How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids
Realize yelling is just not effective
You wouldn't scream at an annoying friend or neighbor, yet shouting at a misbehaving child is standard for many moms and dads. "Parents assume that because everybody does it, yelling is harmless," said the late Murray A. Straus, Ph.D., who co-directed the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. "That's not the case. Yelling belittles kids and undermines the parent-child bond."
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Instead of shouting, say "stop it"
And repeat yourself if necessary. "If necessary, hold your child firmly and explain that what he's doing is not okay," said Straus. The reality, according to research, is that whether you spank, yell, or speak in a normal voice, a toddler has about an 80 percent likelihood of repeating her misdeed within the same day, a 50 percent chance within a few hours. Repeating your message without hollering is, in the long run, the better, far less harmful, tactic.
Inhale, exhale, repeat
Sometimes all it takes is a moment to cool down. You told your child to pick up all his toys and get ready for bed, but when you return five minutes later, the toy cars are still all over. Instead of losing it, turn around, close your eyes, and breathe. "Take a time-out," says Michelle LaRowe, author of A Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists.
"If you're worked up, you're only going to work up your child. Before addressing your child, take a deep breath and think through what you're going to say, calmly." Make note of when you're most likely to lose it and troubleshoot accordingly. If it’s first thing in the morning before you've had your coffee, ask your partner to play with your child while you savor that first cup of the day or buy a coffeemaker with a timer that starts brewing before you wake up.
Address the bad behavior
We all have good kids; sometimes their behavior just stinks. You wouldn't punish your child for failing to ride a bike on the first try, so why is learning behavior any different? "When we think about teaching our children, we usually go about it in positive ways, that is except for behavior," Rex Forehand, Ph.D., author of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child. "For some reason we think that punishment should be our teaching tool." It doesn't need to be—you can encourage, support, and guide your children.
When your kid hits another child during a playdate, for example, it's easy to react by yelling. Instead, Dr. Forehand suggests focusing on addressing the specific behavior and taking the opportunity to patiently teach your child why hitting is wrong.
Instead of yelling, use a firm, but soft, tone
Direction that makes the most impact on a child is actually one that is stern and even somewhat gentle, says LaRowe. "When you speak in a calm but firm soft voice, children have to work to listen—and they most always do. The calmer and softer you speak, the more impact your words will have," she says. You can even try a whisper. Not only will your child most likely grasp your instructions faster, you won't have to lose your voice trying to convey it. And it's nearly impossible to sound angry when you're speaking softly.
Figure out what is causing the behavior
One of the biggest reasons toddlers misbehave is they simply haven't learned an alternative approach to displaying their feelings. "Our goal as parents should be to teach our children how to effectively express themselves by validating their feelings without validating their behavior," LaRowe says. If your son pushes a friend who just knocked over his blocks, stray away from the tempting ridicule of yelling "No! Don't do that!" LaRowe suggests. Instead, explain why the action is bad: "Tommy, I understand you're mad that your friend knocked over your blocks. It's okay to be mad, but when you're mad you tell your friend 'I'm mad.' You don't push."
Set rules and follow through
Not carrying out your threats will result in them testing you—and you getting angry.
"Jenna, please turn off the TV." Five minutes later, Jenna is still watching TV. "Jenna, I mean it, turn off the TV or you will sit in time-out." Five minutes later, Jenna is still watching TV. "Jenna, I mean it ..." Empty threats and nagging won't work on your children, and eventually they will call your bluff. And when they do, it's likely parents will find themselves frustrated and yelling. But this is easy to avoid. Have clear rules. When you state a consequence, follow through.
Lower your expectations
A baby can’t sit crammed into a car seat for too long and a toddler can only walk in a mall for a short time. Acquaint yourself with what's developmentally appropriate and then tweak your actions; an hour-long trip to the supermarket rather than hours of errands will reduce whining from then and yelling from you. If you can, find ways to accomplish stressful tasks without your children in tow. Shop for groceries online or even head out to the store after they're in bed when the store is more likely to be empty and you can shop quickly and efficiently.
Give praise for even so-so behavior
Children love getting attention from their parents, sometimes even if it's bad. "Parents tend to give attention to their child either by praising them for good behavior or punishing them for bad behavior. And at times a child will take either," says Dr. Long, who advises to ignore your children when they are acting badly, such as whining to get attention. "If you yell at them, you are still giving them the interest they wanted, and therefore they will continue to use negative behavior to get a reaction from you," Dr. Long says. If you praise behavior, even when it is just okay, then your child will be more likely to repeat it because of the way you took notice.
Build a strong bond
The stronger your relationship is with your child, the stronger your discipline will hold. At this age, your child wants to be close to you. Take advantage of it and reaffirm your bond with your child. Not only will it strengthen the relationship between parent and child, but your child will then have a greater respect for you. The closer you are to your child, the less likely your child is to act up, even though no child is perfect, according to Parenting the Strong-Willed Child.
Put yourself in their shoes
Are you hurt when someone yells at you? Of course; so why wouldn't your child be?
"When we yell at our children we risk damaging their self-esteem and sense of self-worth," LaRowe says. Consider how you'd feel if your boss yelled at you. You'd likely be embarrassed and hurt. LaRowe points out that often you don't have a chance to process what your boss is saying because of how it was said. The same goes for your child. You want to be able to teach him what is acceptable and what is not without making him feel shame or embarrassment.
Take a big step back
Sometimes leaving the room can reset the situation. If you know you're going to lose it, put your baby or toddler in a safe spot, such as his swing or crib, and walk away for a few minutes. Tense and release your muscles, or count to 10 to help calm yourself down before you go back to your child. Develop a mantra (“He’s only 1. He’s only 1.”) and repeat it to yourself several times whenever you feel like you’re about to yell. You can even jog in place or do jumping jacks to physically let out your frustration.
Adopt healthy habits
Parents underestimate the power of what a well-balanced diet and a good sleeping schedule can do for a child's behavior. If you think about it, what are two of the major underlying problems that cause toddlers to act up? Hunger and fatigue. Well-rested, well-nourished children who are on predictable schedules tend to have fewer behavioral issues. On the flip side, the better your sleeping and eating habits are as a parent, the more likely you are to keep your cool longer—and catch yourself before you start yelling.
Stack the odds in your favor
Does it drive you crazy that your toddler likes to dump every foodstuff known to man on the floor? Chances are, if he can't reach the cereal and rice boxes, he can't pour them out. Basic babyproofing is a real sanity saver; the more intact your sanity, the less you'll yell.
Understand you're not perfect
Your child has been driving you up the wall all day. You have tried to keep your cool and follow all the steps, and yet you still feel your temper escalating. And then, one small mishap from your child, and you lose it. You raise your voice, and there's no taking it back now. Dr. Forehand and Dr. Long suggest talking to your children when you've calmed down after yelling. "It's important to explain that you didn't mean to raise your voice, and that you didn't mean to get mad," Dr. Forehand says. "Explain to them that it frustrates you when they don't listen, and ask them to do better, and that you will, too."
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Be a good role model by remaining consistent and calm. Watch this video for four tips that will help you set rules and limits.