WHAT EVERYONE THINKS IS TRUE: That I’m a great mom and I’m balancing all of life's responsibilities well. WHAT ACTUALLY IS TRUE: I yell a lot, and I often feel like I’m failing my family because I can’t keep my cool.
Most parents, even the most patient ones, will occasionally lose their temper and yell at their children. Yelling leads to many things: tears, rebellion, regret, shame, and often, more yelling. Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with a “pause” button. But with some effort, you can put a stop to yelling.
A study published in The Journal of Marriage and Family asked a thousand families about yelling and found that 88 percent of parents admitted yelling, screaming or shouting at their children during the year.
Most of us realize that while it may provide a temporary emotional release, long-term, yelling is ineffective. What’s more, children can become immune to being yelled at and start to tune it out, according to Myrma B. Shure, a psychologist, researcher, and author of “Raising a Thinking Child.”
Research shows that children’s brains are especially sensitive to yelling. According to Shure, parents who constantly yell at their children are subjecting their children to emotional abuse that can be as harmful as physical abuse.
Dr. Shure’s research shows that disciplining children by yelling, demanding or commanding can have detrimental effects. At age four or five, these children are more likely to display physical or verbal aggression. They are also more likely to withdraw socially. They may also lack positive, pro-social behavior, such as compassion, empathy or sharing.
Shure suggests that instead of yelling, use a problem-solving approach. Think of those frustrating moments as a way to help your child consider their own and others’ feelings.
TAKE THIS EXAMPLE: While you are at the office, your kids are home, and make a mess of the house. Instead of resorting to yelling, sit down with your kids and ask “How do you think it makes me feel, after a long day of work, to come home to a messy kitchen/house?” Ask them to think of something they can do so you won’t feel that way.
If your kids are not accustomed to thinking this way, it may seem a tall task. Don’t expect perfection; keep working toward problem-solving behaviors.
Anger is a normal emotion. We all feel it. For some parents, yelling is like a reflex. The key is to not act impulsively. Instead of reacting to whatever triggers your anger, try these techniques:
Recognize your anger. Tell yourself (and your child, if necessary). “I’m angry now, but I’ll deal with this once I’ve calmed down.”
Take a step back. Breathe deeply, count to 10, calmly excuse yourself and go to a peaceful place in your home, listen to music, try positive self-talk, or do something else that works to calm your emotions.
Tune in to triggers. When are you most likely to lose it? When you’re on the way out the door, trying to get somewhere on time with kids in tow? Or in the afternoon, when your kids are more interested in watching television than getting ready for soccer practice? Make note of these triggers and plan accordingly. It may mean getting up earlier or limiting technology time. You may need to find better solutions to hold your kids accountable for irresponsible behavior. You may need to reward your children for positive behaviors.
Listen when your kids are upset. Ask simply and without judgment or criticism, “Please help me understand why you seem upset.” Leave the door open for children to share thoughts and feelings; avoid lecturing.
Slow down. Dig deeper and understand what’s really going on with a defiant child. The more you slow down, the less reactive you will be and the less likely you are to yell.
Tell, don’t yell. If a certain behavior is bothering you, tell your child. A child may not understand how their actions affect you. If you have a headache from too much noise, tell your child. If you feel under-appreciated, explain this calmly instead of lashing out.
Don’t take it personally. In his book The Four Agreements, author Miguel Ruiz writes, “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you…” Even if your child is trying to provoke you, it is because of his struggles, not yours. Remembering this will help you avoid frustration.
Sources: Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D., Raising a Thinking Child: Help Your Young Child to Resolve Everyday Conflicts and Get Along with Others and Raising a Thinking Preteen
Jeffrey Bernstein, M.D., 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child