We have all yelled at our kids at some point. I don’t care if you are a Psychologist, therapist
or a “parenting expert”, we are all human and kids have a way of pushing our buttons like no
other. A battle of wills with a fight to the finish, the problem is nobody really wins. When our
kids meet us with defiance and a "you're not the boss of me" it can be like a red flag to a bull. We are surged with emotion and the battle is on, the problem is this battle has more to do with us than our child. While yelling may work in the short-term, in the long-term children
will learn to block out the noise and ultimately block you out too.
Emotions are contagious, when we are stressed and angry, our kids will mirror that level of
emotion in us. When we are triggered, our response can be totally unreasonable for the
situation and we can't parent the way we want. We escalate so quickly and our kids will come
along meeting us at every level. If we want to stop yelling we have to look at ourselves and
change our patterns.
Know your Triggers
A trigger will seem to happen automatically, it will seem totally justified at the time. But if
we sit back and look at the situation when we are calm, we can see that our reactions may
have been uncalled for. There is often another emotion underlying anger. The behaviour your child is showing you could take you back to difficult times in your childhood or to how you were parented. The behaviour could also trigger fears that you have about your parenting ability or generate a feeling of helplessness. In this way our reaction to our child's behaviour has more to do with our difficulty processing these emotions than it does to the behaviour itself.
It may seem unlikely that emotions you felt when you were a child are coming out as an
adult. We may feel that surely we have moved on from this. But let’s say for example, when
you were a child you were not allowed to question your parent's authority without getting "in
trouble". So when your child argues, this triggers you to rise up against this "disobedience".
When really it is perfectly normal for a child to question or say "no" to their parents. Other
common triggers could be crying, whining and tantrums. These often cause triggers for
people who as children were not allowed to express difficult emotions. The result is that we
try to stop it by removing the child or becoming angry to shut them down.
To find out our triggers we need to start being aware of our reactions. When we really look at
our thoughts and feelings behind these situations we might be surprised at how unrealistic
they are, but that's because they were an automatic response and we weren't able to think
through them at the time.
Common thoughts behind our triggers could be:
You don't respect me
this is not convenient
I don't know what to do
I can't cope
I feel unappreciated
I want you to act like an adult
I can't do what I want to do
I am doing too much, I can’t help you too
You are acting like my ex-partner
Usually when you are able to really admit that you have these thoughts, you are able to think
through them and realise that it is your thoughts, not your child's behaviour that is making
you feel this way. You are able to see that just because your child is questioning you, doesn't
mean that they don't respect you.
Avoid Power Struggles
As adults we can forget that children are people too. Just like us
children don't like to feel manipulated and powerless. When children are starting to say "no"
they are actually developmentally gaining independence and realising that they have some
choices. This is a positive stage in development although is certainly doesn't feel like it at
times. If we recognise that our children want some control we shouldn't react by taking more
control away from them. This doesn't mean giving in to them, but for example, if they don't
want to have a shower, give them a choice. Do they want to have a shower before dinner or
after? For young children it might be choosing their plate even though they can't choose their dinner. They are still doing what you want but they feel that they have some control over their own life.
Ask is it worth the fight? There are some situations where it really isn't worth the fight. In these situation let your child live with the natural consequence. If your child refuses to wear a
jacket, let them go out and experience the cold. This way they learn for themselves and you
didn't have to enter into a yelling match. Obviously you can't do this if the consequence is
dangerous, but if it is discomfort then let them make the decision.
It’s Normal, Not Personal
Too often our expectations of what children can do is just not realistic for their development. Children’s brains are still developing and will keep developing into their 20s. They find
transitions difficult, verbal instructions can be hard to process, they can’t express what they
need verbally, some of the behaviours that we find so incredibly frustrating are completely
normal. A child doesn’t go out of their way to upset us. Most of the time they are just
responding the best they know how and yes sometimes they may say hurtful things. But
nobody thinks clearly when they are upset and children find this even harder because the
logical thinking part of their brain is underdeveloped. They are communicating how they feel
not making a judgment of you. If they have said hurtful things, this is something to talk about later when everyone is calm, not when they are escalated.
Meet your Own Needs
I’m sure you have heard “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. I think most of us know this
but we just dismiss it because there is just too much to be done. But you can’t be the parent
you want to be if your needs aren’t being met. You have to make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, seeing friends and staying connected, doing things that you enjoy and whatever else you need to do to make sure you are okay. Now I know when you have little children it is hard to make time. But life has seasons. You make not be able to do an art class or things that take you away for long periods, but you can try and meet the basics.
In the Moment
Everything that I have written about so far are things that we do ahead of time. They are the
ground work but they won’t stop the urge to yell in the moment. If yelling has been your first
response, it still will be. We have to retrain ourselves to do things differently and this won’t
happen instantly. So don’t be too hard on yourself in the process, it takes time. It will take a
conscious effort to stop right when you are triggered. In that moment you can say to your
children, “I can feel that I’m getting angry and I don’t want to yell so I’m going to take a
break till I can speak calmly”. There is nothing wrong with putting yourself in a “time out” if
you need it. In fact it is a great way to model to your kids that we all need to take time to
calm. If you do start yelling, try and stop in the middle, take a breath and start again. Say, “I
need a do-over”, “I don’t want to yell so I’m going to try again”. This is also an amazing way
to demonstrate to our children that we can all struggle with emotions, but we can learn to
If you find that you and your child are butting heads regularly over the same issue, then you
need to work through it together. You need to own your part and apologise where you need
to. This will actually help your relationship so it’s not such a battle. Try and sit down with
your child when you are both calm and just simply say things aren't working. Have them try
and come up with ideas of what else could happen. If the ideas aren't what you think will
work, then talk through what would happen if we did that. Offer suggestions but be willing to listen if they have a problem with that. You may have to bend a bit. Remember having them obey you without question is not a win, they will only feel controlled and want to rebel.
Having them come up with ideas that you can both agree on means they are more likely to
comply, but also they will feel valued.
Changing the habit of yelling takes practice and patience. It takes some inward thinking and
challenging our beliefs. But like anything, the more we practice the easier it will get. The
important thing is to not be too hard on yourself, we are all human, and it is going to happen. Just as long as we are recognising it for what it really is and repairing the relationships when we need to.