by Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC
Yelling at Your Kids? Why It Doesn’t Work
You know the drill: Your child is screaming at you, ignoring you, being irresponsible or hurtful. Suddenly, you’re yelling at the top of your lungs, matching him decibel for decibel. Later, you think, “Why did I fly off the handle again? I’m so tired of letting him push my buttons so easily.”
Yelling is a natural response when your kids are rude, not listening, engaging in irresponsible behavior or treating you poorly—or in any other situation that triggers your emotions. Even though you know it would be better if you could stay calm, it’s hard to always do that emotionally. Or you may even argue that yelling and making our kids afraid of us worked when we were growing up, so why shouldn’t we do that today?
Yelling or “losing it” transmits the message, “I need you to behave so that I can feel calmer; I don’t know how to be calm and in control of myself unless you are behaving the way I need you to.”
It was good enough for me…
When our parents were raising us, adults used threats, intimidation and fear to scare us into better behavior. The value prized was obedience. Some parents hit and others withdrew love to get their children to submit to authority. And kids were much more obedient than today’s kids—but it came at a price. Although today’s parents value obedience, we also put a high value on long-term connections, fostering independence and self-reliance, building trust and on our kids’ emotional wellbeing. The old way of parenting might help kids fall into line, but it works against some of today’s parents’ values.
So the question becomes, “How do we get our kids to behave without yelling and screaming, while also building a good relationship with them?” It’s important to remember that losing our temper may make us feel better in the moment—it’s a way of managing our distress—but it doesn’t feel better later. It does not enhance the relationship with our kids that we hope to achieve over time or help them to develop successfully into responsible adults.
The message you send when you “lose it.”
There are many ways to influence your child’s behavior, but yelling is not effective. The message that it transmits to our kids is often, “I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do to get you to act the way I want you to act. I feel out of control.” Of course, the message we want our children to pick up is, “I’m in control of myself; I know what to do and you do not control me.” Yelling or “losing it” also transmits the message, “I need you to behave so that I can feel calmer—I don’t know how to be calm and in control of myself unless you are behaving the way I need you to.” What happens is that your child feels that he is in charge of your emotional wellbeing—and that’s not a good position to put him in.