Friday, September 17, 2004

Yelling: How to break the cycle.

Are you a "yeller"? I was a yeller and I learned it from my mother. My mom could strike fear in the most defiant of children. Her green eyes would flash and we knew what was coming. She never raised a hand to us, but at times we all would have preferred that to the yelling.

I too, would never have dreamed of raising a hand toward my children, but I yelled just as my mother had. I would often wonder if I was harming them in some way by yelling, but could not stop myself. At the time, I never considered this a sign of how close to the edge I was mentally. I didn't realize this until I began to get angry because my child spilled milk on the table, or took a toy from his brother. When I realized I was yelling over things I never should have, I knew I needed help. My doctor and I worked out the correct med combination and I haven't yelled since...okay, well not much, and never for the little reasons that seem so silly now.

When I am in public and I hear a mother or father (even grandma or grandpa) yelling at a child I always stop and wonder if they know the damage they could be causing their child. In 2003 a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family said 74 percent of parents yell or scream at their children on a regular basis. We are not talking about shouting, "dinner is ready" or yelling, "stop" before a child is caused harm. Some families are just loud and boisterous, but their children are use to this and it is not harmful.

What is harmful? When you are yelling at a child face to face in anger. You may be angry and frustrated and at times it could be for a very legitimate reason, but this does not make it right. The words you use can be just as harmful, or more so, than a physical blow. Put downs, insults, threats, and disrespect can cause long-term harm to a child's self-esteem. Where is it written that our children must respect their elders, but that they don't deserve our respect? Yes, they do deserve to be scolded sometimes. We do get angry when we have to tell them for the tenth time to do their chores, but do they really listen any better when our voices are louder?

Why do we feel it is okay to yell and scream at our children, to humiliate them in public? Because it has been a long accepted practice. Because, like me, you remember your parents yelling at you. What makes our children less important than our friends, co-workers, or strangers we come into contact with everyday? When someone at works spills their coffee all over your report you don't yell at them and threaten to take away their computer if they don't stop being so clumsy. Yet, our co-workers could probably handle this criticism better than our children. Children hear insults like; you're clumsy, stupid, lazy, or hateful as "I don't love you" or "You are not worthy of love." I know, some of this really seems like psychobabble to a lot of you. Your parents yelled at you and you turned out fine. I thought that for years too, but stop and listen to what you are saying, could you be harming your child's self-esteem?

The next time you yank on their arm, yell at them for spilling their juice, tell them to stop being so stupid, or that they had better listen to you if they know what is good for them, stop and listen to yourself. Would you talk to you friend, boss, co-worker, or dog like this? Would you scream, saying that they need to respect you? Insults and put-downs are never okay to say to a child, anymore than they would be to say to your co-worker or the grocery store clerk. Sometimes we all need to raise our voices to someone, but at work or school we manage to do that without reverting to demeaning vocalizations.

When your teen has you so angry you could spit, and they are yelling, it would be so easy to yell back. What kind of example would you be setting for them? Would you be showing them any respect, as you are yelling that they have to respect your rules? No, so take the high road. Set an example you would be proud to have your child follow. Take a few deep breaths and quietly say,"Let's discuss this." Better yet say, "We will discuss this later when you are more calm." This is punishment in itself, because they really want you to get down on their level with them. With smaller children it often works to get their attention by whispering. They have to listen closer to hear what you are saying.

Yes, we are still going to yell at times, but what you yell is so much more important than how you do it. Make sure your child knows that the action was wrong, but that they are loved and important to you. More important than what use to be the lamp. Calmly tell them they will have to pay for it from their allowance or do extra chores. Let them know that you are disappointed that they made the choice to play ball in the living room after you had told them not to so many times before. Things can be replaced. Your child with their growing self-esteem and core values are harder to come by and easily damaged.

I don't expect anyone to change a habit, like yelling, overnight but recognize it for what it is, a bad behavior. Make a promise to yourself and to your children to stop yelling. Believe me they will remind you, just as you remind them. Change takes time and energy, but in the long run it is worth it. Someday you will be so proud of the way your child speaks to your grandchildren and you will know that you took the first step to "stopping the yelling."

If you feel you need more help than just changing a bad behavior please contact or If you feel like you are out of control contact your family doctor, a therapist or seek group support.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your story and advice,
I have become my screaming mother that I promised myself I never would be!
I am seeing a couneslor and working with my 9&8 yr old sons to
try to stop this horrible cycle of abuse,, I know it will not be easy but I promised myself I am going to change cause I love my children!
wish me luck

Anonymous said...

My mom and dad basically terrorized me with their constant angry yelling when I was little. I was always terrified, but I never really knew what I did wrong or why they were treating me like that. I only knew that somehow I wasn't being good enough.

So yeah, fast forward ten years and I have major depression and little to no self-esteem. I know this is no one's fault, but I know that they're actions have definitely affected me.