There’s no doubt about it; parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Some days everything feels like magic, but there are plenty of days in between that make you want to pull your own hair out. In these moments, it’s easy to lose your temper and yell at your kids. Unfortunately, not only is it ineffective, but kids who get yelled at could be worse off when it comes to their mental and physical health.
Kids Who Get Yelled At: Less Likely To Obey, More Likely To Be Depressed
Though in the moment it might seem like yelling at your kids achieved the compliance you were hoping for, science now shows that this not the case. (1)
Yes, yelling gets their attention, and yes, they may stop the behavior that made you angry in the first place. However, in the long run, kids who get yelled at are more likely to be disobedient and have poor self-esteem and mental health. (2)
Yelling Is Not An Effective Form of Communication
Think about it: Do you, as an adult, respond positively to yelling or being berated by another person? My guess is likely not. Does it make you want to change your behavior? Again, no, if anything, it just makes you dislike that person.
Your children aren’t any different. In fact, it is worse for them because they lack the emotional and mental capacity to understand why they are being yelled at in the first place. (1)
Dr. Laura Markham, founder of Aha! Parenting and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, says that kids typically shut down when being yelled at and are therefore not actually listening to what you’re saying. This “shutting down” can be in the form of crying or a glazed-over look. (1)
“When parents yell, kids acquiesce on the outside, but the child isn’t more open to your influence, they’re less so,” she explains. (1)
They are learning to fear you rather than learn the consequences of their actions. A child who is mentally and emotionally shut down won’t be able to have a productive discussion about why what they did was wrong, which will likely lead to a repeat offense.
Kids Who Get Yelled At Can Be More Disobedient
When your children are young, they rely on you for everything. As they get older and become more independent, yelling at them only causes tension and resistance to your authority as a parent.
Additionally, the more you yell at your children, the more aggressive they become over time. Research has shown that kids who are yelled at regularly become more physically and verbally aggressive (4).
Think about it this way: Every time you yell at your kids (or at your partner/any other person in front of your kids), you are teaching them that this is the proper way to react in difficult or adverse situations. They are more likely to become verbally aggressive – and potentially even verbally abusive – teenagers and adults.
Yelling at your children also makes them more vulnerable to bullying and abusive relationships because they won’t understand healthy boundaries and how people should and shouldn’t speak to you.
Eventually Yelling Becomes Ineffective
Though it may start strong, your child will eventually become desensitized to your yelling. When you go off, they will likely sit there, half tuned-out, waiting for you to finish your verbal assault. (1)
According to Dr. Markham, if a child doesn’t react, or reacts very minimally, to scolding, it is a good indicator that they are being scolded far too frequently. (1)
Yelling Affects Children’s Physical Health
A 2011 study found that children who experienced psychological stress when they are young are at greater risk of suffering from chronic diseases later on in life. (5) Another study published in 2017 found that these children are more likely to suffer from painful medical conditions, anxiety, and mood disorders as they get older. (6)
Fear Is Not Obedience
Particularly when they are young, your children trust you to care for them and be a safe space for them. Yelling and screaming when you are angry is scary for a child and can be quite traumatizing. (1)
“Your number one job as a parent, after assuring the safety of your children, is to manage your own emotions,” says Dr. Markham. (1)
Yelling threatens your child’s sense of security and can affect how much they trust you. It is important to remember that children do not have the same mental capacity as adults- they do not have a fully developed prefrontal cortex and have a deficient executive function. (1)
Although it may seem like they’re trying to push your buttons, they likely don’t understand what it is that they’re doing or why it is upsetting you so much. Kids do not have the emotional maturity to be treated like adults. (1)
This is where firm but calm conversation comes in. The most important part of disciplining a child is teaching them why what they did was wrong. A calm conversation achieves this while still making the child feel safe, secure, and loved.
How Yelling Affects A Child’s Brain
When you shout at your kids, “fight, flight, or freeze,” chemicals are released into their brains. This behavior becomes ingrained if it repeatedly occurs, which negatively affects the development of good communication skills. (1)
“They may hit you. They may run away. Or they freeze and look like a deer in headlights,” she says. “None of those are good for brain formation,” says Dr. Markham (1).
Humans process negative events and information faster than positive ones. Constant verbal aggression from parents actually alters a child’s brain development and increases their risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders (4).
Kids Who Get Yelled at: Is it Ever OK?
There are some circumstances in which raising your voice is necessary. Some of these situations include:
- When there is emanate danger
- When breaking up a fight (for example, between siblings)
- To be heard initially or to get your kids’ attention
Once the danger is cleared, the fight is broken up, and you have your children’s’ attention, you need to change your tone and volume immediately. This is when the calm, productive conversation bit comes into play.
“Basically, yell to warn, speak to explain” says Dr. Markham (1).
