What My 4 Year Old Wants You to Know About Yelling

I’m guilty. I’m sure you are too. The paint ends up on the wall after the 30th, “Don’t do it!” The baby gets hit with a flying toy after you specifically said, “Don’t throw it!” The toddler isn’t listening. The preschooler isn’t listening. The teenager isn’t listening… So you raise your voice. You might not shout. You might not scream. But you raise your voice. Surely then they will hear you. Surely then they will understand your heart.

I told myself long ago that I wasn’t going to be a momma who yelled. I remember stern talks from my own momma, but I don’t remember her ever shouting at me. (P.S. Thanks, mom. That’s impressive!)

When it came time for stern talks with my own little ones, I tried to remember the importance of gentleness in the midst of frustration. I feel like I do a pretty good job of this. I try to remember what big old upset momma looks like from their tiny perspectives. We have few encounters with mommy-saurus.

But recently, I learned what yelling sounds like to me… and what it sounds like to my kids are two completely different things.

I had just finished a round of baths for each of my two littles. My daughter was dressed, but continued to demand that I get her a different shirt. I was busy helping my son get clothing from his closet, and shouted down the hall, “Sissy! Mommy is coming! I promise. Just let me get your brother dressed!”

This prompted louder crying.

Knowing her sobs would make it difficult for her to hear me from rooms away, I shouted again, “Baby girl! I’m coming. Just a second. Don’t be sad! Just give mommy a second!”

I handed my son his shirt and helped him quickly pull it over his head.

“She can’t hear you, momma.” He said -his arms still tucked in the shirt like a little turtle.

“I know she can’t. She’s crying too loud. Isn’t she?”

“No, momma. She can’t hear you, because you yelled.”

My son had my full attention. Not even the screaming from the other room could hush the enormous truth my four year old had just voiced.

“What do you mean she can’t hear me because I yelled?”

He poked his arms through the size 4 sleeves. “When adults yell, kids stop listening. They get scared, and they stop listening. Sissy can’t hear you, because you yelled at her.”

I started to reason with him. I started to explain that she was in a different room and wouldn’t have heard me if I had spoken quietly. I started to tell him that I had told her twice and when she cried louder I wanted to make sure she knew that I was coming… that I wasn’t ignoring her…

But honestly, it didn’t matter.

Because it doesn’t matter what I think I sound like. All that matters is how I sound to their little ears.

I know that there are articles all over the internet about parenting and yelling and controlling your temper. This isn’t one of them.

This is simply a thought from one momma who realized that what her son said was true –and important.

When we raise our voices, the message of our hearts no matter how innocent or loving is overshadowed by the tone we used to present it.

I wonder how many times I have stopped listening to my husband because I felt like he was yelling. I wonder how many times he has stopped listening to me. I wonder how many conversations could have ended differently by choosing to speak not just with a heart bent towards love, but with a tone that reflected it.

There is such a profound message in the words of my little boy. Maybe it is what all mommas need to remember. Maybe it is what all of us no matter who we are need to remember. Today, I will do everything in my power to keep the message of my heart the loudest thing about me.

Because the truth is, if I want to be heard, the last thing I want to do is shout.

Gender Reveal! It’s a…. balloon!



To the Momma in the Dressing Room a Few Doors Down:

To the Momma in the dressing room a few doors down:

I was already in my own room when you and your daughter came down the hall. I never ran into you after I finished trying on my own clothes. I will never know what you look like. But I have to tell you, I cannot imagine what that moment was like for you.

Your sweet girl cannot be much past 5 years old. I imagine you helped as she chose the top and skirts. I imagine she wasn’t even tall enough to take them down from the clothing rack herself. She was barely big enough to carry them into the dressing room.

It sounded like you were both having a wonderful day shopping together. I don’t know what the rest of it had been like. And truthfully, I didn’t hear much of your conversation.

What I did hear was laughter. I did hear joy. I did hear a relationship that sounded safe and beautiful. She must really admire you. She kept asking you for your opinion of how she looked.

You answered her so well each time.

You continued to tell her that the clothing was nice and she was beautiful. You continued to help her decide if you had chosen the correct sizes together. She might be growing. She might be getting taller. She might need a bigger size.

What a wonderful truth that children continue to grow.

Sometimes, they grow too fast. Don’t they?

I was just about finished trying on my own selections when I heard that moment take place. I could tell it was the first time. I could tell that you had never heard her speak those words before, because I listened as they stole your breath.

“Mommy.”

 “Yes, baby.” You responded as I heard you sort through clothes and put them back on hangers.

“Mommy, am I fat?”

I sat down. I can imagine you had to do the same.

You had to pause. You knew the answer immediately, but the words that had escaped her heart so young took a moment for you to process.

Your answer was simple.

“No, sweetheart. No. You’re not fat.”

There wasn’t a long conversation about body image. There wasn’t a drawn out discussion about how she is always going to be perfect. There were no words other than a simple reassurance.

She didn’t ask again. She didn’t question your answer. She trusts you. She trusts your opinion, Momma.

And that is precious and power and terrifying.

I know. I have my own little one – one that isn’t much younger than yours.

I cannot image a day in the not so distant future when she looks at me waiting for me to tear down the fears and the lies that creep up in children much too young.

I am sure that you have thought about this conversation a lot in the last few days. I know that I have. I am sure that your words and time spent together haven’t dwelt on that moment, but I am sure that you’re going to address it.

I am sure that every day that you talk with your young daughter about who she is you will continue to pour out the love and confidence necessary to build a strong foundation of self-worth.

I will think of it as I speak to my own daughter. I will remember it as I carefully and purposefully mold her idea of worth in a world that aggressively tries to tear it down.

We are all in this together, those of us with daughters and granddaughters and nieces and young friends. We are all fighting a never-ending battle. But even though the conversations begin much too young, we will stand confidently as those with powerful voices that can shape, and mold and instill greatness and self-worth.

Because we ourselves are strong and powerful and fearfully and wonderfully made. And we will remember that how we treat ourselves, how we talk about ourselves, and how we talk about others will all be rulers by which our daughters learn to measure who they are as young women.

I can promise that the conversation I overheard will not fall far from my heart, and I will share it with other mommas as together we all work to substitute worth for worthlessness, confidence for insecurity, and pride in place of shame.

May we always remember our children’s watchful eyes. May we always remember our own worth, and may we always find that worth in the One who calls us daughter.