Becoming a ScreamFree Mama

I want a ScreamFree life.

Funny that I was just thinking about that this weekend and today I came across this via facebook: Screamfree Muslims. In particular, the founder sr. Olivia is having a webinar course on screamFree parenting. I was just thinking to myself this weekend that me and the Man (aka Baba A to Z) need to work on cutting out the scream when it comes to the kids (sorry, Baba, I’m including you too!).

I’ll give myself some credit–I don’t justify screaming. I should say “emotional reactivity” instead, since that is the word that the ScreamFree program uses, and it’s a term that encompasses so much more than screaming. I know that it’s senseless to react, to blow up, and to say dumb and hurtful things in a moment of anger instead of logically handling a situation. But guess what…I do it anyway! I’m sure most parents do, it’s just a basic failing in human nature that we lose our temper. “Laa taghdab, laa taghdab, laa taghdab.” … “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.” We’ve heard that hadith a million times.

And seriously? We know deep down that screaming.doesn’t.work. End of story. It just becomes a crutch–child doesn’t listen until screamed at, so parent screams all the time, leading to screaming not even working, and an escalating cycle of screaming between parenting and child. It takes a big leap, however to go from the acknowledgement that something is wrong, and actually learning and applying techniques on how to fix it.

I’m not sure I’ll spring for the webinar–it’s close to a hundred dollars, and I think I can check out some books and handouts and get the gist. For me, the issue is keeping my mind focused on the goal of mindful parenting, and reading books helps me to focus on that. When I found the book Raising Your Spirited Child, it really helped me improve my parenting while I was reading it because I was suddenly more aware of what my child was like and what he needed. The reminder benefits the believers–no matter what the subject is, deen or dunya (and this is akhlaaq-related so it’s definitely deeni improvement).

My current mental exercise is–why not scream? What are the harms of screaming to one’s child? (or student, I should add, for I am also guilty of that one)

  1. Raising one’s voice is explicitly condemned in the Qur’an via the words of Luqman al-Hakeem as he advises his son: “And be moderate in your walk and lower your voice. Indeed, the harshest of voices is the voice of the donkey” (Surah Luqman: 31:19). From now on, I will tell myself–“Mama, when you scream, you sound like an ass.” And it will be true, because Sadaqa-allahul-Adheem.
  2. “Emotional reactivity”, i.e. getting angry, is explicitly condemned in the Sunnah. “Do not get angry, do not get angry, do not get angry.”
  3. Getting angry is in direct contradiction to the very character of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam.)
  4. You can’t impart something you don’t have yourself. The Arabic proverb goes: Faaqid-ush-Shay laa yu’teeh…the one devoid of something cannot give it. How do we teach good-manners if we are ill-mannered? I see my son scream at his little sister and know that my own screaming is what set the example. And God forbid that our children go on to scream at their spouses, destroying their marriages and family lives, simply because we set the wrong example from the beginning.
  5. Screaming tears apart relationships. Think about a time you have been screamed at. It doesn’t even take a full-blown scream to deeply wound a person. You know this when you are having a strained conversation with your spouse–it doesn’t take much of a raise in voice and tone from the other to feel hurt. We can only imagine the pain our own children feel. I remember reading a poignant thought by Alfie Kohn where he asked in reference to discipline–before we react to behavior that we perceive as bad, ask ourselves, “Is what we are saying/doing to our child in response worth the effect it is going to have on the relationship?”
  6. Screaming doesn’t even work in the long term. If we think of discipline as merely getting our children to do what we want in the here-and-now, then screaming occasionally works. However, if we think of discipline as raising our children to be morally upright individuals who have good character, then screaming definitely does no good towards that goal.

One of the criticisms leveled against this line of thinking is that somehow kids are different, so different standards should be applied to them, and that “you need to discipline.” ScreamFree parenting is not antithetical to discipline; in fact, it is harmonious with discipline because effective discipline does not occur in a scream-based relationship. Olivia has another great post describing this: DJ Empty Threat. We end up screaming empty threats and in the end no real discipline occurs.

So…this post has been somewhat of a personal pep-talk for myself–we’ll see how long I last sane and “ScreamFree.” And if you catch me slacking (yeah, you, Baba…) then just give me a sober look and say, “This is a ScreamFree zone, mama. Take it somewhere else, woman!”

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4 thoughts on “Becoming a ScreamFree Mama

  1. Assalamu aliakum

    Jazakillah khair for this. It couldnt have come at a better time. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and although I have 1,234,853 other things to do, had to read it in one sitting.
    I lvoed how you brought forth evidence from the Quran and Sunnah regarding becoming angry and also yelling.
    My greatest challenge though: how to get my kids to respond to my normal tone of voice! I start out in a normal tone, and they block me out, until I get red in the face, its only then that they think I “mean business”. I dont want my kids to remember me as a mother who Screamed at them all the time. 😦
    Any advice is most welcome, jazakillah khair!

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    • I’m not the best person to give advice on this, so that’s my disclaimer first 🙂 I just learned in a class that there are three steps to purifying one’s conduct and developing noble character: they are 1. knowledge, 2. tawbah (repenting), and 3. mujaahadah (struggle against one’s self). The fact that you want to change is the first step that comes before all of these, now you need to embark on this three-step journey. Start by gaining more knowledge–listen to the call linked at Olivia’s website, check out books on positive, gentle discipline, read about the seerah. Then make sincere tawbah from anything incorrect you have done in the past. Step three is to start putting the techniques you learned into action. That’s the struggle with the self. Of course you need to eliminate any triggers, and that’s a huge issue that goes beyond the scope of this post, but it’s essential nonetheless. Daily and constant du’aa is also a given. Make the du’aas for sabr and righteous offspring. This is a lifelong struggle, so don’t give up 🙂

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  2. Jazakillah khair, you have really been a huge help. So far Day 1 of learning to become a ScreamFree Mama went surprisingly well, alhamdulillah! I think I can do this, with Allah’s Help and as you said, much duaa.

    Thanks so much again, you have set me in the right direction!

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  3. Salaams,
    I read your comments on my Day of Silence article and ‘bumped’ into your trackback at Muslimah Source and thought Allah wants us to meet 🙂
    I was also tempted to sign up for the seminar Screamfree seminar but couldn’t work it in. So decided to self educate myself too, its a life long learning process. I lead a Muslim Mommy circle and we all have made a commitment to become gentler mamas. Screaming truly does not work- they tune you out. Its jabr on the kids. So true that we need to make tauba and istighfaar for past parenting blunders.

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