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Dr. Kirk: STOP the Yelling!

by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

A parent says, "Gee, I never thought of it that way. Speaking coarsely to my child can hurt his feelings? Even though I am trying to help?" Well, you have to consider what it is you really want to accomplish. Do you want your child to feel bad or do you want your child to learn? We could say that everybody yells at their children sometimes, even though most parents know it is not effective. And that is why parents get so frustrated. Let us not blame this frustration on the behavior of the children, but on the faulty behavior of the parent.

Yelling may be the most ineffective and widespread parental behavior around today. We know that parents who have regular shouting matches with children, or their spouses, have children with lower self-esteem and subsequently higher rates of mood issues. Studies suggest that parental yelling produces results similar to what children experience with physical punishment. This could include anxiety, stress, and depression, along with a significant increase in behavioral problems. Just ask any high school dean.

How many times in one's parenting life have you thought to yourself, after yelling at the children, "I am so proud of myself for that?"  It doesn't make you look authoritative. You lack the sense of having command of the family, you appear mean, and it makes you look like you are out of control. Perhaps you could think, "Is this the best that I can do?"

Often parents say they find it difficult to know what else to do. Research on yelling, or the behavior commonly called nattering, presents parents with two problems: How do I stop, and what might I do instead? Yelling as a form of correcting behavior is just not working as well as you want it to. Plus, you are teaching the younger generation to do it when they reach adulthood. Parents yell at their children over the same stuff every day. Fold and put your clothes away. Come eat dinner. Feed the dog. Stop hurting your brother.

Just knowing that yelling is a poor tactic won't help much. Yelling is not a strategy; it's an emotional release. If the goal of the parent is for emotional release, then yelling is perfect. But if the goal is to change something in the child in order to develop a positive habit, then there is a better alternative. By not using your yelling button, you require yourself to follow a preconceived plan, and both of you will feel better. And children who feel better, behave better. 

There is a case for discipline here, but most people believe discipline to be the same as punishment. Punishment is an effort offered by the parent AFTER a behavior, while discipline is how parents show their children how to live their lives every day. By being a disciplined parent, you act in such a way that you are modeling behaviors that you want your child to utilize, such as being polite, patient, and gracious with others. Rather than yelling at your child for an indiscretion, remind him with a simple phrase such as, "I appreciate it when people clean up their dishes," or "It's helpful to the family when we all clean up after ourselves," and then wait. Your child may desire to watch some TV or even beg for a ride somewhere. As a disciplined parent, repeat the earlier phrase, "I appreciate it when my children clean up their dishes," and wait again. When your child does clean up on her own, with or without complaint, which you ignore either way, you can smile with appreciation, thank them, and allow the child the privilege. All done without yelling and with everyone feeling better. That is a disciplined way to parent.

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Tags: Parenting

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