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Yelling at children is neither healthy for them nor constructive for you. But I’m guessing you already know that, and it’s what brought you here. All parents lose their temper from time to time, and we’ve all yelled at kids before. If there’s one thing children excel at, it’s testing our patience. But if you find that you’re yelling at kids far too frequently, it’s time to make some changes.

Why yelling at kids is counterproductive

Yelling and losing your temper isn’t just bad for children, it’s counterproductive to your goals as a parent:

1. Yelling let’s kids know you’ve lost control, which undermines your authority as a parent. Kids are more likely to respect you and have faith in your guidance when you’re calm, reasonable, and in control. Losing your temper sends the opposite message.

2. It’s likely to trigger an equally hostile response from children. Emotions are contagious, and we feed off each other’s feelings. Just consider how easily arguments start and escalate. For a natural experiment, try walking up to someone on the street and yelling, “What’s wrong with you? What the heck are you doing, you worthless incompetent person”? Would you expect them to turn around and say, “Why thank you, sir, for pointing out the errors in my ways. I shall surely reflect on my behavior”? Or are they more likely to respond to your hostility with anger and hostility of their own? Kids are no different. Even if their diminutive nature keeps them from +immediately+ responding in kind, hostility directed at them provokes hostile feelings in return. So the more you yell and lose your temper, the more likely it is that children will act out, which only brings more opportunities to yell, feeding a vicious cycle.

3. It models poor behavior. Parents who yell and easily lose their temper have kids who do the same.

4. When you make a habit of yelling at kids, children start to tune you out. Your words have less impact. It’s similar to the story of the boy who cried wolf: When you’re routinely over-animated, people are more prone to disregard your antics and dismiss your words and opinions.

Why parents yell or lose their temper: The common causes

There are many reasons parents wind up losing their temper and yelling at children:

1) Stress
Stress makes us all more volatile, short on patience and quick to lose our temper. So if you’re under a lot of stress, your fuse is going to be shorter and you’re more likely to blow your top. If this is the case, it’s important to find ways to either lower stress or learn how to manage it better.

2) Frustration
There are two things children provide in abundance: Love and frustration. When frustrated, people tend to become more frantic and escalate the volume of their voice. So when you’re frustrated because the children aren’t listening, or your discipline doesn’t seem to be working, or things in general aren’t going right, it’s easy to lose control of your temper.

3. Rushed, hectic schedules or a lack of time
Parents are far more likely to yell when they’re in a hurry and short on time. Kids also become crankier and less cooperative when they’re feeling rushed. This means more behavioral problems that in turn lead to more opportunities for parents to yell. If you find a lot of your yelling comes during transitions or at times when you’re trying to get kids ready and out the door, you’ll want to look at finding better ways of managing these periods.

4) Lofty expectations
When your expectations for how children should act are unrealistic, it’s easy to lose your temper. The higher your expectations, the easier it is for children to disappoint them, and the quicker you’ll be to react when they do.

5) Misguided strategies
Some parents yell as a parenting strategy, because they think it will better get their point across or get kids to listen (it doesn’t). So they yell and make a fuss in an attempt to better convey their message. While this may work a time or two, it quickly loses its impact, and parents get stuck in a pattern of yelling, while kids get better at tuning them out.

6) Delayed reaction parenting
One of the most common triggers for yelling is a pattern I refer to as delayed fuse parenting: we let things go, allowing little infractions to pass by unchecked because it seems easier than the hassle of addressing them. These annoyances stack up, allowing the stress to build little by little, until it reaches a critical threshold, at which point we explode and lose our temper.

How To stop losing your temper with kids

The first step in tackling this problem is to better understand the various triggers that cause you to lose your temper. To that end, get a sheet of paper or a notebook, and take a moment to think back on all the times you’ve yelled at your children in recent memory. Record each instance you remember and what it was about, along with anything else you can remember about that experience, such as time of day, circumstance, what you were doing or thinking at the time, and so forth. It also helps to continue this journaling in a forward fashion for a week or two, recording all new incidents that occur shortly after they happen.

Once you have your data, sit down to analyze it, asking yourself the following questions:

1. Is there a common theme to these episodes? A consistent time of the day they occur? A certain type of behavior that tends to set you off?

2. Is there a way you could adjust the environment to alleviate this friction?

3. Are these incidents partially caused by other stress in your life?

4. Are these conflicts related to certain pet peeves? If so, have you taken the time to adequately explain to your kids what these are and why you find them so upsetting?

