Cost of Yelling at Kids

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“Put that down!” yelled the mother at her four year old daughter. “I don’t know what has gotten into you, but you are pushing my buttons today.”

The mother continued to yell at her daughter as she cleaned up the spilled cereal her daughter had been attempting to put into a bowl. Once she had finished her rant and saw the look on her daughter’s face, the mother felt guilty about her tirade.

It is inevitable that parents will yell at their children at some point. Yelling can be quite useful, particularly when children are in harm’s way or doing something dangerous. However, yelling is more likely to occur when parents have reached their boiling point and all of the anger and frustration they are feeling comes out.

Even though most parents yell at their children, there is a cost to using this form of communication. The cost of yelling at their children increases the more parents use it.

One of the costs is that yelling can make a bad situation worse. Not only will the parent’s message get lost in the emotion, but it will likely make the child more aggressive in response to the parent’s emotion. If parents rely on yelling too much, the opposite will happen and a child will start to ignore the yelling or shut down and block it out.

Another cost is that yelling can be hard on children’s self-esteem. Yelling and other harsh parenting techniques contribute to children feeling like their parents don’t love or even like them. Over time, this wears down children’s self-esteem leading to poorer school performance and lowers their self-confidence.

When yelling dominates the conversation, parents and children miss out on the opportunity to form positive and affectionate bonds with one another. These bonds are very important for children to be able to rely on when they are confronting hardship. Parents should try to take a moment and recognize all of the good things their children do rather than just focusing on their shortcomings.

When yelling is abandoned by parents, they will begin to see the benefits of a quieter approach. As the volume gets turned down, children are more likely to listen to what their parents have to say.

In addition, the quieter approach serves as a model for children to copy. It shows children how their parents regulate their emotions, even when they are angry. The next time children are in a similar situation where they are experiencing intense emotions, they are more likely to try and calm themselves down before responding.

The best way for parents to avoid yelling is to set up a less stressful environment. One way to do this is by creating consistency in the household. For example, parents can make a bed time routine at the same time every night. Once it becomes a habit, it will minimize misbehavior.

Another way is for parents to not try to do too much at one time. Multi-tasking creates stress and can easily overwhelm parents when their children start to act up. It also distracts parents from their children which is typically when children start to misbehave. Parents can take a step back and prioritize their tasks one at a time which will make everyone calmer and happier.

When parents get frustrated, they can resort to yelling at their children. While it can feel satisfying in the moment, yelling undermines parents’ relationships with their children. A better approach is to interact in a quieter, calmer manner.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on February 5, 2016.

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