If you’re a parent, you know that sometimes emotions get the best of you. Somehow children can really push those buttons you didn’t know you had. And before you know it, you holler from the top of your lungs.
You’re not alone in doing that, and your feelings of parental frustration are normal. The good news is that you can change the way you talk to your children, switching from a yelling monologue to a respectful dialogue.
The short answer is because we feel overwhelmed or angry, which makes us raise our voices. But that rarely solves the situation. It may quiet the children and make them obedient for a short while, but it won’t make them correct their behavior or their attitudes.
In short, it teaches them to fear you rather than understand their consequences of their actions.
Children rely on their parents for learning. If anger and associated aggression like shouting is part of what a child perceives as “normal” in their family, their behavior will reflect that.
Author and parent educator Laura Markham, Ph.D., has a straightforward message: Your number one job as a parent, after assuring the safety of your children, is to manage your own emotions.
If you’ve ever been yelled at, you know that a loud voice does not make the message clearer. Your children are no different. Shouting will make them tune out and discipline will be harder, since each time you raise your voice lowers their receptivity.
Calmness, on the other hand, is reassuring, which makes children feel loved and accepted in spite of bad behavior.
If yelling at children is not a good thing, yelling that comes with verbal putdowns and insults can be qualified as emotional abuse. It’s been shown to have long-term effects, like anxiety, low self-esteem, and increased aggression.
It also makes children more susceptible to bullying since their understanding of healthy boundaries and self-respect are skewed.
Children who have a strong emotional connection to their parents are easier to discipline. When children feel safe and unconditionally loved, they’ll be more receptive to dialogue and listen before a conflict escalates into an angry yelling episode.
Here’s how you can practice positive discipline that doesn’t involve yelling.
1. Give yourself a timeout
Catch yourself before getting so angry that you lose control and raise your voice. By stepping away from the conflict zone for a few moments, you give yourself a chance to reassess and breathe deeply, which will help you calm down.
It also teaches your children about boundaries and managing strong emotions in a healthy way.
2. Talk about emotions
Anger is a normal feeling one can learn from if managed properly. By acknowledging all emotions, from joy and excitement to sadness, anger, jealousy, and frustration, you’re teaching your children that they are all part of our human repertoire.
Talk about how you feel and encourage your children to do the same. It will help them develop a respectful attitude towards self and others and form healthy relationships in life.
3. Address bad behavior calmly, but firmly
Children misbehave occasionally. That’s part of growing up. Talk to them in a firm way that leaves their dignity intact but makes it clear that certain behaviors are not tolerated.
Get down to their eye level rather than speaking to them from high up or from far away. At the same time, remember to acknowledge respectful behavior and problem solving among themselves.
4. Use consequences, but leave out the threats
According to Barbara Coloroso, author of “Kids Are Worth It!,” using threats and punishment creates more angry feelings, resentment, and conflict. In the long run, they prevent your child from developing inner discipline.
Threats and punishment humiliate and shame children, making them feel insecure. On the other hand, consequences that address a particular behavior but come with fair warning (like taking a toy away after explaining that toys are for playing, not for hitting) help children make better choices.
A word on basic needs
Having basic needs met, like sleep and hunger, keeps children happy and makes for better behavior overall. Also, establishing routines will help them be less anxious and reduce the risk of acting up.
No matter how good your yelling prevention strategy is, sometimes you will raise your voice. That’s OK. Own up to it and apologize, and your children will learn an important lesson: We all make mistakes and we need to apologize.
If your children yell, remind them of boundaries and how shouting is not an acceptable way of communication. They need to know you are ready to listen as long as they show respect.
Model the same by allowing yourself time to cool off your engines before talking to your children when you are upset or overwhelmed.
You will help them create lifelong habits that make conflict management easier. That will teach your children to be understanding of mistakes, theirs and other people’s, and that forgiveness is an important tool for healthy communication in a family.
If so far you have relied on yelling to discipline your children, you are probably seeing the effects of it:
- Your children might rely on yelling to get their messages across to each other.
- They talk back and even yell at you rather than just talk respectfully.
- Your relationship with them is unstable and volatile to the point of not being able to communicate in a healthy way.
- They may pull away from you and become more influenced by their peers than you.
You can change all that. Start by having a candid talk with your children about the wrongness of yelling and why manifesting your anger that way is not healthy.
Make your home a calm environment where people communicate with respect and acknowledge each other’s feelings without blaming, shaming, or judging. An outspoken commitment keeps the dialogue open and keeps everyone in the family accountable.
If you make mistakes, don’t give up. It’s not an easy road but it’s worth every effort.
If your anger is often spilling onto your children and you have trouble controlling your temper on a regular basis, recognizing that you have a problem is the first step toward learning to manage it.
This will help you feel better about yourself and communicate in a calm and loving way with your children.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, some of the signs that point to an anger problems include:
- getting inappropriately angry over seemingly minor issues
- experiencing stress-related symptoms like high blood pressure, stomach pain, or anxiety
- feeling guilty and sad after an anger episode, yet seeing the pattern repeat often
- engaging in conflicts with other people instead of having respectful dialogues
A therapist can help you develop ways to keep calm and prevent outbursts and also help you mend the damaging effects of anger on your relationship with your loved ones.