Adjusting your goals and expectations

Anger is primarily a response to others interfering with our goals and expectations. You come home after a long day’s work and just want to have a quiet evening to relax, while your kids, having been cooped up after a long day sitting in school, have other plans. They decide that now’s the perfect time to play pre-teen rock star with that drum set Uncle John so rudely got them for their birthday. (Note to self: Kick Uncle John in the shins the next time I see him.)

Or maybe you want your kids to act like perfect little angels so that they’ll make a good impression in front of others. People will marvel at how well-behaved your children are, and will heap praise upon your parenting skills. The heavens will open up, and God himself will clap his hands and give you a “best parent ever” trophy (which we all should have happen at least once in our life). Having this lofty expectation in your mind, when your kids act up or do something–I don’t know, childlike–you then get much angrier than you should be in response to this provocation.

The road to parenting hell is paved with unrealistic expectations. Quite often the key to finding more patience is as simple as adjusting your expectations so that they’re more aligned with reality. With this in mind, here are some adjustments to both attitude and behavior that will help bring you and your kids into a more peaceful existence:

  • Are you expecting too much from your child? Do your expectations leave room for them to be kids, or do you expect a perfectly behaved China doll all the time? If the latter is true, how could you allow them more breathing room?

  • Do your goals conflict with your children’s goals? If so, in what way? What could be done to reduce these tensions?

  • Could you tweak your schedule or adjust your habits to eliminate some of this friction? Discord often arises because children are hungry, in need of attention, or needing to blow off steam. Letting them cuddle with you or sit in the room while you work, or arranging some rowdy time with them at certain hours of the day, may eliminate many of the other problems you’re having.

  • Try reversing your expectations: Rather than expecting kids to be perfect angels, anticipate them being rowdy, obnoxious children. It may be a silly mind trick, but it really can change your psychology. When they do act calm and well-behaved, it’s a pleasant surprise, and when they act like obnoxious kids, it seems like less of a disaster.

Keeping your composure as a parent

Parenting can be stressful, and stress leads to the tendency to lose one’s temper. But much of this stress is a matter of perspective. Here are some mental adjustments that will help you keep your composure:

1. Re-interpreting your child’s behavior

There’s a tendency for parents to take their child’s misbehavior as a personal affront, and this leads to a shorter temper. Rather than recognizing “bad” behavior as an unintended accident and the consequence of conflicting goals, we view misbehavior as a slap in the face. We want kids to be doing something, they’re not dong it, and this conjures up an assortment of ideas we may not even be aware of: those kids don’t respect me, they hate me, I slave away for them and they couldn’t care less about my feelings, and so forth. The anger we feel typically has more to do with these unconscious ego-threatening feelings than what is actually unfolding around us.

Yet the truth is that kids are never “bad.” They’re just doing what kids are programmed to do. Some of these things just happen to conflict with our own goals at times. I’ve never known a child to harbor sinister motives, not even the most seriously disturbed. They’re merely trying their best to live their life, just like you are.

A lot of what irks adults is actually healthy and productive from the perspective of child development. We want our kids to be strong, independent thinkers. We just don’t like when they exhibit this trait in a way that challenges us. We want our kids to be competent and develop their skills. Then we get upset at all the accidents and mishaps that inevitably come with developing these skills. Even something like lying is an important social skill that must be developed. We just don’t like when children lie to us or use this skill in immoral ways.

If you can learn to stop taking such affronts so personally, it will help you find more patience. So whenever you find your temper heating up, try repeating some of the following phrases to yourself:

  • My kids are not provoking me intentionally

  • Their goal is not to make me angry

  • The things they’re doing are good for them to do, they just happen to be irritating me right now.

  • My kids just want to have a rewarding, enjoyable day, just like I do.

  • My kids are not being bad, our goals are just conflicting.

2. Approach the situation with humor

Pretend this were a sitcom and you were watching events unfold on a screen. How would that change your outlook on the situation? Life with kids +is+ a sitcom. We just don’t realize this because we’re situationed in the middle of the play, taking ourselves way too seriously. If you can take a step back and look at things from a third person point of view, it can completely alter your perspective.

So the next time you find yourself growing irritated with something your kids are doing, imagine yourself in the middle of a sitcom, complete with laugh tracks or a studio audience. Imagine them busting into laughter as a child cracks a wise remark that flusters you. It will lower your stress level and help you find a lot more patience.


