You can stop yelling at your kids. Really!


You can stop yelling at your kidsChildren do not come with a manual but if they did, the manual would likely include a bit about not yelling at them. As a parent this makes sense to me, but I have three kids, and the older two may be surprised that’s what I think. I didn’t quite master parenting in the first two rounds but surely by the time my 9-year- old reaches adolescence I should have parenting down to an art…

That art includes communicating with my kids without yelling. Many of us swore we wouldn’t turn out like our own parents, only to wake up one day and realize the apple really didn’t fall far from the tree. The truth is, much is learned from our own parental role models, so it’s important to recognize that how we choose to parent has a lasting effect.

Long ago, the poem, “Children Learn What They Live”, beautifully written by Dorothy Law Nolte, PhD, served as my inspiration. It is possibly the greatest testimonial to anyone wanting to be a good parent. But we’re human after all… and there are times, small moments, when we simply don’t like our children or when we are so overwhelmed that screaming seems like a really good idea. Did I say just that in my outside voice?

Yes, I did. Though it’s normal and common to be completely frustrated by our children, it’s essential to realize that our outside voice can have one of the most negative impacts on our children’s mental health. Just ask Mrs. Law Nolte! She waxed poetic but spoke the truth about the ingredients for creating lasting effects on our kids’ mental health, both good and bad. In fact, a recent study found that a group of 13-year-old adolescents whose parents shouted at them showed greater symptoms of depression and impact on self-esteem than peers whose parents didn’t yell (Journal of Child Development 2013).

Talking, not YELLING, is the gold standard if we want to positively influence and connect with our children. Of course, we are human and we all make mistakes, and the occasional scream doesn’t qualify you as a bad parent. But any effort you make to reduce (and then eliminate) yelling will make you a more effective parent, and will do your kids a world of good in the long run.


Does yelling make kids behave?

The faulty thinking is that by raising our voice we are placing more emphasis on our message, and this emphasis will inspire our child to pay more attention.  That may work the first couple of times, but then your child simply learns to tune you out or to get defensive, and they ultimately lose respect for you. If you’re yelling over everything indiscriminately, your child will not make the connection between your response and the misdeed. Unless you’re hollering at your three-year-old to stay at the curb while a car passes, chronic or routine yelling only serves to damage your relationship with your child and to injure his self-esteem. Yelling is really nothing better than a blunt force to his self-concept, and it accomplishes the exact opposite of what we want it to. So, learn how to outsmart your kids by speaking firmly rather than ratcheting up the volume.


Why do parents yell?

Take a moment and ask yourself some tough questions:   “Am I a screamer?” “Do I often yell to get my kids to comply or obey?” Now take a moment to give yourself a break. Parents yell for any of a number of reasons, and once you understand the reasons for yelling, it’s easier to put the brakes on.

If you’re yelling, you may be:

  • Frustrated or stressed and unable to see any other options
  • Tired – sometimes our coping skills are just overtaxed
  • Having a  knee-jerk  reaction– this is when you just react without taking a moment that lets you respond thoughtfully or calmly
  • Overcompensating for things you’ve let slide
  • Engaged in a power struggle with your child…..yelling is the “adult tantrum”


What if I have yelled at my child?

  • Get calm
  • Start over – make another opportunity to manage with your child’s behaviour without losing control of yourself
  • Own your behaviour, learn from the situation, and consider letting your child know you’re trying to make changes. Our willingness to apologize to our children for our own bad choices is a wonderful example to them of how they should behave in their own lives.


Try these 6 Steps for more effective parenting…

1.       Disengage

If you find yourself in a screaming match, literally remove yourself from the situation and stop the conflict in its tracks. This allows you time to figure out an effective response, and allows your child time to think about the situation. Set a time to re-visit the issue.

2.       Take a time-out

Take some deep breaths, count to 10, or send yourself to your room! A short break may be just enough to let you respond effectively to the situation.

3.       The mirror

When you’re calm and in control, review your reactions to your children. Reflect on what triggers your frustration and stress. Identify the tools you need to practice more effective communication. Listen rather than engage in a yelling match.

4.       Revisit the issue and re-engage

After some time and space, cast a new lens – and approach – on the source of conflict. Prepare for how you will re-enter discussion about the conflict and then talk calmly to your child about your concerns.

5.       Transition time

Allow yourself the opportunity to transition from the stress of work and commute when you arrive home at the end of the day. Don’t try to problem-solve family matters as soon as you walk in the door. Hibernate for ten minutes, check the mail, or grab a snack.

6.       Get support

Talk to your partner or friends. They can often be a source of support and may be able to help you identify triggers for your stress or suggest alternate ways to respond to your children.

Any time is a good time to remind yourself what kind of parent you’d like to be. We get the chance to start over many times a day and any improvements we make as parents will help us build solid relationships with our kids.

If you want to learn strategies for staying calm and parenting more effectively, consider speaking to a counsellor or consulting our parenting health and wellness resources.


Recommended resources:

The poem:

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