A frown, a man voice, and a third person

I have occasionally shouted at my son J so loudly that my throat hurt afterwards. This is not something that I am proud of.

Renaissance stained glass window at Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole's gothic castle

Renaissance stained glass window at Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole’s gothic castle

J is a lovely even tempered, generally happy boy, who is affectionate towards me, and friendly and outgoing with others. He can also be very stubborn, and once he’d settled in with me eight years ago, he embarked on what sometimes seemed like a dogged quest to take total control of all our interactions. Because I am stubborn too, and get tired, and am much less patient than I thought I was when I set out on this journey, I sometimes threw my therapeutic parenting techniques to the wind, and just got cross and shouted. I don’t need to tell you that no one feels good when this happens. (Later on we did get some great help from CAMHS around the controlling behaviours, which I will write about another time).

What I found deeply frustrating was that 7 year old J wasn’t picking up on any of the clues that I thought showed perfectly clearly that I’d had enough. I always felt that if he did, and just backed off a little, things wouldn’t escalate so dramatically. I expect other adoptive parents have sometimes felt the same.

Over time, I developed three not very therapeutic techniques to slow the pace, which worked for us:

The Frown

J didn’t register a ‘normal’ frown at all, but if I got down to his level, and pulled what was almost a comic book frown, with my forehead deeply creased, he ‘got’ that and it would usually stop him in his tracks.

The Man Voice

My gruffest, lowest voice, occasionally used, also worked wonders. I did have to stop worrying about the looks I got in the supermarket.

The ‘Third Person Singular’

Saying ‘Mummy is getting cross’ rather than ‘I am getting cross’ as a warning was also very effective. I don’t know why.

Do any of you have particular expressions which you use to slow things down, so everyone can catch their breath and change course?

I wrote this for the Adoption Social’s new place to share our tips and tricks, The Things We Do.




  1. We used to signal that it was time to wind down by announcing “it’s getting late”.
    This proved effective enough to eventually realise that we hadn’t needed to use it for a while.

    1. It’s great when certain phrases work at a different level, isn’t it. Pavlov’s dogs taught us a thing or two.

  2. Tidy your toys or they go to charity. (After giving some to charity, lessons were learned.)
    I’ll count to three. (This still works sometimes… Unbelievably…)

    1. Yes, I still count to three (in my man voice of course) 🙂

  3. I count to three as well and it works every time at his age, but he always waits until I’m about to say “three!” which really irritates me!

    1. I know exactly how you feel..

  4. I count to three too – with both of mine. It’s worked with Dollop, but not with Mini – he still needs to have control, and so he’ll wait til after 3, and then make a choice/do what he’s asked/throw a tantrum. Haven’t found anything else useful yet though 😦

    Thanks for linking up to #thethingswedo

    1. Hopefully you’ll find one soon Vicki, I’m sure you will. I was talking to J today about the Frown and showed it to him, and it made him laugh. It really was comic book 🙂

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