How To Stop Yelling & Losing Your Temper

1. Don’t let things escalate

Parents often fall into a pattern of ignoring irksome behavior at first. They let things slide, often because they seem like ‘little’ things, or because they hope the issue might resolve itself on its own. Others are reluctant to intervene out of fear that this might blow up into a bigger argument. So they bite their tongue and let things go. The stress and frustration progressively builds until they can tolerate it no longer, at which point they explode in a rage that’s disproportionate to the situation, since it contains the accumulation of all these smaller things.

Children, however, see this rage as coming out of nowhere. From their perspective, it looks like this: tolerant, tolerant, tolerant, furious! This makes them liable to react in antisocial ways, since they don’t understand why you’re so upset with them all of a sudden.

To stay out of this pattern, talk to kids at the first sign of trouble, letting them know how this behavior is affecting you. Just don’t come at them like a bulldozer in doing so. Rather than telling them how wrong they are being, explain the conflict this behavior is creating, and then look for a solution together. You might be surprised at the cooperation you get when you approach them in a more cooperative way.

2. Don’t yell, explain

We tend to yell whenever we want to get our point across, increasing the volume and veracity of our statements rather than better explaining our position. In doing so, we mistakenly assume that others have more insight into our thought processes than they actually do. Which is why we instead get frustrated and escalate the intensity of our voices, saying the same thing louder.

You’re liable to get a lot more cooperation explaining your feelings rather than screaming them louder. So if the kids are making excessive noise, rather than yelling, “Stop that bloody racket right now!” call them close and better explain what it is that’s bothering you: “It’s been a long and frustrating day, and all that noise is hurting my head. I really need you kids to keep your voices down so that Daddy’s headache can go away.” Or ” I’ve asked you already to stop what you’re doing, and when you keep it up it makes me feel like you don’t respect me, which makes me angry and inclined to be forceful. So let me explain why this behavior is a problem, and you can tell me how we’re going to fix it.”

Once again, you’re liable to be amazed at how well kids respond when you take a little more time to explain your position. If kids aren’t listening or are behaving in a problematic way, what they need isn’t more yelling, which only provokes a hostile response in return. What they need is a better understanding of how this behavior is impacting others and why it’s such problem. They need a better understanding of the conflict between you, not a reiteration of your displeasure in a louder voice.

3. Join them

When your kids are doing something that irks you, rather than telling yourself how annoying or bad your kids are behaving, try joining them instead. Seriously. Are they being rambunctious? Go be rambunctious with them. Being loud? Go be loud with them. It’s a simple way of turning a potential argument into a potential bonding experience.

You may join them and find that what you were stressing about isn’t all that bad after all, now that you’re no longer on the outside looking in. Once you join them, you can redirect their activities toward something more appropriate. If you do need them to stop what they’re doing, taking that extra couple of minutes to participate and join up with them may put them into a much more pliable mood.

4. Exercise together

If stress is what leads to yelling, your stress needs an outlet that isn’t your kids. Physical activity is an excellent way to counter the fight-or-flight mode of heightened anxiety that stress puts you under. Since much of the behavior that drives us mad involves kids acting rambunctious, they could use some physical activity too. So rather than butting heads, create an impromptu exercise regime together. Do jumping jacks, then walk around the room in circles. Punch your fist. Walk outside and yell at a tree before hopping up and down. If you make it fun, both of you will enjoy it. Then 5 minutes later, after you’ve had a chance to release this pent up tension, you’ll be a much calmer, more effective parent.

5. Remove yourself from the situation

If you’re in a position to remove yourself from the situation, do so. Take a walk. Go read outside instead. Put on headphones with nature sounds or other calming music. Parents often stubbornly ram their head against a wall when they could just as easily remove themselves and eliminate the problem they’re having.

6. Find alternate means of release

Yelling is a way of releasing emotion. So whenever you find yourself feeling flustered, take a moment to release this emotion in other ways. Scream into a pillow. Do some pushups. Listen to music.

Like all parenting problems, yelling and losing your temper is a habit that becomes self-reinforcing. The more you do it, the more it feeds these patterns of frustration that lead to more yelling. So if you can find a way to reduce the frequency of these incidents, it will help you break the cycle.

If you’re able to remove yourself from the situation in one instance, join them in another, and better explain sometime else, that’s three less incidents of blowing up at them. Which means 3 less times your blood is boiling, and 3 less times you’re butting heads with children and making them feel bad, which also leads to bad behavior. If you can find a way to reverse this cycle and get the ball rolling in the other direction, positive interaction also becomes self-reinforcing, building upon itself and leading to much less stress for everyone.

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