The One Thing I Learned to Stop Yelling

Throughout Hanna’s life I’ve always tried to remember to direct her towards want I want her to do, instead of away from what I don’t want her to do.

Walking feet… instead of don’t run.

Lower your voice… instead of stop yelling.

Bottoms on the couch… instead of don’t stand.

Because I know, what we focus on grows, the mind doesn’t hear “don’t”. It was a little funny when I stopped for a moment and took notice of myself, and my inner voice saying to me… Don’t yell. Stop Yelling. Don’t yell.

Surprise, surprise… I just kept yelling.

I identified a mantra. I read blog posts. I found alternatives to yelling. I pulled together resources. And yet, I just kept yelling. Last week it dawned on me… I was going about it all backwards. Instead of trying to “stop yelling” I realized I needed to be “more” something else. But what?

I found myself in the book store, killing time before meeting a friend for coffee and on my way to the check out scanned the bargain shelf. A book popped out at me… Patience. The Art of Peaceful Living.

The voice in my head yelled… That’s IT! We need more patience. The film reel of my not so perfect moments started fast forwarding through my brain, and I could see… I could see, when I lost it, and yelled, it was because I’d lost my patience. I picked up the book (without even googling for reviews!) and made my way to the check out counter.

When I got home I opened the book, and immediately knew it was exactly what I needed. I hadn’t realized it when I bought the book, but the whole thing is based on mindfulness, and uses a lot of Buddhist theory to make points and create ways to be more patient. I love when things come together like that… finding exactly what I needed to hear without even looking for it.

The one thing I learned to stop yelling... zenwahm.comAs I dug into the book I was having AHA moments right and left. If I’d had a highlighter there would have been whole chapters turned yellow. There wasn’t a highlighter to be found, but I did find a stack of post it notes… which were soon stuck on pages with arrows directing me to specific passages through out the book.  I read and re-read portions multiple times, really letting it sink in. I have never, in my life, thought about patience, and my behavior in this way.

While I loved this book, and know it will be a favorite “go to” resource for years to come, there was a lot to take in, a lot to think about, and I wondered if I’d actually find a way to take the information from the book into my real life.

Well, wouldn’t you know, my kiddo gave me the perfect opportunity to practice patience this morning. :) Let me just say here, the idea that patience is a practice, just like mindfulness, meditation, love, joy… it was really freeing.  So, back to this morning. We’ve got a half day of school today. (yeah, I don’t know why) I thought it would be an easy morning, but alas, no.

I popped into the kiddo’s room to get her up, as it was already past the time she should be downstairs and was immediately faced with NO. sigh. Normally, sadly, I’d take a stand. Tell her to get up, she’s going to school, no ifs ands or buts about it! She’d reply, voice getting louder, with NO, I’M NOT, and it would simply go down hill from there. But today… I heard this in my head…

“Over time we learn that we have complete control over what matters most — our mind, and therefore our perceptions and how we experience things. The experience of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral is the consequence of perception. We add opinions, evaluations, and judgments, and therefore the quality of all experience is controlled by us. That is truly powerful; that is control.  ~~ Allan Lokos

Well, I didn’t really hear all that… but I did hear the gist of it. It’s what you ADD to any situation that gets you riled up. All that’s really happened is she’s said no. It’s the story, about being late, and not having control, and what will people think if she’s late to school, you’re an awful mother who can’t even get her kid out the door on time… THAT’S what creates the need to dominate the situation… the need to not feel like a bad mother. BUT… that’s all your story. It has nothing to do with what’s really here right now.

I quietly said, you’re going to school today, whether you go on time, or late, in your pajamas or your clothes… that’s up to you. Love you. See you downstairs. And I quietly turned and walked downstairs.

Heart pounding a little… what’s going to happen? Is she going to get up? Is she going to push it? Will she get dressed? What if she doesn’t? What will I do? How will we get to school? Should I just let her stay home? It’s only half a day? NO. I can’t let her win. <— ALL story I’m making up.


While I was reading the book, the author gave us an assignment. Since patience is NOT generally a default response, it’s probably not even a word we think of in our day to day life, he suggested for the next week we pick something we do frequently… turn on your phone, answer emails, I chose turning pages of a book, and each time we do that… we simply say “patience”. The point is to start creating a connection in our mind with patience, to start making it a top of the mind thing… so when things get tough, we actually think to call on patience.

I’m downstairs, lunch is made and sitting by the door, it’s getting late, and I’m breathing. I’m also thinking, objectively… what will happen if she’s late for school? Um, to me? Nothing. She will have to check in at the office, sign in as tardy, and then walk into her classroom late, after everyone else is already seated and class has started. But then I hear the yeah buts in my head… what will people think? What will people say? What does this say about me… and I recall this:

Others may dislike me, but that scorn cannot harm me in this or future lives, so why does it distress me so? Do I think it will prevent my attaining greater wealth? I know I must leave everything behind except for the consequences of my actions. ~ Shantideva

Again, I did not hear Shantideva quoting in my head… but I did remember the gist. :) Ahhhh… yes, the whole what people think doesn’t mean anything, and what really counts (and can truly cause harm) are the consequences of our actions… if I yell at my kiddo, it will cause her pain, and teach her that yelling is the way to get what you want, that intimidating people is the way to get your way, and that’s definitely not what I want.

