You're stressed over your job. The kids are bouncing off the walls. You have 100 things to get done and no time to do them. There are about a million reasons why parents lose their patience and raise their voices. While yelling is something that everyone does occasionally when they are feeling upset, angry, or frustrated, researchers and professionals agree it isn't a best parenting practice. Learning how to stop yelling at your kids isn't as difficult as one might think, and healthier approaches will leave the whole family more calm and content.
The Lasting Effects of Yelling at Children
A 2014 study highlighted the effects of yelling at children. What researchers found was kids who grew up in homes where yelling was commonplace were at higher risk for depression and low self-esteem. Children who were yelled at consistently developed increased levels of anxiety and stress, and displayed increased behavioral problems throughout their lives.
Words (and tone and volume) clearly have power. Harsh parenting, which by definition includes negative behaviors such as yelling, hitting, and shaking, decreases the gray matter in a child's prefrontal cortex and amygdala as they grow into the teen years. Hence, consistent yelling can create changes in a child's brain. One study compared the brains of kids who endured verbal abuse from parents to those who did not. They discovered that the subjects who grew up with yelling parents had variations in the parts of the brain associated with mental wellness and emotional stability.
All that yelling happening in childhood can negatively impact a person's adult years. One study discovered links between verbal abuse and chronic pain in study subjects later on. People who had been raised in emotionally unstable or abusive environments reported chronic pain in their necks, backs, and other areas of the body.
Lastly, kids who get yelled at aren't receiving the proper modeling they need to have their own healthy, stable relationships. They may yell at other people, exhibit disrespect, and turn to outside influences that are not their parents because of what they are learning in their childhood experiences.
It is key to note that not all yelling equates to emotional or verbal abuse. Consider WHAT is being yelled. If the words you are loudly shouting at your children include blame and shame, then this approach should stop immediately. Yelling combined with harsh and demeaning verbiage can indeed be considered emotionally abusive, leading to long-term, adverse effects.
Why Yelling Is Ineffective
First and foremost, yelling makes everybody feel poorly. Parents feel guilty and ashamed by their actions, and kids are sad that mom or dad is so disappointed in them. It's hard to want to please, work together, or do the right thing when you feel so negatively inside. Yelling is a dangerous cycle that can be hard for many families to break. The action of yelling doesn't promote positive behavior, only negative behavior. Negative behavior displayed by children triggers more yelling from parents, and the cycle continues on with detrimental effects.
Recent studies have shown that yelling at children might even be as harmful as striking them. We all know by now that zero good stems from hitting another human being, and children who are hit have multiple issues long after they leave their parents' home. But yelling is harmful too. This is a concerning realization for many parents who contend that their children do not listen when normal speaking tones are utilized.
How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids & What to Do Instead
You aren't going to snap and yell at the kids to get them to fall in line, so what are you going to do? Knowing that yelling isn't effective isn't enough to cease the behavior. Yelling is a strategy (not a great one, but a strategy nonetheless), and if you want to stop yelling for good, you have to learn to replace it with something more positive and more effective. Thankfully, there are plenty of effective replacement strategies to try on for size.
Use Empathetic Speech
Replace punitive speech and yelling with words of empathy. Using empathetic speech doesn't mean you agree with your child's behavior. Their behavior is still bringing you to your boiling point, and you probably have every right to be angry or frustrated with the situation at hand. Yet by using empathetic speech in your retort, you reduce their stress levels while simultaneously reducing your own. Examples of using empathic speech instead of jumping to punitive action like yelling might be:
- This is a frustrating situation, and we can talk about it when we are both calm.
- You are angry and I am growing angry, so we need to walk away and collect ourselves.
- I am unhappy you are being obstinate and refusing to clean your room. What is causing this?
Explain Your Emotions and Apologize
Make what you are feeling evident to your children. It might make you feel vulnerable at first, but expressing your feelings about a situation that can cause you to yell can illustrate clearly to your kids what is happening in real time. Children don't connect the dots as adults do. Sometimes all they know is you are suddenly yelling, going from 0 to 100 in their eyes. Explain your thought process and emotions regarding a situation or their behavior if you feel triggered. If you DO raise your voice, apologize. We expect kids to show remorse for their bad behavior, so model this when you display the bad behavior of yelling.
