General Parenting Issues — 16 May 2004
How and why to avoid yelling at your children

Every parent knows how frustrating children can be at times. Most parents will admit to occasionally reacting inappropriately to their children’s annoying ways. Yet, most parents feel badly after they have allowed themselves to yell at their children. Is there a way to reduce the frequency and even eliminate yelling when you are frustrated?

Children are very delightful. They are fun loving, excited, curious, spontaneous, happy and charming. Yet, their needs are often in conflict with the needs of their parents. Parents of infants have to cope through chronic fatigue and concerns about not knowing what the baby wants in order to please him or her. Parents often feel exasperated and bewildered. They may become angry with the baby, because they are at a loss to know how to quiet the child and have her feeling peaceful.

Once children are toddlers and verbal the conflicts that arise between them and their caregivers are produced by unmatched needs. Children like to explore, parents need for them to be safe. Children like to repeatedly ask questions, parents need to know the answers and have them suffice at once. Children are active, parents need to conserve their energy. Children make a lot of noise, parents prefer greater serenity. Children want to be entertained, parents have to accomplish daily tasks. Children thrive on repetitions of actions and tales, parents need greater stimulation and variety. Children need frequent physical contact, parents need more space. Children are very dependent, parents need for children to become more autonomous. Children need happy parents, adults need a peace of mind to be happy. And the list goes on.

When you have a close interaction between two parties with opposing needs, conflict will be created. In raising children parents may resort to power to terminate the conflict. “Do it because I said so”, is an attempt to gain compliance through status. “I am the parent and you have to listen to me.” This statement is likely to further exacerbate noncompliance, rather than contribute toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

When children challenge their parents’ power, some parents become so frustrated that they lose their true power. Parents may regress to their own preverbal state of carrying a temper tantrum by yelling and flailing at their children.

Yelling is a misguided response to insubordination. Yelling reduces the logical, powerful parent to an immature, powerless counterpart of the child. Children fear and dislike being yelled at, and simultaneously lose respect for the yelling parent. Depending on their age, children realize that the yelling is an ineffective and unbecoming conduct for adults. They lose respect for the “yeller” and may become more impervious to parental guidance and demands.

Yelling and shouting at children is abusive. It is a conduct that frightens and confuses them. Using fear to control children is inappropriate. It interferes with the child’s development of internalized values to guide behavior. Once the yelling is unsuccessful, further escalation may turn into physical abuse, which is the full abandonment of authority and respect and is detrimental to both children and their parents.

So what do parents need to do to maintain their true authority and help their children develop healthy patterns of conduct?

  • Be an adult. Realize that you are in charge of the situation. You have the authority to make your child comply with your demands by being firm and loving.
  • Lower your voice when you are angry or frustrated, repeat your request firmly, and list the consequences for misconduct.
  •  Make a decision that no matter what the child does, you will not regress to being a child yourself, and you will not yell or hit your son or daughter.
  • Tell your child you are disappointed in his behavior because it is unlike his basic nature to do what he has just done. Appreciate the child’s basic nature as you reprimand his behavior. ” I am surprised that you hit your friend, it is not like you to be unkind. Nice people do not hit and you are a very nice person.” “What do you need to do to let your friend know what a kind person you are?” Asking the child how he may repair his behavior allows healthy self-regulating behavior to be integrated.
  • Authority is earned through love, attention, and reason- not through force.
  • Yelling obstructs listening rather than enhances it. Soft, firm statements are more frequently heard.
  • Your child’s behavior is normal for his or her age. Familiarize yourself with developmental stages of children to ascertain what is normal and how to cope with each difficult stage.
  • Talk to parents of children of the same age to confirm the norms of conduct and methods of handling children’s misbehavior.
  • Attend parenting classes, offered in most schools.
  • Read books about parenting tools to develop more choices for healthy parenting.
  • Remember that the goal of parenting is not winning, intimidation, or obtaining compliance through subservience. It is to give children guidance for healthier conduct and internal sense of self-worth through internalized values.
  • If you find yourself unable to stop yelling at your children, seek professional help.
  • Children grow to emulate what they have seen their parents model for them. Healthy parenting passes from one generation to another. Do your part.

May 16, 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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