Ask Dr. Bronwyn
Tired of Yelling? Try This Instead
- Written By
- Dr. Bronwyn Charlton
- Loris Lora
Many parents can’t imagine how they’d ever get their kids to do anything without yelling.
They claim “yelling,” is the only thing that gets them to listen and behave.
But does it really?
A good rule of thumb to tell if something’s working is to think about how it affects behavior the next time, not the time that you’re yelling
If you’re yelling the next time and the next and the next…then it’s not working.
And isn’t that how it usually goes, with the cycle on repeat? Your child ignores your requests until you yell, which makes you even more frustrated, since you “shouldn’t have to yell” to get them to do what they’re told.
Consider, then, the number of commands parents give their kids in a day: “Come here…hurry up…use your napkin…get your shoes on…wash your hands… leave him alone… let’s go…say thank you…let me do it…hold my hand…not in your mouth…stop that!”
It’s no wonder that parenting can feel so exhausting.
It’s not like we don’t know that “yelling” or losing our temper hurts the connection we have with our child or that it’s ineffective in the long-run or even harmful, it’s just that all the logic does little to stop us from saying and doing things we regret in the moment that we’re feeling pushed to our limit.
And here lies one of the main reasons parents can be so quick to dismiss positive parenting strategies as ineffective but hold on to harsher forms of discipline even though nothing ever changes for the better.
“Yelling” offers a quick fix feeling of power and control. In the heat of a frustrated moment, we stop “chasing the WHY” behind our kid’s behavior, and fix our sights only on getting it to stop, start or change. Later though, when we’re back to being our regulated selves, we feel guilty and like we’re the “worst parent ever.”
That’s why setting a goal of “never yelling,” pretty much guarantees that we’ll fail and suffer the inevitable shame that goes along with it. But anyone of us can set and certainly achieve a more realistic one of “yelling less,” with some advanced thought, planning and conscious effort.
Give yourself grace. Holding on to guilt keeps us feeling hopeless and paralyzed. So, show yourself some compassion, just as you would a friend. You’re not a terrible parent just because you yell sometimes. Even good parents yell.
Do the least harm possible. Resist the urge, no matter how out-of-control you are, to insult, name-call, shame or criticize at all costs. There’s a big difference between yelling “No touching!” and “What’s wrong with you?! Are you two or seven?!” after what feels like the two-hundred-thousandth time you’ve asked your child to keep their hands off things at a store.
Know your triggers. Before you try to “fix” or “control” something your child does or says, focus on you. Figure out patterns and interactions that push your buttons and “trigger” you to respond in anger. When you know the situations that set you off beforehand (e.g., bedtime) you can approach them more consciously and be better prepared with a plan.
Notice your body’s signals. It’s easier to stay regulated if you haven’t already lost it, so get to know your body’s warning signs (e.g., tense muscles) that you’re starting to go into threat mode, so you can shut it down.
Be proactive. Make note of the situations, times, routines, etc., that often escalate and take steps to avoid going down the rabbit hole beforehand (e.g., laying clothes out the night before, picking out books for bedtime in the afternoon).
Have ways to get regulated at the ready. Yelling happens when we’re dysregulated, so choose a few calming strategies and practice them beforehand, so you can get yourself out of survival mode before you do or say something you regret (e.g., one-minute meditations, sip of cold water, taking deep breaths, etc.). Plan what you will do when triggered so you won’t be caught off guard. In that split second between the trigger event and your reaction to it, you have control. There’s really no urgency to parenting, so do whatever it takes to get calm before responding.
Put things into perspective. When you recognize that it’s totally normal for siblings to fight and kids to whine, talk back, and delay bedtime, they’ll be less likely to feel like personal insults or disrespect and more like something to manage.
Don’t let your tank get to empty. If you’re perpetually running on fumes, you’ve got to prioritize finding some time in your day to recharge.
Reset your routines. If your homelife feels chaotic, inconsistent and out-of-control, figure out where things went south, come up with new routines and expectations, involve your child in age-appropriate decision making, and call a family meeting to clearly explain any new rules, routines and expectations (make sure they are concrete, even visual).
Check your thinking. As parents, it’s easy to get bogged down by beliefs about what our kids “should” be doing and comparisons to what we did at their age, or their younger sibling can already do instead of being responsive to the child we have. Be aware of your thinking process and mindful of its objectivity.
Adjust your expectations. Make sure your expectations are realistic and developmentally appropriate (e.g., just because your child has a meltdown about what’s for dinner after an entire day at the circus doesn’t mean they’re spoiled.). The times we feel angriest are often when our expectations or demands overtax our child’s skills.
Be clear on what you can and cannot control. We can yell, bribe, beg, threaten, reward, punish, guilt, shame and bully our child to change their behavior and choices, but the only one who really controls them in the end, is our child. Parents who feel responsible for every decision or choice their child makes put their efforts into forcing control and compliance. But our control really lies in the way we respond to our child’s behavior, show them how to cope with conflict, allow them to experience the consequences of their choices and provide an environment that prepares them to live independently as adults.
Remember your discipline goal. Kids develop self-discipline neural wiring every time they choose to do the right thing, not from being forced or coerced. In fact, parenting efforts focused on trying to control kids tend to exacerbate their resistance to our influence.
Recognize that kids want some control over their lives, not over us. Seeking autonomy is a natural and important part of a child's development. Fighting every day with someone whose main purpose is to avoid being controlled will leave you feeling exhausted, angry, and frustrated.
Prioritize your relationship. All interactions count, not just the yelling ones, and every interaction is an opportunity for either connection or disconnection. Pay attention to the balance of connection in relation to correction. Many more positive than negative moments and interactions matter when it comes to the strength of your relationship and influence. Reconnect every day.
Repair. Nobody is perfect and this notion is exactly what yelling offers the opportunity to acknowledge. That it’s normal for even close relationships to have conflict and for people – yes, even parents – to not do a good enough job of managing big emotions. When we “repair” after a “rupture,” we take responsibility for our actions and offer our child a sincere apology. We take the time to comfort them and to focus on creating more positive moments to counteract the yelling and reset the day.
Seek help. If you feel like you are stuck in an unhealthy pattern of anger, it might be time to seek outside support. Admitting that you struggle with anger doesn’t mean you are a bad parent, it means that you have the self-awareness and courage to admit that things need to change.