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Not Yelling with Children Can Make a Parent Want to Scream

September 9, 2018

I came away wanting more after reading a New York Times article this week, “How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids,: which left me with the plan that “praise works, punishment doesn’t.”

It’s easy, just remain calm, put on a happy face, lavish praise and hope that your kids will follow suit.

First of all, let me be clear, using yelling as a way to teach your kids (or anyone) anything useful is probably going to be a counter-productive exercise unless your toddler has bolted and is about to step into the street into oncoming traffic. Or unless you’ve reached your boiling point as a parent. And there’s plenty of reason to do that especially if your child is mistreating others, giving you the eye roll or not telling the truth. Kids should know and understand these moments as viscerally as they know their own names.

I suspect, the article preaches to the choir. So how do we get to kids whose parents might not be reading articles like this in the first place?

The article does not take familial attitudes into account. Some families may be inherently louder than others and shouting may be the norm for disciplining a child in those homes. So, to assume all parents who engage in yelling are behaving weakly and stupidly may be true, but a bit counterproductive.

This is where teachers, coaches and caregivers can work to create effective examples for children with whom they spend a significant amount of time. Of course, parents who promote a culture of mapping out family expectations beforehand, essentially having a protocol in place for the ways in which to handle when things go wrong, for example when disciplining a child, and those chaotic times when transitions or everyday moments get challenging for the family, is a useful way to prevent those scenes which have the potential to erupt into shouting matches.

The last thing any parent wants to do is inject a child with cortisol, which is essentially what happens when a child experiences stress, and that can happen when a child is continually bearing the brunt of angry shouting. Naturally, a calm and clear tone rather than a shaming, angry one is going to instill the kinds of behavior needed to encourage wellbeing.

The article sites a 2014 study in The Journal of Child Development, and a sensible interview with Yale Professor, Dr. Alan Kazan, on the merits of a program dubbed ABC, standing for antecedents, behaviors, and consequences. The method at its core seems a straightforward and useful technique we can use in realms parenting and beyond. The article doesn’t take into account other factors such as parenting style, or other variables such as socioeconomic status, religion, education, or cultural attitudes, things that can make a difference when it comes to the way in which parents and children communicate verbally.

Children are sentient people and they will be able to quickly recognize a parent who genuinely means what they say and a parent who is just going through a prescribed means to get to an end. When a child begins to take responsibility for their things, treats a sibling kindly, or does homework in a timely manner because he or she wants to, parents should genuinely rejoice because these are joyous occasions.

While I agree that yelling as a way to get your kid to comply, i.e. getting your point across, is at best the last resort for teaching longtime effective communication skills, I do assert that parents are human and life is complicated, filled with nuance at every turn.

Maybe this last point is the most important lesson for our kids. Patience is a virtue, and sometimes we are going to lose it when it comes to the extremely difficult job of raising a child. So here’s what I’d like to add, rather than shaming parents into feeling stupid for yelling at all or getting parents to act over-the-top silly to achieve an end goal, how about being realistic by accepting that when we as parents occasionally make the mistake of yelling that we acknowledge it and show our kids that even parents can make mistakes. Own it.

And I made lots of mistakes along the way as a parent, too many to list here, even so, my children managed themselves to grow up happy and healthy and filled with a sense of togetherness. None use yelling as a way to engage.

Here’s my story on yelling, take it or leave it. By the time we had a toddler and a four-year-old and were expecting our third baby, I noticed that I was more apt to lose my patience with our children. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control when the kids misbehaved. I decided to come up with a strategy to help pull me out of that emotional reactive state, a state most probably brought on by loss of sleep, a growing household and working full time. So, I sat down with my eldest and her younger brother and gave them some tools to help me. And I encourage you to tailor the basic idea of giving kids a sense of agency to your family’s needs.

I explained to my daughter before a difficult moment had occurred, when Mommy begins to yell you have permission to remind me by saying, “Mommy, you’re yelling.” I can remember her listening intently as we sat on the porch swing together on that calm, sunny afternoon.

Now it may sound crazy, giving a four-year-old this kind of responsibility, but I can tell you that it worked. My children learned that they had a voice and that they could use it when the situation called for it. They also learned that yelling, unless the situation’s urgent, is probably not the best way to go because it leaves you tired and sad.

Keep in mind, there are many variables that affect our parenting, your personality, your child’s personality, the culture you were raised in and the one in which your child is growing up. Before we rush to swing all the way to one extreme or the other, we might take into account why we’re resorting to yelling, or spanking for that matter, in the first place. Again, I’m all for calm and sensible and fair households which emphasize intelligent thinking sprinkled with doses of good humor. That is a beautiful thing indeed and that raises more confident kids who tend to be more well-rounded, who tend to be less anxious, and parents who might even be less frazzled because of it.

Let’s empower kids so they can understand better why we do the things we do and how best to do them.

So, if you tend to yell when your child is not learning what it is that you need them to in order to make your household a happier, healthier place, try stopping and reevaluating your yelling practice.

Include your child to give them agency. Work together. Have a family meeting to do it. Family meetings are also the first lessons in democracy.

Take a deep breath, be prepared to do it again and again, and know that someday, your efforts will pay off. Someday soon.

Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning, and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bonniejtoomey . Learn more at www.parentforward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com

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