Imagine walking out of your bedroom on the second floor and seeing your two-year-old climbing the outside of the staircase. That’s exactly what happened to Hal Runkel, marriage and family therapist and bestselling author of ScreamFree Parenting.
“My son looked up at me with a smile on his face and said, ‘Hi Daddy!’” says Runkel. “He was over five feet off the ground. My anxiety level was off the charts, but I knew if I gave in to that anxiety, if I yelled or lunged for him, it would increase his chances of falling.”
From biting or refusing to eat, to asking about sex or learning to drive, our kids are constantly testing our anxiety. Runkel contends that more often than not, parents fail those tests by “screaming.” Anxiety says we need to control our kids.
“If you’re like me, the more you try to control your kids, the more out of control they become, and the more out of control I become,” Runkel says. “If you are yelling at your kids, you are saying, ‘Calm me down. I need you to change your behavior so I can change mine.’ When parents learn to manage their anxiety and teach children tools to manage their own behavior, there will be more young people prepared to launch into the real world. We have to remember, the goal is not to protect our kids in order to calm our anxiety; our goal as parents is to prepare our kids to live a productive life without us.”
Who Is In Control?
Runkel believes that good parenting is about parents learning how to take back their own emotional remote control. When a parent screams, they have lost control of the situation and handed the emotional remote control to the least mature person in the household.
“When parents focus on becoming ‘ScreamFree,’ calming their own emotional reactivity, they begin to make parenting decisions out of their highest principles instead of reacting out of their deepest fears,” Runkel says. “There are specific ways parents can do this such as:
- See children as individuals in their own right, with their own lives, decisions and futures.
- Don’t preach or threaten. Let the consequences of a child’s choices do the screaming.
- Change your vocabulary. Avoid labeling children or pigeonholing how they see themselves. Labels can be very destructive.
- See yourself as being responsible to your children - not for them. For example, when your child throws a temper tantrum in Walmart, you’re not responsible for it. But you are responsible for how you handle it.
According to Runkel, every child wants parents who can keep their cool, even when things get heated. They want parents who are less prone to knee-jerk reactions and more level-headed.
Runkel’s message is making a difference. For example, when Runkel and his family were eating out once, a young waitress recognized him from an appearance on The Today Show. She tearfully told him, “Thank you for giving me my parents back. They heard you on television, bought your book, and now we just don’t fight as much. They respect me, and I respect them.”
For more information on how to stop yelling at your kids, visit screamfree.com.