On yelling

friendship-831522_1920Yelling has very severe consequences on your child, both immediate and long lasting. Yet yelling can be, and by all means should be, avoided. Not easily, though, as it is a deeply ingrained habit and, like any habit, requires a serious effort to break. There are basically no quick fixes, but there is an effective solution and once you start dealing with it, it becomes easier to control.

Children learn what we teach them

Every living person has needs. So do children. They need to feel valuable and capable, to learn and explore, to love and be loved in return. But children are small and they are still discovering how to meet these needs, experimenting with what is acceptable and what is not.

By discarding children’s needs and not paying attention to the message behind their actions, we are effectively making them feel insignificant and discouraged which further creates shame, anger and resentment. Moreover, by punishing them verbally, by yelling and nagging, we are weakening our relationship with our children, teaching them to yell back, because that is obviously how grown-ups solve problems, or pushing them into retreating and detaching from us. And we are losing their respect along the way, together with their trust as they start looking at their peers for affirmation.

But, apart from producing anger and shame, verbal abuse has long-term negative effects which cannot be easily mitigated. A study showed that yelling and nagging leads to depression and behavioural problems in later years, namely aggressive and/or antisocial behavior. The bad news is that exhibiting parental love and affection, nurturing strong parent-child bond and providing emotional support did not lessen these effects. And underlying the problematic behaviour was the vicious circle of yelling which grew even more aggression and disobedience. There could not be a more obvious proof that verbal discipline, as some call it, does not work. On the contrary. It just worsens the problem.

How do you stop yelling?

mother-937038_1920When asked about circumstances in which they resort to yelling, most parents mentioned feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, being in a hurry or badly organized, having to deal with unexpected problems or sensory overload (such as too much mess or noise), trying to keep their focus on something else (like reading an article, writing a blog entry or having a phone call). So, if you really thing about it, it isn’t about the kids, is it?

It is about the anger we feel under which usually lie fear, sadness and disappointment. But yelling is not the product of anger, yelling is a habitual reaction we developed and we should try to find other ways of dealing with anger that do not involve verbal abuse.

The first step in breaking the yelling habit is to recognize what triggers our anger and to make a plan how to prevent it from bringing us to the boiling point. In other words,

  1. Set limits ahead. If your child has a problem with interrupting his play to come to the table and have his dinner, make a deal earlier that in the agreed time, say 15 minutes, he will stop playing, put away his toys and join you for a meal. A good idea is to shake hands on it, too.
  2. Be consistent. Keep the limits you set. It will ensure your child’s trust in your guidance. When the time comes, do not call over from the kitchen, go to him and
  3. Connect, get down on her eye level, put a hand on her shoulder/arm/leg and tell her the time is up. If she’s unwilling to do what she promised, ask how you can help her keep her side of the deal. That is to say,
  4. Let the kid have a saying on how to make things run more smoothly, so that nobody becomes angry or frustrated. This is crucial, as it increases cooperation both by validating his feelings and needs, and introducing the notion that he participated in the solution. Moreover, it teaches him responsibility and self-discipline which will come in handy later on, when he decides to finish homework before surfing the net.
  5. Adjust your expectations. If your child takes longer time getting ready for school, make sure to wake her up earlier so that neither would feel pressured and frustrated. Seems like a no-brainer, but a more realistic schedule goes a long way in terms of keeping everyone sane, calm and respectful.
  6. Acknowledge the importance of calmness and respectful behaviour. Your first and foremost duty as your child’s role model is to model emotional regulation and responsible anger management. It is based on your own behaviour that your child will develop ways to interact (kindly) with other children and grown-ups. You are indeed the most important influence in development of your child’s prefrontal cortex and “mirror” neurons, which are responsible for empathy and understanding what another person is feeling. When you restrain yourself and show kindness and respect, they learn to restrain themselves and show kindness and respect.
  7. In times when planning ahead fails, make your first reaction to stop and take some breath. Recognize that there is no emergency! The world will not end in two minutes that takes you to calm down and redeem the control over your impulses, nor in five that it takes to clean the spilled milk. Skip the anger and shift your focus to solution.
  8. Walk away, and go to another room if necessary, until you have regained your cool. Or, alternatively
  9. Give your kids a permission to walk away and leave the room when you start treating them disrespectfully. This will prepare them to deal with bullies later in life.
  10. Pick your battles, let go of details and concentrate on what is really important to you and your child’s wellbeing.
  11. Congratulate yourself each time you managed to overcome the impulse to yell or nag and resolve an issue calmly and respectfully. In time you will start getting more stars per hour, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge each star for what it is worth. You are still learning and every pat on the back for a job well done is more than welcome.
  12. The children are also learning, so keep trying. Rewiring your brain is not easy, but the more effort you put into it, the better results you will see in your children’s behaviour.
  13. Take responsibility for your mood. Remember that it is not really about the kid. Explain calmly your worries and anxieties to your children. If, in spite of all the effort, you blow your top at some point, be quick to apologise and set things right. Connect, hug, be silly, make her laugh.
  14. Never correct before you connect. Teaching your child a lesson has to wait until both of you have calmed down and reconnected. With the prefrontal cortex still developing, kids are not able to think straight when they are upset. The only way to get your message through is by using a calm, respectful tone of voice and kind words. Do your best to make them a habit.

It won’t be easy

You will struggle at first, that is for sure. Restraining yourself and not acting on impulse requires a frightful amount of self-control. Staying calm and respectful in your demands and suggestions is not easy and generally takes a great deal of effort. But, like any exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Until one day it becomes your second nature and you stop yelling mid-sentence. And then, with some more work, you won’t even get to raise your voice.

In the meantime, pay attention to positive impact that changes in your behaviour are making on your child. Notice how your communication improves and he becomes more cooperative. Observe his attitude towards his siblings, friends and classmates transform to radiate kindness and respect.

And give yourself a big star for being patient both with your child and with yourself. Being your child’s primary role model, you deserve it more than anyone else!

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