Experts explain the reasons why screaming at your kid doesn’t work and suggest alternative ways of discipline. Although most parents have yelled at their kids at some point, it can be good to understand how it affects our children the next time your three-year-old throws a plate of food across the kitchen.
Dr. Joseph Shrand, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, believes that people yell because it’s their “go-to response” when they’re upset. It’s okay to be angry, Dr. Shrand adds. It’s not the anger itself, he continues, but what we do with it that counts.
After all, anger is a common human feeling experienced whenever we wish things were different. Parents get angry because they want their child to change their behavior, as Dr. Shrand explains. For instance, “I hope my son will tell me what really happened last night,” or “I wish my daughter wouldn’t slug her little sister.” Parents often wish they could correct these potentially destructive habits in their children.
Yet, certain strategies for altering behavior are more successful than others, and parents who understand the futility of yelling are more likely to choose more productive measures. This article will explain why and how yelling at your kids is counterproductive. And just a reminder, if you find yourself yelling a lot or struggling to control your emotions, it’s vital to make an appointment with your doctor to get checked out; these behavioral changes might be symptoms of mental health disorders like postpartum anxiety. Nevertheless, before placing too much blame on yourself for the difficulties you’re encountering as a parent, make sure you’ve checked off all the health boxes!
1. In “Fight-or-Flight Mode,” Children Are Unable to Learn
“Yelling is not an effective technique to change behavior,” explains Laura Markham, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. According to Dr. Markham, the learning areas of a child’s brain shut down when they are terrified.
When we encounter something that our brain interprets as dangerous, we physically prepare to either fight or run away. The child’s brain interprets your voice as a threat and turns off the portions of the brain that aren’t involved in protection and defense, making it impossible for the youngster to learn while you’re yelling at them. Meanwhile, “Peaceful and quiet communication helps a child feel comfortable and makes them more sensitive to the lesson we’re imparting,” as Dr. Markham puts it.
2. Yelling Can Make a Child Feel Worthless
Dr. Shrand thinks that the desire to be appreciated is the “common thread” that connects all people. Feeling appreciated by others is one of the most important factors in determining a person’s sense of self-worth and significance in the world. When we’re yelled at, we start to doubt our own talents and wonder if we’re up to the task. Dr. Shrand explains that shouting is a quick method to make someone feel worthless.
Dr. Markham’s discoveries are similar: “When we’re furious and ranting, we perceive ourselves as a hammer and everyone else as a nail,” she adds. When they’re in that condition, our kids don’t appear like people we love and appreciate; they seem like adversaries. Dr. Markham stresses that the children in our care must never feel that they are the enemy.
3. Anxiety, Depression, And A Decline In Self-Esteem Are All Exacerbated By Yelling
Children who are frequently yelled at show elevated levels of anxiety and depression, according to research. Parents’ reactions to their children’s faults “either calm the youngster or intensify their fears,” according to Dr. Markham’s theory of learned helplessness. It goes without saying that raising your voice never helps.
Anxiety and depression thrive on negativity, and being yelled at creates an “explosion of negativity that lingers for a long time,” as a clinical psychologist and author Neil Bernstein, Ph.D., explains in his book.
4. Shouting Can Disrupt Relationships
Dr. Markham argues that when parents yell at their children, it damages their relationships and leads to financial hardship. Having compassion for one another can be difficult during times of anger. In contrast, resorting to yelling can set you and your child at odds and give them the impression that you’re not on their side. Children are never more open to change, receptive, or connected to you after an interaction in which you yell at them.
Dr. Bernstein, a psychologist with four decades of experience, says he has never heard a child report they felt closer to their parent as a result of being yelled at.
5. Bad Effects on Children Can Occur After Prolonged Yelling
Evidence from a variety of studies shows that shouting is harmful to young people. Research has shown that kids who have “severe discipline” at home, which can include “yelling or screaming,” do poorly in school, have behavior problems, and act badly. In addition, research published in the National Library of Medicine concluded that regular verbal abuse and yelling might alter a child’s brain development, while a third study found that yelling has the same effect on children as physical punishment.
Always keep in mind that one incident of yelling will not ruin your kids life. Research like this examines the cumulative effects of yelling and other forms of abuse over time. Everyone here is fallible; no one is perfect. Knowing your own emotional triggers and coping mechanisms might help you deal with emotional outbursts more effectively.
6. Yelling Is Not an Effective Way To Communicate
Parents who have a habit of yelling every time they’re upset may unintentionally teach their children to similarly overreact when they face frustrating situations of their own, as “if parents don’t show their kids how to handle their feelings, it’s hard for them to learn on their own,” says Dr. Markham. What this means is that aggressive people tend to have more aggressive children.
This, according to Dr. Shrand, is because our “mirror neurons” (the area of the brain that mimics the behavior of others) are activated when we yell at our children, prompting them to mimic our anger. He says, “Anger breeds anger,” and, “When we yell at our kids, they want to yell back at us.” Fortunately, mirror neurons can also have the opposite impact on toddlers and adults. When was the last time someone treated you with respect, and you got angry?
Approaches Other Than Shouting
Seeking treatment from a mental health professional or primary care physician is a good first step toward improving your emotional regulation skills. Vitamin or thyroid shortages, hormonal imbalances, or postpartum mental health problems could all be factors in your emotional state. If you grew up in a violent home or experienced mental or physical abuse, therapy can help you recognize triggers and patterns that may cause outbursts.
Recognizing the current source of anger is the second step in resolving it. If you like, you can even perform this aloud. While it may seem childish, acknowledging your anger is a significant move that can result in immediate and tangible changes to your brain. Dr. Shrand explains that as you become aware of your anger, it activates your prefrontal brain, which in turn stops your emotions from spiraling out of control. The goal is to switch your brain’s processing mode from feeling to thinking.
According to professionals, there are a few options for accomplishing this:
- Relax and breathe deeply.
- Try counting backwards from the number you want.
- Do an in-place sprint.
- Rub your hands together.
- Keep your mouth shut until you can think clearly again.
- Motivating thoughts can help you stop yourself from losing your cool and shouting (i.e., “My child needs my help right now.”).
- Please wash your hands in the sink.
- Forcing a smile or a chuckle can convince your brain that everything is fine.
Dr. Markham says that once you’ve taken a few deep breaths, you’ll be in a better position to defuse a tense situation rather than adding fuel to the fire. Dr. Markham recommends returning to whatever offended you with a cool head and a conscious, “Let’s attempt a do-over” attitude.
Of course, it requires effort to stop yelling, and it takes most of us a lot of time and practice before we can completely break the habit. But, Dr. Markham believes that it is much simpler to refrain from yelling when you have a close relationship with your child. Improving your connection is best done while neither of you is under stress.
Dr. Shrand argues that parents can gain greater satisfaction from parenting if they focus on finding joy in their children as they are. It’s more satisfying to marvel at your child’s unique qualities than it is to be disappointed in what they lack.
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