I bet you yell at your kid from time to time, and I bet that makes you feel like a horrible parent. I do too. Only yesterday I yelled at my son (or raised my voice at him as I would later recount to my partner). The thing is, I lost my cool. He seemed determined to goad me into a fight, and I tried to resist but failed ☹.
Kids, it seems, have mastered the art of driving us crazy. They’ll push every button to see how far they can go, challenge every decision we make, and basically make it feel like it’s impossible to parent without yelling.
If you yell at your kid occasionally, you are not alone. In a study involving almost 1000 parents, researchers found that over 90% of parents had yelled or used other mild forms of psychological aggression within the previous 12 months, and with both toddlers and older kids (up to age 17).
The researchers found that irrespective of social class and family background, yelling (they spoke of psychological aggression) was a disciplinary tactic privileged by American parents.
Is yelling at your child harmful? The short answer is yes. It can scare them, ruin your relationship, and it rarely works. But the truth is that almost every parent yells (or raises their voices when they lose their cool), and that the occasional yell will not hurt your child.
Unfortunately, there is sufficient proof that yelling too often harms your child and it harms you too.
When you can’t stop yelling at your child
It’s damn hard to raise a kid without yelling. Every parent yells or has yelled at their kids in the past. It’s not something many of us are proud of, but it’s something that happens.
The bad news is that if you’re constantly yelling, you just could be doing more harm than good to both you and your child. In other words, there’s a huge difference between the occasional yell and harmful yelling.
If these sentences feel like they are referring to you, then there might be a need to learn how to communicate more effectively with your child:
- Yelling seems to be the only language my son will understand
- I want to stop yelling at my kids but I just can’t seem to control myself.
- My daughter keeps making me yell at her. She never does as she’s told until I yell
- I’m so tired of yelling over and over again about the same things. It feels like the only way to get anything done around here is to yell
- My kids won’t listen unless if I’m yelling
The worst thing about yelling is that it rarely gets you the behavior you want – at least not in the long term. You yell, your kid does what you expect but only because you yelled, meaning that to get the behavior you want, you need to keep yelling.
Yelling at our kids tires us out, leaves us feeling frustrated, increases the need to yell to get results, and generally makes us feel like “weak” or even “abusive” parents if we’re heard. And research says that when you yell at your child too often, you increase the risks of long-term negative impacts.
Yelling makes us feel like terrible parents. It can also drive kids away, and it’s no secret that relationships broken in childhood are quite difficult to mend in adulthood. So why is yelling at children harmful?
What research says about how yelling hurts your kid
Much of the available evidence suggests that yelling can have far-reaching consequences. Several studies have found that yelling can be detrimental to children’s social and emotional development. In one study, a group of researchers who analyzed the effects of yelling on children came to two interesting conclusions:
- When parents use yelling and strict punishments, bad behavior increases rather than decreases.
- The impact of yelling and strict punishmentsis equivalent to that of doing nothing. In other words, yelling is equivalent to ignoring bad behavior. “Why is that?” You may ask.
The answer is that yelling is never about getting to the root of the problem. It is always a quick-fix solution, an “in the heat of the moment” solution that you use to get quick results, not to really address the underlying issues.
A second study found that strict and inconsistent punishment led to antisocial behavior. Yet another study found that children who were frequently yelled at developed lower self-esteem, were more aggressive, and were also prone to depression.
What happens when you constantly yell at your child? Four good reasons to stop yelling once and for all
Beyond the negative impact yelling can have on your child, there are other good reasons to stop or at least reduce how frequently you yell:
1) Yelling doesn’t work
Yelling might get you instant results but it will not have a lasting impact on your child’s behavior. It tends to “immunize” your child to your yelling. And as I said earlier, the more you yell, the more your child will expect you to yell before they finally take action.
2) Yelling scares your child
How would you feel if someone yelled at you? Being yelled at brings out the negative in everyone. You know that!
3) Yelling teaches your child that it’s okay to yell
By now we all know that our kids learn many things by observing and modeling our behavior. If you frequently yell, you teach them that yelling is an appropriate way to get people’s attention. Don’t be surprised when they start yelling back!
