You have just come home from work, and you see the living room is a mess, and the sink is overflowing with dishes. You sigh and get to them, but before you can progress, your child drops a bottle of paint on the carpet and stains it.
Sounds familiar? Even if you are usually an even-tempered person, there are times when you will lose patience with children. Getting angry is a natural feeling. However, you might end up yelling at the child and feel guilty for it later.
In this post, we discuss the different aspects of yelling at kids — why it happens, how it affects children, and how you can stop it.
Why Do Parents Yell At Children?
Parents might yell at kids when they are tired, overwhelmed, and angry. These may make parents feel frustrated with even the little setbacks that they otherwise would overlook in a happier mood.
Understand that yelling works as a short-term solution for dealing with bad behavior. Children stop whatever they are doing, giving the parent some temporary relief but in longer run, the child uses a similar behavior to express.
Most parents do not yell knowingly. They might sometimes lose control over their temper and their words when they are tired or see tasks stretched out ahead of them. At such times, yelling at kids may seem to be the easy way out because they are young and much less likely to argue or talk back.
Effects Of Yelling At Your Child
Yelling at kids is a harsh method of disciplining children and can have a deep, negative psychological impact on them (1).
1. It can make them behave worse
While yelling can make your child stop whatever they are doing, it will create more problems for you and them in the future. Children always look for new ways to explore things. So, if you yell at them to stop them from doing a certain thing, they might pick up something more dangerous the next time, which will have you yelling more.
This can become a vicious cycle. Also, the likelihood of children listening to you after reaching a certain age is very less. Yelling at kids can also make them aggressive as they find a way to defend their actions.
2. It causes changes in the brain
Yelling is the result of several negative emotions. These negative thoughts bombard your child brain chemistry. In general, the human brain processes and clings to negative thoughts more than positive ones. Frequent yelling can cause significant changes in your child’s developing brain (2).
3. It can cause depression
Children who are frequently yelled at develop a sense of low self-esteem and suffer from a lack of confidence. They believe themselves inadequate at performing various activities, and as a result, are more likely to have low self-esteem and suffer from depression well into adulthood (3).
4. It affects health adversely
Yelling causes stress in children and impacts their physical health. In some cases, yelling could cause long-term health problems. Some children may experience arthritis, back and neck problems, severe headaches, etc. These symptoms may carry into adulthood, making life difficult for them (4).
What To Do After Yelling At Your Child?
If you are unsure of what to do after yelling at your children, try the following three steps:
1. Calm yourself
Follow the techniques: Stop. Release and Act. Your feelings are all over the place, and you probably have a crying child. Go to another room, if possible. Close your eyes and take deep breaths. You can even take up a calming activity that helps your mind relax, such as knitting or embroidery.
Another option for calming down is doing some physical exercise, such as walking or jogging. If you are alone with no one to take care of your children and cannot step outside without them, you can do some stretches at home or even listen to calming music. Identify what works for you.
2. Calm your child down
Once you have calmed down, calm your child down. If you said something harsh, hold them and say sorry. Tell them it was just a temporary emotional outburst. Your child will be disturbed after this episode, and they might be upset. They will be in no mood to process what you say, and their attitude might trigger your anger further.
If your child is very young, hold them close and comfort them. For toddlers and preschoolers, talk to them about their feelings or let them cry. Help them express their anger in a proper manner. Physical exercise can be useful for school-aged children and teenagers. You can also encourage them to listen to music or take up art to calm down.
3. Apologize positively
Whether you have yelled because of their doing or yours, you must accept that yelling is wrong and apologize for doing it. Talk calmly with your child and tell them about your feelings and ask them theirs. This is a learning experience for both the parent and the child.
This method ensures that all your feelings are out in the open, and there is little scope for bottled-up negative feelings. Your children will also learn about conflict-solving techniques and learn to make decisions about their behavior.
What Can You Do Instead Of Yelling At Your Child?
