Last night my son, 4.5 years old, was playing with this toy that made an odd noise when he shook it. For some reason the dog was really irritated by the noise. My son shook the toy for the third time and the dog came over all agitated and went towards my son’s face in a threatening, “If you do that again I might just have to bite you” kind of manner.
I was alarmed at the dog, and my first reaction was to get him down and away from my son “Wally, down!” I said sternly and grabbed him by the collar to get him to back off. Then to my son, “Hey, you see how Wally’s really upset, you can’t shake that again!”
Well, a moment later my son did it again. This time he laughed a little as the dog came towards him.
Now things got a bit chaotic. As I was telling the dog to get down, my partner came over all puffed up, clearly annoyed at our son.
“NO you can NOT do that again. STOP now, you hear me,” he yelled.
I felt the tension rise in me. I was all upset too, now, and glared at my partner, thinking, “Where did that come from? What are you doing, yelling at him?!”
My son burst into tears.
My partner shouted again, “You can’t DO that!”
I stepped in to try and stop the shouting, saying in as calm a voice as I could muster, “It’s okay. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again, you go back and do the cooking.”
“I’m not going to do it again,” my son sobbed.
My partner went back to the cooking.
I listened to my son cry, every now and again saying, “I’m so sorry he shouted at you. He didn’t want to, it just popped out of him. It’s not your fault.”
A few minutes later my partner came back looking sad and disappointed in himself. He reached out and touched my son’s foot but my son growled loudly at him, “GRRRR!” My partner walked away looking dejected. But the growling brought a smile to my face and helped me to think a little better.
Recently our son’s been playing lots of games about being scared, so I said playfully, “Oooh! Look! I think he’s scared of you.”
Luckily my partner was quick to catch on and made a scared-looking face. My son growled again. This time my partner went and hid behind an armchair and our son got up and chased after him growling, “Grrrr! Grrrr! Grrrr!” There was more chasing and growling and after a little while our son was jumping on his Dad’s back and a play fight broke out. They rolled around on the floor with some laughter and giggles.
It felt so good to have helped turn this pretty ugly situation into one of closeness and laughter for all of us.
Today at preschool our son made a special “shouting box” out of cardboard and sticky tape. When his Dad came home from work he gently said, “If you are going to shout could you tell me first and I’ll go and get the box and you can shout into that instead.” I thought his was wonderful! He was confident and thinking well enough to do something to try and help his Dad to stop shouting.
– a mum in New South Wales, Australia
Read how this parent when From Yelling to Connecting with a little supportive listening.