Community Question: Overwhelmed, Helpless and Yelling



Infant Crying
I’m trying desperately to change the way I parent, but I’m having a hard time. I don’t spank, but I yell. Good grief do I yell. And I hate myself for it, every single time! I have 6 and 3.5 year old boys, and a 9 week old baby girl. I find myself yelling so often while I’m nursing her. I just feel so helpless to stop whatever they are doing, and most of the time, asking nicely, then ordering firmly doesn’t work. Frankly, neither does yelling. Its just my frustration coming to the surface. And I’m sure that’s my fault for not properly setting boundaries, but I am just at a crossroads. I don’t know what to do. What are some things I can do (while nursing and not) to get my boys to listen and have some healthy boundaries that aren’t such an effort to enforce? I don’t want mindless, “good listeners,” but when my 3.5 year old is hitting my 6 year old, or my 6 year old is squealing like a stuck pig for no apparent reason, I would like to be able to ask them to stop and have them listen. At least sometimes. Where do I start?!


Parenting often brings up feelings of overwhelm and helplessness for all of us. And I truly believe that’s the main reason why we yell and do other things that we would otherwise not want to do to our children, for whom we feel so much love. My first recommendation is always the same: self-empathy. Choose to give yourself understanding and compassion for being in an overwhelming situation and feeling helpless – what a tough place to be in! And even though you know this phase will pass, it’s still difficult right now. So when those feelings bubble up in you take a deep breath (this gets oxygen to our brains and helps us think better) and allow yourself to have all those mixed feelings and tell yourself that not only is it ok to feel all those feelings at once, it’s also understandable. Just start there. Self-compassion is exactly what we need to fill our cups and continue on our peaceful parenting journey.

Next, it’s helpful to remember that when our children are having a hard time they let us know in ways that are often difficult for us to remember that they’re feeling disconnected. Instead of wanting to connect more with them, we often just want them to pull themselves together and “behave.” Especially when we’re overwhelmed already. So when your boys start to fight each other while you’re nursing one way to “help” them is to invite them both to come sit with you, “I see you’re both having some big feelings. Can you come sit with me?” Then invite them to talk, “I saw some hitting, which tells me there is some stuff going on that needs attention. I want you both to tell me what happened, and today we’ll start with Todd. (Turning to Todd), “Can you tell me what happened?” Ensure they both get the opportunity to be heard without interruption, “I know you want to share your story. First we’ll let your brother finish. And when it’s your turn we’ll let you finish without interruption.” When Todd is finished you can turn to John, “ok, not tell me your story.” And again ensure he gets the opportunity to be heard without interruption. Then you’ll want to return to Todd and ask “anything else?” And again to John, “anything else?” Often this is enough to not only abate the problem, but feeling heard and reconnecting with you will also help them carry on in their play with a feeling of connection…which usually means more cooperative play and less fighting!

It’s also helpful to talk to them about this BEFORE it happens, “hey guys, earlier today you all were fighting while I was nursing and I didn’t know what to do, so I yelled. I’m sorry. I don’t want to yell at you. So today if you all are having a hard time I’m going to invite you to come sit with me and take turns telling me what is going on so I can help. Don’t worry, you’ll both get a turn to talk because I really want to hear you both.” This not only models the idea that mistakes are opportunities to learn, it also models taking responsibility for our mistakes and making up for our mistakes by learning to do something different. And, of course, it lets them know what you plan to do differently so it won’t surprise them too much.

For the screeching, you can simply say (and maybe even whisper), “I hear you have some big noises to get out of your body! You can either make those big noises in your room, scream into a pillow, or wait until we go outside in a few minutes.” Again, you may want to talk to him about this BEFORE it happens and invite him to problem solve with you. You might say, “yesterday you were screeching and I screeched back at you because I was overwhelmed. I don’t want to yell at you. So let’s talk about what you can do instead of screeching.” See what ideas he comes up with and use as many as you can. You can also offer some more ideas in addition to his ideas or if he gets stuck.

Finally, I want to refer you to two wonderful resources available both on Facebook and blogs:

  1. The Orange Rhino” writes about her personal journey away from yelling. She’s funny and honest and truly helpful in regards to building strategies to calm ourselves and release our energies in ways other than yelling. (Facebook)
  2. Rebecca Eanes did a “No Yell Challenge” where she posted articles and ideas for how to stop yelling. You can find her at “Positive Parening: Toddlers and Beyond.” (Facebook)

Finally, I will post your question anonymously to our community so you can receive some encouragement and feedback from them. Thank you for being a part of our community. -Amy


Community Question posts come from our Parenting Beyond Punishment community. In addition to posting community questions anonymously online for people to receive community feedback, we also answer some of them personally via our blog.
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2 thoughts on “Community Question: Overwhelmed, Helpless and Yelling”

  1. Having 3 children those ages has got to be very hard. You probably aren’t getting much sleep which always makes the fuse so much shorter. Apart from the excellent advice already given, I want to add that so often children aren’t given anything they can do… just correction for what they shouldn’t be doing. I would suggest setting up a couple of invitations to play for them through the day. I believe the time it takes to put these together will come back 10 fold. Taking advantage of being outside is always great. For us, setting out paint, shaving cream, and some plastic animals is always a hit. My husband made a simple table out of plywood outside to do these kinds of things. Even bringing legos outside can invite a different experience. We have even done something as simple as inexpensive fruits and vegetables cut in half to explore the insides. Pumpkins are cheap right now and offer loads of fun digging out the insides. There endless and awesome ideas for ‘invitations or provocations to play’. It is amazing but they can really sense the magic when something has been set out just for them… and just for open ended play! Anyway, I am trying to say that sometimes kids need something to do even when they have toys and a playroom. Our playroom is very thoughtfully set up and I find that I still need to set up invitations to get them engaged. The play dough is sitting right there on the self but doesn’t get used unless I take it out and pair with utensils or natural materials like sticks. Even a bubble bath in the middle of the day might offer you some sanity. Another wonderful thing that comes from these invitations to play is that they naturally invite cooperation between the siblings. Please know you are not alone. Everyone is struggling on their own level. Just the fact that you are taking out time to find answers shows your openness and willingness to change. Isn’t that the ultimate recipe for successful parenting… and life, really?

  2. I haven’t gotten to read the whole post yet, but I am with you and I will tell you having a 3rd child is when I really started too. Some of it just started because I was trying to nurse a tiny baby girl while trying to keep my 4 year old and 2 year old safe…and then we added 2 more babies in picture and I don’t know how I could yell at these gorgeous kids but I keep doing it!! God Bless your family!!! I wish I had more to help you rather than just let you know you are not alone and just trying your best is a great step 🙂

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