4) You’ll regret yelling
Yelling is rarely the most appropriate response. Sometimes you yell because you’re tired, frustrated or have had issues during the day.
If you’re a parent who yells, you know that you often end up regretting yelling episodes. Or feel guilty about them. Or the yelling actually ends up messing the rest of your day!
Parenting without yelling can feel like a challenging task, especially when yelling seems to be the only foolproof way to get your kids’ attention.
So what can you do when you’re up against the wall? How do you change your communication style and stop yelling?
If you’re here, you’re probably asking yourself “How do I stop yelling at my kids”? The good news is that a few tactics have been proven to help get kids to listen without yelling.
How can I stop yelling at my kids? 11 tips to develop positive communication patterns
1 |Communicate purposefully
If you’re in the kitchen and asking your son, who’s in the living room, to do something he probably doesn’t want to do, chances are it won’t get done and you’ll end up getting upset (and yelling).
Communicating purposefully means getting the message across clearly. Look at your child when you’re speaking (don’t talk to their back). Say their name (rather than “guys tidy up!”). Get down to their level (look them in the eye) if you have to.
2 | Move closer
If you often yell at your child, moving closer will get you results almost every time. That’s a trick any teacher will tell you works with even the rowdiest kid in the class.
Moving closer works because it enables you to make a connection with your kid. It has a different impact on kids than just yelling instructions from the next room. The closer you are, the harder it is to yell. Next time you want to yell, try it out and see how it works, you’ll thank me later!
3 | Adopting an appropriate discipline strategy will make you yell less
If you have to keep yelling to get the behavior you want, chances are that you haven’t identified the right discipline strategy for your child yet.
Different discipline strategies work with different kids, and strategies that are effective with young children are often much less effective with older ones.
Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective discipline strategies with children up to around age nine, but it can only work if it is applied correctly.
In other words, many parents who reward good behavior end up making negative behavior worse because they fail to help their children replace negative behavior traits with more positive ones.
If you would like to try this positive discipline strategy in a way that actually works, the Positive Behavior Kit will give you all the information you need to eliminate your child’s negative behavior for good!
4 | Let your kids participate in decision making
There are many, many benefits associated with letting kids practice decision-making. Your kid is more likely to respect decisions when they feel that they participated in making those decisions.
Also, practicing decision-making helps develop their self-reliance skills and encouraging decision-making helps kids learn to make decisions independently.
Autonomy-granting, which means gradually passing on the decision-making power through parent-controlled processes, will greatly reduce your parental stress. Trust me on this.
Even younger kids benefit when they are allowed to make decisions within structured decision-making frameworks. When you involve your kid in decision-making – “Would you like to shower now or in five minutes?” – you are more likely to get the results you seek without having to yell.
5 | Change your communication habits
Why do you repeatedly have to yell to get your child to listen or to do what they are supposed to do? Because the more you yell, the more it becomes necessary to yell to get things done.
There are some easy tactics you can try, but the problem is that when you’re in the “mood to yell at someone”, it can be damn hard to “walk away” or even “splash cold water on your face to help you calm down”, especially if that means having to splash cold water on your face about 10 times a day!
Having a few tricks you can use “in the heat of the moment” is great, but what you really need is to change your parent-child communication habits.
The one thing that few people understand about yelling is that this behavior is a habit, and like with all habits, the most effective way to manage it is to adopt and commit to conscious steps to stop the habit once and for all.
Yelling becomes a habit, and not just for you. The more you yell, the more your child will expect you to yell before they get anything done, meaning that you get locked into a cycle.
The “Become a Better Communicator in Five Days” online course is packed with practical tips that are guaranteed to help you yell less. It proposes a step-by-step approach filled with easy-to-apply tips that will help you develop positive parent-child communication habits.
6 | Don’t talk at your kid, connect then talk
You know the saying “it’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar?” It works the exact same way with kids. When you connect with your kid, you’re more likely to get what you want.
Next time you feel like you’re close to yelling, get to your kids’ level and look them in the eye when you’re talking to them. Touch them when you talk. Ask for what you want in a calm and firm voice. Tell them that you are not going to yell but that you need them to listen to you.
