Day 6: Soft answers and the habit of yelling

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“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Not coming from a household of yellers, imagine my surprise, when, after the birth of a few kids and the onset of their toddler years, I discovered I am one. Children, specifically the ones that come from our bodies, have a way of peeling back every layer of false pretense and exposing the beating heart of who we truly are. It turns out, I am not the kind of parent who handles unpredictability, stress, or lack of sleep very well. I crumble under bickering and complaining. I stretch at the seams when disobeyed. In short, I use my voice and my words to express my displeasure. Very loudly.

When I tell people this, they don’t believe me. I don’t seem like your typical yeller. I have an extraordinary sense of control when it comes to keeping my mouth shut around other adults, but put me in a room with my kids on a whiny, complainy, disobedient day and you’re going to see a side of me you didn’t know existed. It’s ugly. And ineffective. And it makes me feel the tiniest bit better to rage like a lunatic even when I know it’s wrong.

It came to a head last spring, when a combination of hideous explosions on my part and misbehavior on my kids part, led to an increasingly unpleasant atmosphere in our home. As Lent approached, I toyed with the idea of letting it pass unobserved, but as I prayed about it, I felt increasingly like God wanted me to deny myself the fleshly pleasure of yelling at my kids. I didn’t even know this was possible. It feels like a character flaw, the kind of flaw you accept because it’s as much a part of you as your big nose and the birth mark on your left knee.

When I wrote about it, I expected people to say, “Good luck with that!” or “Impossible!”, maybe sympathize a little with this notion that God might ask me to give up something that felt less like a choice and more like an embedded thorn in my side. A friend surprised me by saying, “Yelling is just a habit. You’ll learn to break it.” Was she serious? Clearly, she didn’t know my children. This was no habit, this was survival of the fittest. Only the loudest survive.

Lent arrived, and all hell broke loose in my home. Anytime you commit to some sort of spiritual endeavor, life conspires against you, begging the question “How much do you really want this?”. This is why I refuse to do marriage mentoring anymore. It becomes too difficult to mentor young couples on respect and open communication when you inevitably end up in an argument and are no longer on speaking terms with your spouse immediately prior to the couple’s arrival. Hypothetically speaking. Ahem.

I asked myself, How badly do I want this? And the answer came swift and sure. My mood and attitude set the tenor of our home, which at that point felt like an active war zone. I wanted peace badly enough to admit my behavior might be a habit that needed breaking. Through much prayer and gritting of teeth and frequent failures, I set about to break it.

I haven’t conquered this yet, but I try to consciously decide how I will respond when my kids stir things up. I fail miserably on a regular basis, but I keep trying because I don’t want my kids to remember me as all sharp edges on which they might slip and fall, all war and no peace. A soft answer turns away wrath, and I see how words spoken in measured tones, without the wild octaves and crazed gesticulating, turns the tide of my kids behavior.  Gentle mothers beget gentle children. Peace begets peace.


Are you a yeller or a peacemaker under pressure? How do you use a soft answer to turn away wrath?

This post is the sixth in a series called 31 Days of Speaking Life. Want to know more about the 31 Days writing challenge? Hop on over here. Want to receive these posts via email straight into your inbox? Sign up below.

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  • Kimberly, I just caught up on your posts and truly loved every one. I love your series idea. Our words do have such power to tear down or build up. I know as my children were growing up I was more guilty of the tearing down with my words. God does redeem and even with adult children has given me a new story. I am far from perfect but I am not who I once was. I look forward to following along. Blessings.

    • Thanks so much for reading, Beth:) And for the reminder that God can redeem all of the places where we go wrong.

  • Mark Allman

    I am not a yeller. Never have been. I want to sometimes but then I’d have to give up my non yeller card. 🙂 I do think sometimes a whisper garners more attention than a shout. I think my wife always though I needed to be more firmer at times with our kids but I choose not too.
    I think yelling hurts when it attacks the person instead of the problem.

    • Agreed! It’s absolutely useless as a tool of discipline.

  • I’m catching up on your posts. Girl, this is good stuff! Also, I’m reading them on my laptop and not my phone which means I can comment. Win! About this post, we are the same person. Total self-control and poise with adults. Not so much with my kids.