By Lizzy Engelman
Photo by Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

According to Murray A. Straus, Ph.D., co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, “Yelling belittles kids and undermines the parent-child bond.” The bottom line is, yelling simply is not effective. Never-the-less, we’ve all been there. One moment, you’re the rational parent, and within seconds, you’re a screaming psychopath.

Today’s Parent, reported that a 2003 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family surveyed nearly one thousand parents and found that over 90 percent of the parents admitted to yelling at their children.

Angry tirades work in the short term because they scare children. Paired with aggressive facial expressions, yelling intimidates young children, and they comply not because they’ve made a sensible decision, but because they want the yelling to stop. Over time, however, kids learn to tune out the screams or shut down emotionally. Chronic yelling can even be damaging and traumatic to children over time.

So how do we stop the knee jerk reaction to yell?

Lisa Kadane writes in Today’s Parent that there are a few easy steps:

Know your triggers

If you can identify the behaviors that rockets you from zero to sixty, you have a better chance of avoiding them. For example, feeling tired, rushed, or overwhelmed at work are stressful. When parents feel exhausted and they’re multi-tasking under stress, they’re more likely to lose their temper. Having self-awareness helps you make choices, plan ahead, and avoid land mines.

Other triggers such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, inadequacy, fear or guilt can also make you feel backed into a corner and flooded. Recognize when your emotions are taking over and learn to back away until you can think logically. Triggers are often directly linked to your past or fears about the future, so take time to explore why you feel triggered. Heal the old family wounds by keeping a journal to hash out your feelings or even seeking professional help. Being intentional about your own healing will help you avoid the trap of repeating family patterns of dysfunction.

Give a Warning

It’s appropriate to tell children when their attitude or lack of compliance is making you angry. Saying, “You’re pushing me, and I don’t want to yell,” is one way to get a child’s attention. The warning is a natural transition. It’s like saying, “Heads-up, I’m doing my best to ask nicely. We need to work together.” Other examples of a warning are, “I’m starting to feel really angry because you’re not listening.” Identify how you feel and specifically communicate what behavior is making you feel that way. Example: “Your whining is making me feel angry.”

Clarify Your Expectations

Establish your expectation for behavior early. For example, if your child is not complying with making her bed, you could remind/warn that if the bed is not made, she will lose TV time that evening. Clarifying the expectations in advance, as well as the consequences, will lay the foundation for better parent/child interactions. It allows your child to understand the expectations, and it empowers your child to act accordingly.

Take a time out

One child development strategist Judy Arnall suggests physically leaving the room to calm down. Yell at a pillow, a wall or even into the toilet, she says. Flush the yell down the pipes, instead of screaming at your kids. While it may sound cliché, Arnall suggests taking a time out, deep breathing, and counting before interacting directly with your child. Not only are you exemplifying appropriate anger management for your kids, but you are also sparing yourself all the shame and self-loathing you’ll feel if you lash out verbally without thinking. Modeling this strategy also teaches your child how to calm down. If they’re too young to leave the room, say, “I’m going to deep breathe and count down from five.” Or “I need space right now, so I’m going to stand over here for a moment, and then I’ll be back to speak with you.”

Teach the lesson later

Arnall reminds her parents that children aren’t puppies. They don’t need to learn the lesson immediately. Take ten minutes to exercise self-control, and discuss the lesson when you feel calm. When delivered calmly, the lesson will be more effective.

Be proactive

If getting to school on time typically escalates into a shouting match, manage your time more wisely. Prepare the night before. If sibling fighting drives you up a wall during errands, pack activities to keep kids busy. Being proactive may take time, creativity, and energy on the front end, but it’ll save you and your children heartache and tears on the back end.

Adjust your expectations

Understand your child’s limitations. Sometimes that means planning a shorter hike or running fewer errands. If skipping naps or a meal turns your little Jeckll into Mr. Hyde, be flexible and adjust your plans.

Recognize when you’re the problem, not your child

Many parents over schedule, under sleep, have no margin, and practice no self-care. Learning healthy ways to manage stress is a game changer. For example, incorporating meditation, evening walks, healthy diets, and good sleep hygiene not only benefit you, but also benefit your child. Incorporating quiet time and exercise are tools to relieve stress.

If you fall short

When and if you lose your cool and you’re not proud of your behavior, don’t beat yourself up. Simply apologize. Saying you’re sorry models appropriate behavior and teaches your child reconciliation. Humans make mistakes and we’re all works in progress.

Reward and celebrate your good days

Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids suggests creating a calendar and marking each yell-free day with a star or check mark. Not only will it help you track your progress, but it’ll also help you get back on track if you’re slipping. Celebrate your good day and applaud your efforts. Being a calm parent means being kind to yourself and much as it means being kind to your kids.

Works Cited

Bowen, Jami. “How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids.” Parents.com. https://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/discipline/tips/ways-to-stop-yelling/

Kadane, Lisa. “10 Proven Ways to Finally Stop Yelling at Your Kids.” Todays Parent. Dec 28, 2018. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/discipline/proven-ways-to-finally-stop-yelling-at-your-kids/

Markham, Lisa Ph.D, Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids. Penguin Group. New York. 2012.

Van De Geyn, Lisa. “Is Yelling at Your Kids As Bad As Spanking?” Todays Parent. https://www.todaysparent.com/family/discipline/yelling-at-kids/