've been able to get my daughter from full on tantrums to silently crying and moving on. We noticed a big unsolved problem of hers was playing alone or by herself with Brother in the room. She wanted to play with someone interacting with her nonstop. That just wasn't doable for anyone in the house. Together, we worked through it, and I learned some insightful information from her mind.
She mentioned that she hated playing alone because she was "afraid someone else was going to leave her" or "she'd be left out of adventures." THAT MADE SENSE! She was afraid of being left alone in the house and missing out on special fun times! I reassured her that none of that was happening for several reasons: it was illegal to leave her home alone, I loved her too much to leave her out of special fun, and I enjoyed her company too much to leave her out! Then we came up with solutions for when she was feeling upset. She came up with: asking me for a hug, hugging her doll, and taking a break in her bed until she was feeling calm. All doable AND realistic! I offered to make her a choice board for activities she could play alone that I knew she loved! She agreed to it, and I printed it out to leave in her room!
Since creating our plan, she's cried several times. But now, she asks for a hug, then crawls into bed if she's still not calmed down. Sometimes she stays in her bed for five minutes, and other times, she stays up there for thirty minutes. We don't mind how long it takes, we're just proud that she's making the progress!
With every problem that arises, I always use reflective listening to identify what's really going on in her mind and to empathize with her. Half the time, she just wants to be heard and hugged! The other half of the time, I remind her of the decision she made to take a break in bed. She usually agrees she needs the rest and heads straight there! And I'm finally able to discipline without yelling!
How do you handle challenging behavior? Have you tried these methods? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!