7 | Set firm limits and be consistent
The thing with expectations is that our kids aren’t always aware of what we expect from them.
Do you clearly communicate your expectations to your child? Do they know what behavior is appropriate and why certain behavior is not? Do they know the consequences of their misbehavior?
Set firm limits and stick to them. Limits will only work if you follow through consistently. But setting limits is not about being rigid about everything. Choose the things that matter and be willing to let other things slide.
Setting limits is really about saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
Yelling is often the final recourse. You yell because you’ve been repeating the same thing, over and over, and your kid just doesn’t seem to care.
When you teach your kid about consequences and accountability, you teach they that they are responsible for their choices, and that those choices have consequences. Like many other parenting-related issues, this can only work if you consistently follow through.
8 | Be a model
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
– Robert Fulghum
Limits are not just about your child, they are also about you. Your children are watching and learning.
Anger is normal but how do you express it? Anxiety is normal, but how do you teach your child to manage it? Everyone experiences stress – how you manage that stress teaches your child how to manage stress.
Regulating your emotions means being aware of your feelings and expressing them in appropriate ways. Let your child know that you are angry, then let them see how you manage that anger.
Here are a few anger management strategies you can try out:
– Tell your child you’re going to leave the room for a few minutes because you’re angry then leave.
– Do nothing. Take deep breaths and say “I will not yell” before you respond (it sounds cheesy but it really works!)
– Instead of yelling, drop your tone and speak lower than you would. Self-regulation studies have proven that doing the opposite of what you’d planned to do can have amazing results.
9 | Know thy child
In the same way that’s it’s important to know what triggers your yelling episodes, it’s also important to identify why your child “pushes you to yell”.
Sometimes a child will “nag” in an attempt to get your attention. Taking off 5 or 10 minutes from your schedule to do something together could mean not having to yell. Listen to your child. Why are they whining? Finding out the reason behind their behavior can dictate whether you’ll yell or not.
10 | Stand in your kid’s shoes
Being a kid is tough. Kids always feel that their voices aren’t heard enough. It’s hard to see things from other people’s perspectives, especially when we’re stressed, tired, or running against time. However, trying to see your kid’s view can make you yell less.
It can help you understand that asking them to do something when they’re tired, stressed, or in the middle of their favorite game will not get you the results you want.
11 | Get serious about yelling less
As I said earlier, the thing with yelling is that it can quickly become a habit and, like all habits, putting a stop to it requires much effort. Don’t just say you should yell less, make a conscious effort to stop yelling.
Stick a “No yelling!” sticker on your fridge. Practice a script such as “I will not yell today.” Give yourself a star for each day you don’t yell. Arm yourself with a “yelling emergency kit” when the urge to yell grabs you.
Yelling is often linked to difficulties managing your child’s behavior. If you need help identifying an effective strategy to help you yell less, the “Become a Better Communicator in Five Days” email course will walk you through the process to change your negative communication patterns.
The thing to remember about yelling is that it will get you results, but not necessarily the ones you want.
But what if you just can’t help yelling at your kid?
Mind the words you use. Think of how you’d feel if someone yelled at you. Keep away from hurtful or humiliating words.
- Apologize, not for being angry, but for how you expressed your feelings
- Forgive yourself.
- If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your child’s behavior (and your reaction to that behavior), seek professional help.
How have you been able to raise your kids without yelling? What strategies have worked for you?
How is parenting style related to child antisocial behaviour?
Psychological Aggression by American Parents: National Data on Prevalence, Chronicity, and Severity
Shouting at children ‘makes their behaviour worse’
Parent Discipline Practices in an International Sample: Associations With Child Behaviors and Moderation by Perceived Normativeness
First published in June 2019, updated in October 2021
I tried a lot of what you suggested but my daughter is exceptionally bad and defiant. My baby’s mother is the same way, could it be hereditary? But I noticed the eye contact thing kinda helps… this is so stressful on me.. I will try more of what you suggested as this is all I have left in me.
Thanks for stopping by Chris. I honestly think that adopting new communication behaviors is the easiest way to stop yelling at our kids.