Updated: Jul 22, 2022
I recently asked some elementary students to name something they wish their parents would do for them. In addition to wishing their parents would buy them a particular toy and spend more time with them, all but a few expressed that they wished their parents would stop yelling so much. Known to negatively impact healthy development, yelling is particularly hard on children. At best, yelling may make children obedient for a short while but will not succeed in correcting their behavior or attitude for the long haul.
For some parents, yelling is an alternative to spanking. What they may not realize is that the emotional damage inflicted by regularly yelling at children can be worse than the physical pain of spanking. Physical pain eventually goes away whereas emotional pain can last indefinitely. Among other things, yelling can lead to increased verbal and physical aggression. In a 2017 article, author Rena Goldman cites that in addition to making behaviors worse, yelling at children can also alter brain development, increase the potential for anxiety and depression, have a negative long-term impact on physical health and increase the potential for chronic pain related conditions. (April 2017, healthline.com; reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D.)
So, how do parents know if household yelling has reached the point of having an adverse effect on children? The following behaviors can be indicators:
You find that your children are quick to anger.
You routinely hear your children yelling at each other.
Your children yell back at you when you speak to them (including an escalation in backtalk and rudeness)
Your communication with your children has gotten progressively worse over time.
Your children tend to stay away from/avoid you.
Your children seek comfort from friends rather than you, their parent(s).
As imperfect beings, we have all likely yelled at our children at one time or another. But when yelling becomes more regular than random, family tensions tend to run high with peacefulness fleeting.
If family yelling and turmoil seem to be paving the road to hell, the steps below are worth the investment and might just prove to be 7 Steps to Heaven!
1. Acknowledge (to your children) that as leaders of the family you are committed to creating a healthier home environment by ending the toxic yelling that is so negatively impacting family life.
2. Clearly Identify expectations and personal triggers. Making family members aware of both can be helpful in deterring spontaneous outbursts.
3. Actively practice using a moderate volume when speaking. Remind yourself daily that yelling demeans! Misbehavior should be addressed, but not in a way that attacks one’s dignity.
4. Avoid making threats. Threats insult, degrade and cause feelings of anger and resentment. Consequences for unacceptable behavior can be appropriate and effective, threats are neither.
5. Recognize that your frustrations are not always about your children’s behavior. They may simply be undeserving scapegoats. When parents apologize for wrongdoings, children are more likely to do the same.
6. Forgive. We all make mistakes, including false assumptions. Once an incident has passed, let it go. Forgiveness is as powerful as praise is motivating. Both can be instrumental in preventing resentments from piling up.
7. Remain fully committed to the goal. Backsliding may occur but defeat should never be an option.
Creating a household where civility trumps yelling is one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children.
©Sharon K. Lamberth, July 2022