If you are guilty of yelling at your children in a fit of anger, there are ways you can modify your behavior and look out for alternatives. As you are an adult and have more control over your emotions than your children, you can achieve these alternatives with constant vigilance and practice. As you practice these, your children also learn how to manage their anger.
1. Count up to 10
Whenever you feel your temper rising, take a deep breath, turn away, and count up to 10. This is one of the most effective methods to break your chain of thought and collect yourself.
2. Talk about anger
Anger is a very common emotion, and you must talk to your children about it. Tell them how it comes about and what to do when it does. You can also discuss other negative emotions such as sadness and jealousy that often accompany anger.
3. Be calm but firm
Not yelling at kids doesn’t mean you have to stop disciplining them. They are still young to know right from wrong. Instead of yelling at them, you can choose to be calm but firm while giving them the right instructions.
4. Use consequences
Instead of threatening your children with punishment, use consequences to reinstate good behavior. Small but fair consequences such as taking away toys or restricting screen time after a warning will ensure better behavior in the future without the need for you to resort to shouting. This will also let the children know that bad behavior has consequences.
5. Identify your triggers
Usually, you get angry when you are triggered by something. It might be tiredness, a bad day at work, less sleep, the constant crying of a child, a long list of chores, or even an untidy living room. It is up to you to recognize what triggers your anger and distance yourself from your children when you feel triggered. Excuse yourself from your children and spend some quiet time alone to relax.
6. Teach when calm
Yelling will get you nowhere. It might only antagonize your children. Instead, calm yourself down first and talk to them only when your feelings are in check. This way, you can convey your message more effectively, and your children will also learn that yelling does not get things done.
7. Be realistic
Sometimes, our expectations exceed reality, and we end up getting angry and yelling at our children. However, with children, it is best to keep your expectations realistic. You cannot expect your impulsive child to behave when outside and then get angry because they did not.
8. Make it easier for them
Asking them to get water from the glass on the table will most likely end up in an accident, with spilled water on the floor and another chore on your list. Instead, try to think from your child’s viewpoint and arrange things so that it becomes easier for them to manage without much difficulty.
9. Think positive things
When your child does something that triggers your anger, think about their positive qualities. It might be something as simple as them wishing you good morning when they wake up. These little positive things will help you take off the edge of your anger, and you will be able to deal with the situation objectively.
10. Recognize whose fault it is
Sometimes, parents are so troubled by their own problems that they take their anger out on their children. This is called misplaced anger, and your children might not even understand why you were yelling at them. This kind of anger can usually be recognized when you flare up for the smallest of reasons and yell for far too long.
11. Create a routine
Children love routine. If you do not have a routine yet, it is time you set one as soon as possible. You can include step-by-step instructions for the tasks so that your children manage to finish them easily. The most difficult part of creating a routine is sticking to it. However, if you persevere, there is very little chance of your children committing mistakes and you yelling at them.
12. Reduce friction
When there is a chronic issue surrounding a particular situation, it is up to you to reduce the friction. For example, if your child takes particularly long to get ready for school, and you end up yelling, it is time for you to act. Lay out their clothes the previous night for easier access. Make them sort and arrange their books ahead of time as well. Little things like these go a long way in reducing tantrums.
When you yell at your children, both you and your child experience a plethora of emotions. It is up to you to help them recognize their feelings and talk about them openly. Failing to do so might make your children bottle up their feelings and develop negative emotions such as fear and anger.
Have a healthy open dialogue and talk about healthy behavior. Keep your expectations realistic, and be sure to praise your children for good behavior. They will be motivated to behave well, and you will be able to discipline them without resorting to yelling.
2. Akemi Tomoda et al.; Exposure to parental verbal abuse is associated with increased gray matter volume in superior temporal gyrus; NeuroImage (2010).
3. Ming-Te Wang and Sarah Kenny; Longitudinal Links between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms; HHS Author Manuscripts (2015).
4. Natalie J. Sachs‐Ericsson et al.; When Emotional Pain Becomes Physical: Adverse Childhood Experiences, Pain, and the Role of Mood and Anxiety Disorders; Journal of Clinical Psychology (2017).