So I waited. Sure enough, she comes down the stairs, dressed in a cute dress, tights and a lovely pink sweater. I think we’re back on track, this is going to be ok, we’re going to make it.

Until she can’t find her shoes. Well, not exactly, she can’t find one shoe.

The searching ensues, she begins yelling about not being able to find her other shoe. I offer suggestions, she shoots them down at the top of lungs. I keep breathing. I keep practicing. I keep noticing how I’m feeling, where I’m at. I keep calling on patience.

This is the point where I usually lose it, and raise my voice to match hers, well, really to top hers, and we end up crying and and getting in the car. But not today. Today I stayed calm. Today I practiced patience. She continues to yell, and scream, not wanting to wear her boots because she can’t run, and not wanting to wear her sneakers because they don’t match, and that other white shoe is no where to be found. Time is ticking away, we are mere minutes from the time we should be leaving… there’s been no breakfast, no hair brushed, no teeth brushed, but lots and lots of yelling.

I’m starting to lose my patience a little… so I decide to go wait in the car. I pick up my purse, I tell her I’m getting frustrated, and she has complete control over the decisions she needs to make, so I’ll wait in the car until she’s ready. She jumps in front of the door screaming I can’t go. Which turns into minutes of screaming about me not going out to the car. It’s so hard when I try to walk away, so I can hold it together and she won’t let me. And then I remembered this:

If it is the nature of unskillful beings to cause harm to others, being angry with them would be pointless. It would be like resenting fire for burning. ~~ Shantideva

This one, I actually did remember almost word for word, because I’d read it about 15 times the day before. What are children if not unskilled? Is that not what they are here for? To learn, to grow, to become more skilled? If that is who they are, their nature, it would truly be like being angry at a fire for burning.

I knelt down, and calmly, quietly asked her… “What do you need from me right now?”.

I don’t know where that came from? But it was like the most perfect thing I could have said!

She yelled “YOU KNOW WHAT I NEED!!”.

I thought to myself, holy shit, this kid just thinks I know everything, exactly what she needs all the time! It must be so frustrating for her that I don’t.

I replied, “No I really don’t, that’s why I’m asking you. What do you need from me right now?”.

“AN OPINION!” she screams back.

I clarified… about the shoes? She said yes. Crazy though… I’d given her my opinion and she didn’t take it lol. I gave it to her again, and again she didn’t take it. She put on some sneakers (that I’d already told her were too small, she yelled her assurances they were just fine) and then she put them on. I could see her little toes poking out the front, and her mind wrestling with itself… is it more important that I am right, or that I have comfortable shoes.

I quietly said, “it’s ok if they don’t fit, you can get the other ones.” She continued yelling, tore off the shoes and stomped up the stairs to get the other pair. It’s well past time we should have left for school now. I’m still staying calm, breathing.

We finally get shoes on, and get out the door into the car. She refused to eat breakfast. She refused to brush her hair. She refused to brush her teeth. She was late for school. The world is still spinning, and no one was even there to judge me when I dropped her off. ;) And I, I showed my kiddo how to handle frustrating situations without yelling. You see, the reason she yells when she’s frustrated is because I’ve always yelled when I get frustrated. It’s not her fault. She’s simply modeling the example she’s been given. I know, as time goes on, as I continue my practice of patience, I model patient, loving behavior more and more she’ll start picking it up. She’ll start to see you can get what you need without yelling, without intimidation, without making people fee bad.

So, I guess the book is working… even though there’s a lot in there, it seems to be sinking in. The pieces I need seem to be appearing as I need them in my mind. The post it notes ended up being a super good thing. They make it really easy to find what I’m looking for, and go right to it. That never happens with a highlighter. :)

After reading the saga that was my morning you just might see how a little more patience could work in some area of your life too. When you decide to create a patience practice of your own, you’ll definitely need this book. Even if you’re not Buddhist, don’t know anything about Buddhism, you’ll find the insights incredibly helpful to creating a practice of patience that will sustain you through even the roughest mornings. ;)

I wish you enough.

Jackie Lee Zen Wahm


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One Response to The One Thing I Learned to Stop Yelling

  1. Kelly says:

    What a great story, Jackie. I can totally see that “What do you need from me?” working in so many situations with Franco. I’m always trying to solve his problems, and often I “assume” I know what his problem is. Instead, I should be asking him “What’s the problem and how can I help you?”

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