Dr Justin Coulson is a three-time bestselling author, a TEDx speaker, and one of Australia's most popular relationships and parenting experts. In this article he looks at five ways to stop yelling at your children.
Nearly all parents yell. It’s a fact. And in most homes, yelling usually occurs at peak times.
Here’s an example: The morning rush? You need to get out the door fast. Your child is dawdling. Perhaps they’re still in their pyjamas and you have three minutes – THREE MINUTES!!! – to get out the door before you’re officially late. Again.
She hasn’t eaten breakfast. She can’t find her favourite toy – and nothing is going to happen until then.
The words escape your mouth, at max volume… “Stop being so ridiculous and EAT YOUR BREAKFAST NOW!”
Here’s another example: The evening sleep routine? You have tried to put your little guy to bed for 45 minutes. You are exhausted. The house is still a mess. You have another child who also requires focus. You really, REALLY want to spend some quality time with your partner (or with your favourite TV show or novel). And he just won’t go to sleep.
The words again escape your mouth, at max volume… “JUST GO TO SLEEP!”
Before we talk about your child, let’s talk about you.
Five Reasons Why We Yell
Having a child will try us in ways we could never have imagined. It is just so hard. Exhausting. Emotionally depleting.
We seem to be most likely to yell at those times when we are most exhausted. I know that people say that they need to yell so their child won’t run on the road. Fair enough. But most yelling happens at other times – like when children don’t listen, don’t do as they’re asked, treat their sibling badly, won’t eat their food, won’t go to bed, wet the bed, and so forth.
Studies highlight that our willpower is lowest when we are tired, stressed, or mad. That means that at the very time we need to be at our best (when our child is challenging), we are most likely to be at our worst because of our fatigue. And that is when we are most likely to yell… and not when they are about to run onto the road or otherwise endanger themselves.
We also yell for some reasons that are generally unspoken, but are nevertheless true:
First, we yell because we can. The truth is we wouldn’t yell if someone was watching us. Or if it was another adult. We yell because they can’t yell back without getting in trouble. It’s a power thing.
Second, we yell because we think they’re ticking us off on purpose. It sometimes feels as though they woke up in the morning with a plan to destroy our lives. They didn’t though. They’re just kids. They’re figuring it out bit by bit and making inconvenient mistakes.
Third, we yell because it gets an instant result. It can be an ugly result. But it’s a quick result. The trouble is that sometimes it doesn’t get a result. And then where do we go?
Fourth, we yell because we don’t have a better solution. When you haven’t taken piano lessons, you play chopsticks on the piano. It’s all you know. It’s the same with yelling. Without considered practice at developing skills we cannot do better.
Finally, we yell because we were yelled at. Yelling is a learned behaviour. It’s a habit. And we can stop it. But we need to be intentional about it.
Studies have shown that when parents yell at their children as their go-to method of discipline, there is an increase in behavioural problems, an increase in stress, anxiety, and depression. Children who are yelled at also have a higher susceptibility to developing psychological problems and lower self-esteem for the child down the line. The fight-flight-freeze response to stress and trauma gets activated when we yell at our children.
So how do we respond to a challenging child in a constructive way when we are tired, stressed, mad, and completely spent? What do we do when yelling seems like the only viable alternative?