How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids
Of course, as a parent, you are only human. You get angry sometimes, and your kids can test your patience on the best of days. Perhaps you, yourself, were yelled at as a child and are now learning to overcome that as an adult.
Say You’re Sorry
First of all, I will start by saying that sometimes, even with the right strategy in place, you will lose your cool, and you will yell when you wish you hadn’t. In these cases, don’t beat yourself up too much. However, it is essential that in these situations, you apologize to your child. (7)
Once everyone has cooled down, sit down with them and give your child a proper apology for yelling, and explain to them why you are apologizing (aka “it’s wrong to yell and I shouldn’t have done that.”). Ask for their forgiveness and try to do better next time. (7)
Know What Your Triggers Are
Every parent is going to have different triggers. It would help if you recognized what yours are ahead of time so when they come up, you understand what they are. Triggers could be any number of things, such as coming home from a stressful day at work knowing that you still have to cook dinner when you get home. (7)
Understand when you are experiencing these triggers and do things to combat them. This could include:
- Preparing something quick and simple for dinner
- Occupying your children with an activity so you can cook without being bothered
Even telling your kids, “Mommy/Daddy has had a long day at work, so I need to you occupy yourself for a while so I can have some time to myself.” (7)
If you have a co-parent, letting them know ahead of time that you’ve had a rough day and might need extra support can also go a long way.
Warn Your Kids
When you feel yourself becoming angry or frustrated, give your kids a warning first. Nina Howe, professor of early and elementary childhood education at Concordia University, says this can be an effective strategy to side-step and full-blown outbursts of anger. (7)
“Say, ‘You’re pushing me, and I don’t want to yell to get your attention. If you don’t listen now, I might lose it,’” says Howe (7).
Giving your children warnings can also help avoid situations that cause children to disobey or make you angry. These are things like giving them a five-minute warning before it’s time to go to bed or leave a playdate. (7)
Preparation Equals Success
Think about when tensions and frustrations are likely to be high and prepare to (hopefully) avoid them. For example, having school lunches prepared the night before and clothes already chosen and set out will make the morning much smoother. (7)
For an afternoon of running errands, pack your child’s favorite book or toy to help keep them occupied. If you’re going to be out for several hours, make sure to bring along water and snacks so that you can avoid the thirst and hunger-induced meltdowns. (7)
Give Yourself A Timeout
Who says timeouts are just for kids? Sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel like you’re about to lose it is to leave the room briefly to breathe and calm down. After this, you will be more capable of handling the situation in a calm, communicative way. If you can’t leave the room, even closing your eyes and taking three slow, deep breaths before responding can go a long way. (7)
Calgary-based author of Parenting With Patience and Discipline Without Distress, Judy Arnall, suggests deciding as a family what kinds of behaviors are acceptable before you react and writing it down on a “yes list.” She suggests things like jogging in place, throwing a ball for the dog to chase, or typing a social media rant you’ll never post. (7)
“If you do things on your Yes List—go into the bathroom and deep-breathe—kids are watching that, and they’re going to pick up on those things and do them, too.” (7)
Adjust Expectations and Recognize When You’re The Problem
Most often, your kids aren’t being malicious or trying to upset you; they’re just being kids living in their own tiny kid universe. Be prepared that children may not always react the way you expect them to, and you may need to change course, for example, cutting your errands run short because you’ve got an overtired, hungry, cranky child on your hands. (7)
Again, it would be best if you recognized that you are the cranky, hungry, overtired one. Just because you’re the parent doesn’t mean it’s always your kids’ fault.
“Ask yourself, ‘What’s going on for me that I yelled at my kids for the past three days in a row? Did I not get enough sleep? Do I feel unappreciated? Apart from my kids’ behavior, what else is going on for me?’” says Clinical counselor Elana Sures. (7)
At the end of the day, we are all just trying to raise a generation of happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. Not yelling at them does not mean you are not disciplining them. It simply means you are disciplining them in a way that won’t cause long-lasting psychological damage – and that will actually change their behavior.
- “What Am I Doing to My Kid When I Yell?.” Fatherly. Jonathan Stern. January 4, 2021.
- “Longitudinal Links Between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms.” SRCD. Ming‐Te Wang, Sarah Kenny. September 3, 2013.
- “Parent Discipline Practices in an International Sample: Associations With Child Behaviors and Moderation by Perceived Normativeness.” NCBI. Elizabeth T. Gershoff, et al. March 2010.
- ” Psychological stress in childhood and susceptibility to the chronic diseases of aging: moving toward a model of behavioral and biological mechanisms.” PubMed. Gregory E Miller, et al. November 2011.
- “When Emotional Pain Becomes Physical: Adverse Childhood Experiences, Pain, and the Role of Mood and Anxiety Disorders.” Natalie J. Sachs‐Ericsson, et al. March 22, 2017.
- “10 proven ways to finally stop yelling at your kids.” Today’s Parent. Lisa Kadane. May 28, 2020.