Calming the Storm: How to Yell at Your Kids Less

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Parents have taken to heart the research that shows that spanking leads to more aggressive behaviors.  But instead of spanking, most parents yell at our kids.  Yes, I yell at my kids.  I don’t like it, but I do.  Kay Quinn of KSDK News Channel 5 invited me to talk about it:

I yell a lot less these days than when I first became a parent.

When my first two kids were 2 and 4 I sat them down on the couch one day and yelled at them until they cried.  I don’t even remember what they did.  I think I only yelled for one or two minutes.  But the memory remains a tragic one for me.  I don’t think my kids changed any of their behaviors.  They did, however, learn to be afraid of me.

My parents never yelled at me like that.  But I was scared of my mother.  She had a paddle, and she wasn’t afraid to spank me.  I thought I was a better person because I don’t spank my kids.  But I’m convinced now that yelling, like spanking, is a short-term solution that ultimately causes more harm than good.

Calming the Storm How to Yell at Your Kids Less

Intuitively, we know that yelling isn’t what our families need.  Good parents know that they need to model the behavior they want to see in their children.  Yet, we still yell.   Usually it’s because we’re desperate, tired, frustrated, angry, and not sure what else to do.

Yelling is just another parenting crutch, a crutch that is toxic to families.  You realize this when your kids start yelling back.  This is not the family you dreamed of, the loving household you wanted for your children.

I’m not talking about the scream of fear that comes when your child runs out into the street or breaks loose of your hand in a parking lot.  These rare, non-volitional eruptions of fear teach our kids healthy fear.  Kids can tell the difference between a scream of fear and the yell of anger.

Nor am I talking about speaking the ugly truth in a normal tone of voice.  There are times when this is your job as a parent.  I’m talking about yelling, when you raise your voice and express anger.  The worst kind of yelling involves insults and cursing.  There is even research that shows that this kind of yelling may be more harmful than spanking.

Here’s the kicker from this research—the hurtful effects of yelling were not mitigated by the degree of love, emotional support, and affection between parents and their children. Nor by the strength of the parent-child bond.  In other words, you can’t yell out of love.

The earlier you break the yelling habit, the better.

Here’s what’s helped me change my ways: 

Have a plan.

Have a mental list of alternative discipline techniques, so that when your child engages in an unacceptable behavior, you’re ready to intervene without raising your voice or using corporal punishment.  It takes years to develop your family’s discipline strategies.  We use behavior-labeling, redirection, time-out, essay writing, exercise, and other approaches.  Here are more on ways to develop a more peaceful home.

Admit that yelling is bad.

Your anger may be justified, but yelling is not the right way to express it.  What would you do at work if you were this angry?  Hopefully not yell.  Find other ways to express to your children that you are very angry.  Recognize that there are times when it is counterproductive for your children to know that you are angry.

Don’t make your kids compete with your cell phone for attention. 

A bunch of researchers sat in fast food restaurants and recorded how kids acted while their parents were on digital devices. Here’s what they found.

Kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens, will misbehave to get your attention.  It’s that valuable to them.  Don’t make them compete with your digital devices for attention.

Apologize.

If you lose your temper and yell, apologize.  Even to your toddlers.  You will both feel better.  In the heat of the moment when I’m really angry, nothing makes me hold my temper like the realization that I will soon have to apologize.

Take care of yourself. 

Tired?  Here’s what sleep deprivation does to parenting.  Are you hungry, depressed, overwhelmed or upset?  Recognize your own needs and take care of yourself.  Anger is a late defense mechanism, something we use when everything else fails, when we are at our wits end.  Don’t let yourself get to that point.

Pray with your children and for your children.

Did you see Pope Francis’ tweet on April 1st?  It was no joke!  Ultimately, we all fall to our own sinfulness, both parents and children.  We can’t curb our anger, yelling, and bad habits without the help of the Holy Spirit.  Ask for it.  Let your children hear you ask for it.

Do you yell at your kids?  What has helped you yell less?  What discipline techniques have worked for your family?

Copyright 2014 Kathleen Berchelmann, MD

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article. I went through a “yelling” spell. Prayer changed it all for me. After a couple of months of daily prayer, I started noticing changes in my life. One of them was – I no longer yelled. I was more patient. I know it was all God. I had tried to become more patient on my own. It seemed like the change happened overnight. I knew it was the Lord. God bless!

  2. One day when my son tried to tell me something (maybe he had forgotten his lunch box or he spilled something, I don’t even remember), when I opened my mouth, I saw him flinch. That broke my heart. Now when he tells me something that I may not be particularly thrilled with, I literally will bite my tongue (gently of course) or take a breath first. It has helped me learn that not everything is as bad as it seems and now that my son and I can talk about it with out fear or him feeling like he’s messed up, he opens up to me more. Now when I pray for his well-being, part of that prayer is also for me; That God help me be part of nurturing that well-being by nurturing myself.

  3. This is something I struggle with. Daily. Sometimes hourly. It’s not something I’m proud of and sometimes it’s something I feel powerless to stop. Thanks for writing.
    (Note: Your link to Ways to Develop a More Peaceful Home is incorrect – Page not found).

  4. New first time mom on

    Great info. Can you please fix the links for cell phone research and ways to develop a peaceful home.

  5. Thank you so much for this. It seems like many of us are dealing with this issue! I have seen first-hand how my yelling at my oldest child has turned him into a “yeller” as well. (At tee-ball this weekend, anyone would have mistaken him for John McEnroe!) He’ll turn 4 May 1– is it too late? Is this form of aggression already hard-wired into him? I don’t know that answer, but I do know that he’s worth my attempts at changing my behavior (yelling) in hopes that he will follow. I will share this article with my husband in hopes that we can work together to become a quieter household.

    Another issue I need to come to terms with is my cell phone use. When I read the research about it, it kind of punched me in the stomach! My attention to my phone is something that I will be addressing immediately. It’s unacceptable and completely unfair to my children and myself!

    PS- When you click on the links, it does say Page Not Found, BUT- over to the right are working links to the same exact content. Just click on those and it will take you there.

    Thanks for another fantastic contribution!

  6. Kathleen, I have to admit that I disagree with the issue about spanking. I was raised by parents who spanked me ON OCCASION and AS A LAST RESORT, and it worked. There have been times, I will freely admit, when I have spanked our oldest daughter, who’s now over 3, ON OCCASION and AS A LAST RESORT. It’s one swift swat on the rear. We also do time-outs, take away privileges and/or toys. And, yes, I have yelled at her – not cursing and calling names – but I have gotten loud and angry on more than one occasion with her. She is a strong-willed, obstinate, recalcitrant, and often rebellious child (much like I was as a child). I appreciate your honesty and candid nature of bringing this to light, and I do think hateful language CAN be more harmful to a child than other forms of punishment or consequences.

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