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You Can’t Yell Out of Love

Bethany Petrik

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 06/11/14

6 ways to stop yelling at your kids.

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. 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 for me a tragic one. 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.  

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.

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 and for your children. Did you see Pope Francis’s 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.

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MDis an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and a mother of five young children.

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