Learn Your Triggers
You have to know what is going to set you off before you can ever stop it. Learn your triggers. Spend time analyzing what is taking place around you that causes you to yell commonly. Do you notice that messiness and clutter elevates your stress levels? Does bedtime get you worked up because there seems to be so much to do in such a short period, and you are too tired to do it? Many times, the kids acting up or not listening is actually a byproduct of what is really upsetting you. Once you know your triggers, you can recognize them, use self-talk to honestly point out the triggers, and then address situations for what they truly are.
Create Charts and Cues to Help Kids Know Their Role
If you spend 24 hours each day telling your brood what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, you will eventually become exhausted, frustrated, and likely lose your patience and yell. Kids can handle a lot more than parents give them credit for. Create charts for daily routines. Kids can utilize the charts, accomplishing tasks that you don't have to concern yourself with. An example of a chart coming to your rescue might be:
- Kids never get out the door in time for school. There are no shoes in sight, teeth are never brushed, and library books and snacks are not in backpacks. You feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, and you yell. Consider making a morning routine chart that includes the absolute musts that kids need to accomplish before walking out the door. When they independently complete tasks, you remove yourself from the emotions related to ordering them around and failing at efficiency.
- No one is ever ready for bed when they should be. They complain, you are exhausted, and you yell. Create a bedtime routine chart that requires kids to do certain evening tasks before having TV time, iPad time, or other means of free time. They might still complain about hitting the sheets, but at least pajamas will be on, teeth will be brushed, and homework will be completed, giving you less to become upset about.
Tips for Parents to Stay Calm When They Feel Like Yelling
Learning to reduce yelling might not be a quick and easy fix. Take up practices that can help reduce the stress levels that lead to losing your temper and raising your voice.
Develop a Mantra
In Sanskrit, mantra means a tool of the mind. Mantras are sounds, words, or phrases that a person says repeatedly to help calm the mind. Recent research suggests that this positive, conscious repetition helps to quell negative internal thoughts. Develop a mantra that means something to you, and repeat it to yourself when you sense stress building. Examples of mantras might be:
- I can parent with respect and patience.
- The kids' behavior isn't going to affect me personally.
- Take in positivity, remove stress.
- My actions are louder than my words.
Start Practicing Meditation
When your kid is throwing a full-on tantrum, you aren't going to plunk down on the kitchen floor and start meditating. That said, working this practice into your daily routine might have lasting effects on your ability to remain in a calmer state in times of stress. Research claims meditation actually changes the brain, especially the amygdala, which is the area responsible for stress. A few minutes per day devoted to mindfulness might help you reduce your yelling.
Practice Deep Breathing
When you feel the yelling creeping up, try to focus on your breath. Deep breathing is a tried and true means to manage stressful situations. There are several noted ways to engage your breath. Try a few out and discover which ones bring you the inner peace you are searching for.
Remove Yourself From the Situation
You are about to yell and say something that leaves you and the kids feeling defeated. Stop and walk away. Take a second to gather your thoughts, settle your emotions, and regroup. The kids, the issues, and the present stress will all be waiting for you on the other side of the bathroom door, but after you take a minute or two, you might be able to face it all with a calm mind and a useful tone.
Is It Ever Okay to Yell?
Yes. When your child is barreling toward the road to retrieve a ball, or messing around on a ledge, by all means, raise your voice and grab their attention before something tragic occurs. You can yell when the situation proves dire, but when you yell all the time, you not only run the risk of emotionally damaging your child, you also run the risk of raising them to tune you out. If you are constantly yelling, why would they so much as turn their head in your direction when you really need to stop them in their tracks? Perpetual yelling creates a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" scenario, which isn't good for anyone. Save your voice raising for when it is absolutely necessary.
When You Can't Stop Yelling
You know the effects of yelling and recognize that yelling will not result in the desired behavioral outcomes you are hoping for. You have tried to stay calm when you feel like raising your voice, but try as you might, you continue to struggle with your elevated voice levels and/or temper. If this feels like it applies to you, it might be time to reach out for help. Oftentimes, admitting you need help with anger management is the hardest part. Discuss your yelling with your health care provider. They can often assist you in finding the best possible resources to aid you in reducing your frustration and temper levels.
Remember, Everyone Yells From Time to Time
Even the most patient parents raise their voice on occasion. You are only human, and you aren't going to practice perfect parenting all the time. Know that occasional yelling doesn't mean you are a bad parent, nor are you an ill-equipped one. Show yourself some grace when you raise your voice and resolve to do better next time. Parenting is a tough business, and all you can do is try your best every day.