Help! Kid Chaos Makes Me Yell

We all know yelling doesn't calm the kid chaos. Parents Ask Your Mom columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., shares some strategies and mindfulness techniques to help parents curb the yelling, even with an energetic young child.

Kid Chaos Makes Me Yell
Photo: | Zoe Hansen

-Old Yeller

Hello, I am having a lot of stress with my 7-year-old son. It gets worse every day. First, something hurts: a finger, his leg, and more excuses so not to do his homework. The biggest problem we have is that he does NOT listen! I have to admit his dad and I yell at him a lot. When he gets home from school, it's like he was released from a cage. Running, jumping everywhere. Isn't he to old for that? Me and dad are super tired, and don't want to be constantly yelling for his behavior. Please help!

—-Old Yeller

As a fellow parent with a 7-year-old son who comes bounding home with high energy and also avoids his homework, I feel you. Combining my psychologist know-how with what happens in my house every day, I am confident you can take several steps to turn the tides. If you and your husband are open to making some changes, you may not eliminate chaos, but you will probably find more calm.

Plan an Energy Outlet

This energy explosion after school is communicating some important information: your child has been holding in a lot through the school day, and his body needs the release. As parents, we are ever hopeful that our child "should" outgrow things, but age seven is right at the cusp of some major developmental changes and this energy display is probably very, very normal. However, your home is not a trampoline park, so it would help everyone to find a better fit for this predictable energy outburst. If you plan for it instead of wishing it wouldn't happen (or thinking it shouldn't happen), that is one step toward less yelling and more calm.

One idea is to brainstorm a list with him of high-energy, yet safe, activities he can pick from when he gets home. During the dark days of remote learning, I had my first grader run laps around the backyard while I timed him! If you can think of realistic physical outlets for your son and experiment with how much time feels like the right amount to him, it can become part of your afterschool schedule instead of a daily disruptor.

Solving Homework Avoidance

This first step of releasing pent-up energy first thing after school may actually help your son face his homework. But it may not. If he continues to find every excuse in the book to avoid homework, start with a heart-to-heart. When he is calm and able to focus, explore with him what he is trying to avoid. Specifically, "What makes homework hard? What do you not like about doing your homework?" With my son, he had some surprising seven-year-old insights about his brain feeling tired, and how he wanted friend time because they didn't get much social time at school (thanks, Covid precautions). Identifying any reason beyond "I don't want to" helps with the next step: collaborative problem-solving.

You can maintain your expectation that your son does his homework, but giving him some choice and control over the homework routine may help decrease his avoidance. For example, establish a habit of making a visual checklist each day when he gets home (after he does his laps), which helps break down the big homework "scaries" into smaller, more manageable steps. Then find choice points. Some possibilities include asking him what order he wants to go in, picking something to look forward to when he's done, or if he can do both, eating a yummy snack while he works to add some joy to the dread.

Side note about homework: make sure he can developmentally handle the amount—experts recommend no more than ten minutes per grade! (A first grader would have ten minutes, a second-grader about 20 minutes, etc.) It's possible he has too much, so he shuts down. This would be worth a chat with the teacher and prioritizing certain tasks, like where he seems to be struggling more in order to master those skills.

Mindful Parenting

In my professional and personal experience, yelling is not a strategy, it's a reaction. We know it doesn't really "work." We are more likely to yell when we feel overwhelmed and drained. You mentioned being tired, which I think every parent on earth can relate to—especially after the last two years. Borrowing from the science-backed practice of mindfulness, take a few seconds to pause and notice the urge to yell when frustrated. This pause helps us stop before we act, take a deep breath, observe the urge, and respond in a way that feels better to us—without yelling. (Next step: narrate that we are doing this aloud to our child for top-notch role modeling!)

The Yelling: Getting to Calm

I take a realistic stance on yelling: less is better, none is unrealistic (for most). But it doesn't feel great when it seems like we are mostly interacting with our child at a high volume of frustration. We don't like it, and they start to tune us out, which can make us yell more and nobody is getting anywhere! Hopefully, the above strategies will shift the energy in the house so you and his father don't experience the bubbling frustration that leads to the yelling. But he's still a rambunctious seven-year-old and you are still tired, so a couple more steps may keep nudging you in the direction of a calmer household.

Plan parent-child one-on-one time if not daily (even 15 minutes), then weekly, so he knows of a time he can truly enjoy your undivided attention. During this time, allow him to take the lead in play. I have gritted my teeth through many a superhero-villain battle, but this time can really help children feel more connected via positive attention, which means acting out less for negative attention. A constant stream of yelling can unintentionally communicate to children that their parents see them as "bad," and even hard to love. Carving out this positive time where they get to set the agenda can go a long way toward building up a child's confidence in the relationship.

The Bottom Line

As much as I sympathize with the current state of after school chaos in your home, I am confident that a few tweaks can make a big difference. Leaning in instead of resisting your son's energy starts the afternoon more positively. Working with each other instead of against each other to come up with a better way to deal with homework keeps up the positive vibes. Planning intentional time for connection and using some mindful strategies to reduce the yelling can all add up to a smoother day for everyone. Even if you're still tired, and he's still an energetic 7-year-old.

Submit your parenting questions here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns.

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and the upcoming parenting book Parenting for Autonomy. She is a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois, and a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

Read More Ask Your Mom columns here.

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