By Julie Davis, Crosswalk.com
We all know the feeling: That pounding heartbeat and the pit in your stomach when you know you’ve lost your cool. As a parent of young kids, I find myself experiencing that sinking sensation all too frequently as I struggle with the habit of yelling at my children.
For me, it usually happens when we are trying to get out the door. Sometimes I shout in order to override their own raised voices. “STOP YELLING AT EACH OTHER!” Other times it takes the form of a hissing whisper as I attempt to quiet them in church. Occasionally it’s a full blown scream, complete with expletives. No matter what the cause or the degree to which I lose my cool as a mom, I know that it is wrong. But, how do I stop?
Nothing this side of heaven can be done to completely eradicate the sin that infiltrates our days as parents. However, there is hope for redemption, growth, and healing even in light of our frequent failures. Below are 6 tools for grappling with the struggle of lashing out at your kids:
When we yell at our children, we belittle and shame them. In doing so we communicate our disapproval of not only their behavior, but also their intelligence and worth. Pretty awful, right? However, the act of apologizing and asking forgiveness of our children actually reverses and restores that dignity which we damaged.
I’ll never forget the time that the five of us we were eating dinner and I was in a terrible mood (well, that happens a lot...but this instance was particularly memorable). I snapped at my 4-year-old daughter about some altercation having to do with fish sticks. Everyone at the table went quiet. Then, in a small voice, my daughter speaks up:
“Mama, you can’t talk to me like that. Can you apologize?”
Still fuming but silenced, I glanced at my husband (who was trying desperately to avoid laughing). Once I got over the devastation of being rightly put in my place by a preschooler, I apologized.
“You’re right. I do want you to eat your fish sticks, but you don’t deserve to be yelled at. Will you forgive me?”
Later I realized that I have never been prouder of my girl for calmly asserting her dignity in the face of an attack. It feels scary to relinquish control by humbling yourself to your children. But in admitting your failure, you commence a healing and restoration process which teaches them of their inherent worth as image bearers.
Obviously you never want to yell at your kids in the first place. However, this is one of those beautiful ways in which we see the fulfillment of God’s promise, “...in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
As you repent to your children, they acquire a self-respect which equips them to recognize when they are being treated unjustly instead of internalizing it and accepting the shame.
2. Accept and Extend Forgiveness
It is so easy to slip into despair after blowing up at your kids, but don’t allow the Accuser to keep you ashamed. Jesus Himself is familiar with the feeling of shame, and He took it on so that we no longer have to. I remember a time when I had just lost my patience and glanced over at this verse on the window sill above my kitchen sink:
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15
“Great,” I thought, “another reminder of how I am failing to show God’s love to my children.”
But then, the narrative of that verse shifted. Yes, I want to love my children in the same way that God loves me. However, if I jump straight to the application of His example, I miss the whole point: In my moment of weakness, He is merciful and gracious toward me. He is not dismayed by the fact that I failed to mirror His character. Instead, He beckons me to lean into him. The Psalmist continues in verse 16,
“Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.” It is only from that place of forgiveness and security in God’s favor that my own behavior will find reform.
As the Lord generously forgives us, we can likewise extend mercy toward our children. I have noticed that my kids also seem to recover from their tantrums more quickly than I do. Ten minutes after screaming and rolling on the floor, they are happily playing as if nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, I am still whirling from the struggle.
Long after my children move on, I linger in that emotionally elevated place and hold resentment toward them for putting me through the ringer. Then when the next meltdown or inconvenience arises, I am all the more quick to snap.
Even if it’s done internally, make a habit of practicing forgiveness. Do it whether or not there is actually something to forgive. So often I hold a grudge against my children for being developmentally on cue: messy eaters, curious explorers, sinful humans who are learning how to interact with a world of frequent discomfort and disappointment.
Whether or not they have sinned, set your kids free from the debt of each stressful encounter. Choose to remember it no more just like our Heavenly Father does for our sins.
3. Consider the Factors
Take an inventory of what is happening both internally and externally. What is physically occurring in your body in those moments when you are getting worked up? Is your pulse racing? Is your stomach in knots? Recognizing these physical factors can help you to see the warning signs the next time that you are about to blow up.
Spend some time tracing the root of your frustration. Sometimes a solution can be as practical as giving everyone (including yourself) a snack to curb the all around hangriness, or cutting activities out of your schedule so that you aren’t rushing out the door as much.
Other factors require a little more investigation: What were you specifically angry or anxious about when you lashed out at your children?
Personally, when I force my hand and use intimidation instead of speaking the truth in love, it usually stems from a flailing attempt to gain control. Consider the idols that are being threatened when you feel the urge to yell.
Talk it over with your spouse, a trusted friend, or a counselor. As you dig into these underlying causes, turn to the Lord in repentance and ask for wisdom and strength as these struggles inevitably return in the future.
4. Pray and Step Away
When you feel your internal temperature rising, a quick, “Lord, help!” under your breath as you navigate the throes of dinner prep during witching hour can summon incredible deliverance and power by the Spirit. You can even invite your kids to pray with you about it.
Sometimes, however, you need to actually remove yourself from the situation. Crouch down to eye level with your child and name your emotions by quietly saying, “Mommy is feeling mad right now. I need to take a break for a few minutes and calm down.” Turn on a tv show or place the baby in the crib so that you can step outside or into another room to breathe and pray.
Stepping away isn’t weak parenting; it is demonstrating the wisdom and humility to know your own limitations and creating a healthy distinction between ourselves and the immortal God. So admit your need, and then turn in prayer to the One who is the source of all strength:
“The Lord is the everlasting God...He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength." (Isaiah 40:28-30)
5. Utilize Your Community
Reach out to those you trust and ask for prayer and practical support. We were not designed to do the hard work of parenting in a vacuum. Is there a way for you to invite others in and provide mutual alleviation from the stressors of daily life? Can you find room in your budget to hire a babysitter or do a childcare swap with another friend so that you can get a break?
Is there a single woman at your church who might want to come over to hang out once a week while helping you make dinner?
Do some brainstorming with your spouse or a friend. With a little creativity and boldness, you may discover ways to reorder your processes and give yourself a chance to increase joy and while avoiding burnout.
6. Trust the Redemption Process
When I find myself lashing out yet again in anger and impatience toward my kids, it feels like I am trapped in an internal war. Though he was not a parent, the apostle Paul puts words to this deeply disheartening place of habitual sin:
“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21-24)
However, Paul goes on to reveal the good news of hope:
“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)
When I am exhausted and overwhelmed by the often relentless nature of parenting, I feel powerless to stop the train of anger that leads me to yell at my kids. The problem is too big and too frequent for me to handle on my own. But, thanks be to God, we have been given the Helper, that is, the Holy Spirit.
He is ever-present and powerful to change even the ugliest and most overwhelming aspects of our sinful flesh.
Friends, we have a God who is in the business of making things new. He is already at work within you, and though you continue to sin daily, His promises are unfailing and His mercies are new every morning. So pray, repent, and watch in hope as He works mightily in your heart to conquer all things for the sake of your good and His glory.
Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Julie Davis is a retired ballet dancer-turned-homeschool mom of 3 young daughters. Her passion is for walking alongside fellow believers and reminding them of the grace and power of the Gospel in their lives. She loves to ponder and laugh at the adventures of life and motherhood via her Instagram and blog. Julie and her husband George live in Richmond, Virginia and enjoy hosting friends, getting outside, and sipping on moderately priced bourbon.