Parenting. We’ve all been there, I think. The day has gone too long, your blood sugar is low because you were so busy feeding everyone else that you haven’t eaten yet. The kids are bouncing off the walls and your spouse has managed to irritate the last raw nerve you have. Suddenly you feel your face flush, blood pressure rise, and heart rate skyrocket. “EVERYONE CALM DOWN RIGHT NOW!” you bellow. The dog barks and whines and the children, unsurprisingly look at you like you’ve lost your dang mind (which, you know, fair—given the circumstances) and you’re feeling pretty embarrassed and angry when your spouse gives you the eyebrow raised look of “really?” Homicide is not an option friend. You won’t look good in orange. Me either. So what to do?
It turns out Daniel Tiger (and his perfect tiger parents) were on to something. “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” Four might not be high enough though. Somewhere between 20 and 1,000 should do the trick. Okay, I’m kidding. Mostly. It is really very helpful to step away from the drama if you can.
The best advice I was given early into parenting was if the baby won’t stop screaming and you’re afraid you’re going to lose it, put the baby down and walk away for a minute. It sounds mean, but an angry baby is so much better than a parent losing his or her temper. The same principle can go for older kids. Sometimes it is prudent to walk outside and breathe deeply. Take a moment to ignore the chaos for a minute. It isn’t selfish if it is what you need. You do you.
Adoption, more often than not, especially adoption of an older child can be riddled with chaos. It is as if when signing the paperwork, you also agree to no less than 10 tantrums a month in your living room. Someone described foster care adoption as inviting all the pain of the outside world into your living room. That feels . . . dramatic. It also—at times—can feel true. Children who are adopted from foster care have often lived through hellish situations that cause tremendous maladaptive behavior. If children are raised in a world of anger and pain, their brains may adapt to keep them safe. When they find themselves in a home where they don’t have to simply survive, their brains may freak out. They may feel unsafe in a perfectly safe environment.
You know your home is a safe, good place for your child. You do your best to learn how to parent kids from hard places. It can be easy to fall back into old habits though. I’m over six years into this journey and I can feel myself backsliding when it gets too overwhelming. I have found myself, not a drop of irony or sarcasm in my voice, screaming at everyone to just stop yelling already. Sometimes whispering works. I whisper for everyone to please be quiet and they look at me like I’ve lost my marbles, but they get quiet so they can be sure to hear what I’m saying.
Another tactic is to send the kids outside. We have a fairly strict if-you-need-to-yell-and-run-do-it-outside rule. I model it by suppressing my urge to scream and going out on the back porch to yell at the sky. My kids think it’s funny most of the time and it helps diffuse whatever random argument was brewing. The biggest way to mitigate the yelling affecting me personally sounds like a joke, but it’s not. I have noise-canceling headphones. If the noise is ratcheting up to a level that will trigger rage in my soul, I grab my headphones and go about my business. Sometimes I just listen to the muffled sound around me, and sometimes I’ll listen to an audiobook or some show tunes. It really depends on the day.
For me, the key to controlling the only aspect of the constant yelling in my house is controlling my response to it. I try to recognize my body telling me it is too much. I notice how I feel tense, annoyed, and frustrated easily. If it truly is a blood sugar issue (everyone gets hangry sometimes). I grab a snack and offer one to the kids. If it’s an ongoing issue, I try to address it.
Obviously, none of these things apply if there is an actual emergency happening. You’ll have to determine for yourself what constitutes an emergency. My kids have a limited understanding of the word. (For instance, if I’m using the bathroom and instruct them I can only be interrupted if there is an emergency, I could be interrupted because someone can’t open their fruit snacks. It seemed like an emergency to the 6-year-old at the time.)
Sometimes, kids feel a need to yell and act silly. We have a trampoline that is often used to alleviate some of that pent-up energy. I’ve been known to send a disobeying, yelling, hyper child out to the trampoline with instructions to not come back until they feel tired.
The bottom line is that you’ll need to model appropriate responses to problems. That takes time and repetition. Don’t beat yourself up if it feels difficult. It just is. A neighbor once called the police on us because and, I quote, “It sounded like someone was being murdered.” The screamer in question was screaming because her sock was wrong. Now, some of that is a sensory issue, some of it was a control issue, and some was that it was early in the morning and she was tired and hungry. I was exceptionally thankful that the police officer seemed to understand children and didn’t even really question it when I gave the explanation. My daughter clammed right up when she saw the flashing lights outside our door. Once the officer saw everyone had food, clothes, and a safe place to live, he gave everyone stickers and went about his day. Sometimes, things will go sideways and there is very little you can do besides laugh afterward. Just know you’re not alone.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of five. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.