Verbal Aggression

Verbal aggression is not a good thingDo you yell at your kids? Not just when they are in danger (I think that might be quite a normal reaction) but every time that they annoy you or disobey you? From what I can see a lot of people use verbal aggression as a parenting technique. I know that I have.

I caught myself raising my voice the other day and suddenly it struck me how aggressive it sounded. I tried to put myself in my daughter’s shoes.

Here is a grown man (incredibly well built and powerful I might add!) standing over a little girl and raising his voice and altering his tone to make it sound more threatening.

It started with a firm tone that gradually escalated into verbal aggression when the instructions were not followed. I then stopped myself, took a couple of deep breaths and did the only thing that I could possibly do in the circumstances. I apologized.

“I’m sorry for yelling at you honey. I didn’t mean to frighten you. It just makes me so very
cranky when you won’t do what you are asked.”

And that is it isn’t it? We get angry and loose control of the situation when our kids will not do what they are told. We raise our voices and try to verbally force them to obey our instructions.

When our expectations are not met the instructions become firmer and more aggressive in line with our diminishing patience. Kids certainly need our direction and guidance although I’m not quite sure what screaming at them is trying to achieve?

Is raising one’s voice the only way we know how to demonstrate that we are serious?

Is verbal aggression (like physical violence) used to induce a fear response in order to gain
compliance? Are we trying to scare our kids into doing what they are told? If we are, is that really much different to the threat of physical violence?

A firm and serious tone can quickly develop into aggressive yelling without realizing it and I felt horrified when I thought that I may have elicited a fear response in my daughter from
raising my voice at her.

From then on I tried to control my responses and not let her get the better of me in that way. Fancy a small child having psychological control over a grown up like that?

On many occasions I have found myself getting extremely frustrated by my daughter’s antics and the only way I know how to diffuse these situations is to totally change my response. Maybe the problem is not in her understanding but in my teaching.

Instead of getting angry at her, I smile at her. I’ll tell her that she is very funny and that I like her jokes but now it is time to be serious for a minute otherwise she will be subjected to a thousand tickles from which she will never survive.

If that doesn’t work then I’ll try to change the subject completely and redirect, talking
about the upcoming day or a recent event while we both perform the required task that was causing the trouble in the first place.

When all else fails we start to remove her privileges. The threat of losing a favourite toy
or activity for a while is usually enough motivation to get her moving. I prefer to take away
the small things first and save the big ticket items like TV shows for occasions that are not negotiable (like medicine administrations).

We tell our child in a clear and normal voice what the consequences of her actions will be and if she does not comply then we always follow through with them. I say ‘always’ but we have only had to do it a couple of times and now she knows that we are serious.

We also try not to be too rigid with her as she is only three (almost) and prone to misjudgements.

She will always leave the compliance to the very last second and on those occasions she has missed the final countdown she will then panic at the thought of her incarcerated toy and desperately try to rectify things.

The most important thing to us is that she complies and while I don’t want to be seen as a
pushover we don’t actually want to punish her so we cut her a little bit of slack. Better late
than never.

The other interesting point to note is that kids become desensitized to verbal violence after
a while and parents have to yell louder and with more ferocity in an attempt to get the message across (just like physical violence).

Personally I find that trying to force my child to do anything by shouting at her doesn’t ever work. I much prefer to not have the battle in the first place by using non-violent, creative techniques and by not letting my anger and frustration show in my voice or my actions.

Additionally, I am not comfortable with teaching my child right from wrong through fear of violence or pain and verbal aggression is just like physical violence in that it is designed to create fear.

I do not want my child to be afraid of me…

This article has been published on the Mamamia parenting website. Some of the comments make for some interesting and informative reading. If you would like to view them then please click here.

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2 Responses to Verbal Aggression

  1. Kate says:

    Great insights James. I often think (when I too slip into raising my voice) that I am providing a poor model for my little one on how to deal with difficult situations. I think this also links in to the concept of a smack. The other day my little one got very cranky and slapped me from frustration. My knee jerk response was to say ‘no hitting’ whilst simultaneously smacking her on the leg….I caught myself immediately at just how mixed the message I was trying to give was..

  2. James says:

    Finally Kate we agree! I too think this leads into smacking. The whole physical/verbal fear thing is one big slippery slope of violence in my opinion. We have been trying to encourage good behaviour and totally ignore the bad but that has it’s limitations as well as sometimes you just have to address the unacceptable behaviour. How do you manage that without using threats or fear?

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