How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids—and What to Do Instead

If you erupt when your kids don’t listen or when the play becomes wild, we get it. But here’s how to stop your tirades once and for all—even when you really, really (really) want to yell.

Many parents have yelled at their children—and most of us feel pretty bad about it. In fact, a Parents survey revealed that of all the things that induce guilt—being distracted by the phone, allowing too much screen time, not cooking healthy foods—being remorseful about shouting topped the list. But how can you keep your anger in check? The answer is simply to break the habit, at least according to Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.

"Every time you don't act on the urge to yell, you rewire your brain so it's no longer your default reaction," she says. I knew from past attempts to kick other habits that I wasn't going to wake up tomorrow as a non-yeller, all cold turkey-like. (Full disclosure: It took me an entire year to wean myself from putting sugar in my morning coffee.) Rehabbing would need to be a process—a five-step process, to be exact. Here's what I learned about how to stop yelling at your kids.

1. Quit Yelling About Ordinary Stuff.

Until I consciously monitored myself, I was completely unaware of how often I raise my voice about silly, non-frustrating, everyday things: "Dinner's ready!" "Turn the music down!" "Close the screen door!" This elevates the volume level in our whole house—and normalizes it.

"Instead, try walking right up to your kids and talking to them in a regular speaking voice," suggests Parentsadvisor Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of Growing Friendships: A Kids' Guide to Making and Keeping Friends.

This has a boomerang effect. When we summon them quietly, they stop screeching back, "I'm coming!" or "In a minute!"

2. Put Out Your Own Fire.

When Dr. Markham suggested that I start meditating for five minutes every day, I laughed. But as she points out, study after study proves that taking time for daily introspection helps us "chill ourselves out in the heat of the moment."

Need help? Try downloading a meditation app like Calm or Headspace. These guided programs will help you learn how to ignore distractions and be in the moment.

3. Think Of a Safe Word.

"Come up with a phrase to tell yourself as soon as you realize you're about to freak out," says Dr. Markham. She suggests "Choose love" or "You've got this." Self-soothing phrases won't just stop you from flipping your lid. They are most effective at helping us hijack each other's explosions. If I see my husband's jaw get tense, for example, I saw his safe word, "snow." That's all it takes to shake his annoyance.

4. Get Close.

While my husband and I have (mostly) curbed our yelling, our children still push our buttons and misbehave. When they don't listen, it makes me want to, well, shout. But instead of consequences or lost privileges, Dr. Markham suggests I focus on a gentler method: reconnecting. Literally. Get down at your child's level, put your arm around them, and tell them that you understand how they feel. This approach will help everyone stay calm.

5. Tone Down Those Trigger Moments.

Weekday mornings are when I'm always most likely to yell. So many tasks need to be accomplished in a finite amount of time that I feel like I'm sprinting up Mount Everest. It's maddening, but getting mad doesn't help. "You have to be able to keep your cool in order for your kids to keep theirs," says Vanessa Lapointe, Ph.D., author of Discipline Without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up.

I start with my opening move. At Dr. Lapointe's suggestion, instead of awakening them by charging into their bedrooms with a brisk (and admittedly jarring) "Rise and shine," I begin the day using a more pleasant, neutral "Good morning, sweetheart" and aspire to maintain this pitch all day. When my children volley with their typical shenanigans, I choose not to sharply remind them that "the bus will be here in 22 minutes." Instead, I inject some humor, pointing out that our dog, who is lying on the floor of their room, just burped so loudly that she actually scared herself. Usually, this elicits a giggle. Then, as if forgetting to be her usual irritable self, they get dressed and come down for breakfast without complaining, screaming, or making a fuss. Simple enough.

Since embarking on my journey a month ago, I've noticed something unfamiliar in our house: quiet. It's not tranquil all the time (because, you know, kids) but more often than not, our family is less agitated and shrill. Plus, when I yell, it's usually for good reason—like when kids nearly ran into the street. And because I do it far less often, my kids actually hear me when I do.

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