A herd of orange rhinos has moved into my house. One lives on my refrigerator door, one near my nightstand, and another above my toddler’s changing table. A couple more will move in above my desk at work and a mini one onto my phone cover. They are a fun and necessary reminder for me to stop yelling, courtesy of the Orange Rhino Challenge, which led to the newly released Yell Less, Love More book by Sheila McCraith.
I am the yeller in my family. I come from a long line of women yellers – my mother is one, as is her mother, and maybe even generations beyond that. We are temperamental and spirited and know what we want, which can come in handy when dealing with insurance companies and negotiating at car dealerships, but it means short tempers and a very small window of opportunity within which to calm down before flying off the handle. On top of my temperament, I’m a type A operational thinker, which means I like things done in very particular ways, and have a hard time handling deviations.
Having a child has taught me a lot about flexibility and rolling with the punches, but keeping yelling in check is an ongoing struggle for me. My toddler is just shy of a year and a half, and it’s actually been easier than I anticipated to not yell at her. I remind myself that 95% of her frustrating behaviors are not yet within her control, and she’s likely equally frustrated at limited communication, lack of impulse control and systems that don’t yet work as well as they will in a few years. However, my worry is that in a few months, when her behaviors start to become more intentional, when she starts testing limits in earnest and begins to understand my feedback and openly defy it, this control that I currently have will dissolve into a loud mess.
The Orange Rhino Challenge focuses primarily on going without yelling at your kids, but I think it’s applicable more broadly. I’m not a yeller with my kid, but I’m a yeller with my husband — a problem that I have been working on for years. He is one of the calmest people I know, and my yelling creates an awful dynamic in our house. And more worryingly, I see myself eventually becoming a yeller with my kid, and I refuse to be the parent my kid is afraid of. I’ve had a few of those moments in the past year and a half where I lost my patience, even knowing intellectually that my kid’s behavior wasn’t intentional, and it’s by far the most awful feeling in the world when you see that you caused fear in those big eyes that look to you for protection and safety.
There’s an important note on the Orange Rhino blog, where the author mentions that she had realized that most of the yelling she’d done was triggered by her own issues rather than behaviors of others, and this is definitely true for me, which is where the orange rhinos come in. Sleep deprivation, a work deadline, a pile of laundry to be folded – there are countless wrenches that throw off one’s day and mood and exacerbate stress. Baby C has been on 5 AM wakeup call duty for 2 weeks now for reasons I cannot figure out, and the orange rhinos in my line of vision have been a helpful reminder that she’s no more thrilled about this than I am, and snapping at her or Mr. Carrot when kiddo is cranky and throwing her food on the floor is not going to help any of us.
The orange rhinos are a great tool for someone who’s visual, like me. I can tell myself to calm down a hundred times, but unless there’s something that hits my eye to remind me to do so, it’s unlikely to work. I’m modifying my challenge a bit by not tracking how many days I yell or don’t – it’s another task in an already busy day that I’d rather not add to my plate. My goal is to modify aggressive behavior before it starts, day by day. It’ll work sometimes and it’ll fail on others, and that’s OK. I’m a work in progress, and hopefully a quieter one day to day.