Saturday, November 21, 2020

Parenting Pointers: Yelling: A Solution That’s Actually a Problem

 By Hunter Clarke-Fields

She wasn’t listening and I finally lost it. But as I yelled, I could see that I was scaring my toddler. I wasn’t connecting. I wasn’t teaching any kind of lesson. I was just a scary mommy. This was exactly what I did NOT want. My intention was to be kind and hold boundaries with empathy. How had this happened again?

When we get overwhelmed and angry at our kids, most of us find ourselves yelling—especially if a parent yelled and shouted to control the situation and dominate us when we were children.

However it rarely solves the situation. Yelling may quiet a child and make them obedient temporarily, but it won’t correct their behavior or their attitudes in the long run.

Yelling triggers the fear center in children’s brains, causing the same stress response that we ourselves have.

Yelling rings the limbic system alarm bell causing kids to be alert and self-protective. Instead of learning from the moment, their stress response bypasses the upper parts of the brain and causes children to fight back, talk back, withdraw, or run away.

They are not “misbehaving” in these moments, they are experiencing a stress response.

Because of this, the child can’t sit still, pay attention, or learn. In a moment when we want our children to learn to change their behavior, yelling is actively counterproductive.

Beyond just being ineffective, research has shown that yelling makes children more aggressive, physically and verbally. So the effects on their behavior are bad in both the short and the long term.

Yelling also erodes your relationship with your child. Because children’s cooperation is fueled by your close, connected relationship, this undermines your ability to successfully guide your children to more skillful choices.

When we yell a lot, our children may gradually come to resent us. They may start yelling back—at us, or at their peers and siblings—because they think that yelling is how to get what you want: we’ve modeled this for them.

Also, sadly, children sometimes think that their parents who yell don’t love them, setting them up for a lifetime of limited self-esteem.

Oh my gosh, have I damaged my child for good? Will she hate me forever?

It’s relieving to know that it’s unlikely we have damaged our children by yelling. All of us yell sometimes, and we’ll continue to do so from time to time because we’re human.

As you become more aware of the problems with yelling, I invite you to make your goal to yell less. How do we do that?

Reducing your overall level of stress might be the number 1 most effective thing you can do to yell less.

When you are not getting enough sleep, when you have committed to too many responsibilities, when you are constantly rushing to tick things off your to-do list, when you have negative self-talk, you are much more likely to lose it with your kids.

This is one of the reasons why the “self-sacrificing parent” idea is so insidious.

When you constantly sacrifice your own needs in favor of your children’s, you both lose. Your children lose out by having an ungrounded parent who is frequently on the brink of losing it. You lose out on enjoying your life and your children.

You also perpetuate this harmful pattern—effectively passing the buck to the next generation.

Does any of this ring uncomfortably close to truth for you? If so, I invite you to journal on where the belief that “good parents sacrifice themselves for their children,” came from for you. As you start to bring more awareness to this (often subconscious) belief, you can interrupt the pattern and make new choices.

So, how can we yell less?

I’ll share with you parts of an exercise that we do in Mindful Parenting.

First, it’s important to understand that our responses to difficult parenting moments are as varied as ourselves and our personal stories. You may have grown up with a parent who withdrew or became passive aggressive when angry. Or you might be playing out the generational pattern of the adult temper tantrum, yelling like I did. Because our experiences are so varied, there’s no perfect one-size-fits-all solution to yelling less.

I’ll share some tools that will help you respond to difficult situations—those moments when you’d normally yell—in a more skillful way. You can pre-commit to a new response.

Plan out your ideal response. Pre-committing to your choices will substantially increase your chances of success when you are angry. Choose from some of these responses, then write out your plan and post it in a handy location.

Tell yourself that you are safe: "This is not an emergency. I can handle this." Some other mantras that help are: “When the kids start yelling, I get calmer.” “This will pass. Breathe.”

Take a break. If you know you're going to lose it and you're on your very last nerve, put your baby or toddler in a safe spot, such as their playpen or crib, and walk away for a few minutes.

Practice slow breathing. Or sigh it out to promote relaxation.

Practice to think like a teacher. Don’t take misbehavior personally, but instead look at it as a learning opportunity. Ask yourself: What do they need to learn and how can I teach him that?

Try to whisper instead. It’s almost impossible to sound angry when you whisper. And it might help you find your sense of humor about the situation.

Wait ten minutes—or 24 hours: It’s fine to wait ten minutes, or even wait until the next day, to come back and talk with your child about inappropriate language or behavior.

Finally, you can ask for help from another adult. You don’t have to do it all alone! Tag out of the situation so that you can calm down.

These tools may feel awkward at first if they are unfamiliar. Give yourself permission to “fake it ‘til you make it,” because as you practice, you’ll be carving out new neural pathways in the brain. Remember: what you practice grows stronger!
Hunter Clarke-Fields is a mindfulness mentor, host of the Mindful Mama podcast, creator of the Mindful Parenting online course, and author of the new book, Raising Good Humans (New Harbinger Publications). She helps parents bring more calm into their daily lives and cooperation in their families. Hunter has over 20 years of experience in meditation and yoga practices and has taught mindfulness to thousands worldwide. Learn more at

No comments:

Post a Comment