How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids
Has yelling has become the new spanking? Many of us moms have taken physical punishment out of our discipline toolbox, but we’ve replaced it with yelling.
To me it makes sense that because we’ve emptied our discipline toolbox we might resort to yelling in moments of exasperation with our children. Many of us were never shown gentler ways to discipline our children. Since we only know how to discipline our kiddos with the same tactics our own parents used we’re simply unprepared to parent any other way.
Don’t be disheartened, mama. Plenty of resources exist now to help you learn how to stop yelling at your kids. I think one of the most valuable resources is older moms, like me, who’ve successfully stopped yelling at their kids.
Read on for my story and for my best advice on how to stop yelling at your kids.
But first, pin this article for later. Like most of my parenting articles, it’s a long one.
My Struggle with Yelling at My Kids
I became a mother at the young age of twenty-two. While I have no regrets about starting my family at a young age I do wish I’d had done a little more research on positive discipline before becoming a mom of three kids in four-and-a-half years.
No Spanking. Now What?
I knew before I had children that spanking wouldn’t be a part of my discipline strategy. I just didn’t bother to think about what my discipline strategy would be instead. Maybe I planned to hug my children into good behavior? Given my hippie state of mind at that age, that’s probably pretty close to what my ideas about discipline amounted to.
Suddenly I found myself parenting three little boys, who sometimes created so much noise that they’d drown out a siren before hitting their max volume potential. And, my husband worked eighty hours a week, but we still had financial stress. My nutrition was poor and my self-esteem was worse. And a thousand other excuses that explain my exasperation but don’t actually excuse my behavior.
All I know is that I caught myself yelling at my children so much that I felt ashamed. Sometimes I yelled at them in an attempt to force them to do what I wanted – like move faster when getting ready. Sometimes I yelled because I was simply emotionally reactive or tired of seemingly constantly correcting misbehavior.
When other parents might smack their child on the bottom to gain compliance I was raising my voice instead. I felt horrible every single time I yelled. There was never a time when I felt afterward that the situation had actually warranted yelling. I just didn’t know what to do instead.
Changing My Yelling Ways
When I realized what I was doing and how ineffective it was, I set out to stop yelling at my children. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually I became the gentle, but firm disciplinarian my children needed.
Here are my eleven best tips for how to stop yelling at your kids. I’ve included resources with the steps for further reading and even more great tips.
How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids
To stop yelling at your kids you there are two overarching things you need to tackle: Changing your mindset and having handy discipline tactics to use instead of yelling.
It’s important to work on your mindset first.
How to Change Your Mindset to Stop Yelling at Your Kids
Remember How It Felt – Increase Your Empathy for Yourself and Your Child
Empathy plays a crucial role when it comes to changing your discipline tactics from negative to positive. If you currently yell at your children, you probably had a model for this behavior in one or both of your parents. It’s likely that other authority figures in your life were ‘yellers’, too. (Teachers, coaches, relatives, etc).
Remember how it felt when you were yelled at. If you were yelled at a lot, you may have wall up that prevents you from feeling enough empathy toward yourself and your children. You may even think (in the moment) that they deserved to be yelled at, but ultimately you know they don’t deserve it. That’s why it bothers you.
You didn’t deserve to be yelled at either. Remember how it feels to be smaller than the person who is yelling at you.
Do some ‘inner child’ work to heal yourself, which will make you a better mother to your children.
Mindfulness is an important step to squashing your yelling habit. For a few days, watch yourself closely, but in a detached manner. When your child misbehaves, notice how you feel. I bet you’ll find that your tendency to yell is often a knee-jerk, emotional reaction.
If you want to stop yelling at your kids, you have to first know your triggers and understand when you are more likely to yell. Maybe a discipline situation causes you to yell one day but not on a different day. What triggers a harsh response sometimes but not others? Likely culprits are stress, illness, hunger, tiredness, hormonal issues, or mental health struggles.
Once you become mindful of your triggers you can work on your response to situations in which you usually yell. Spend a week or so observing yourself and write down your triggers and how you were feeling when you wanted to yell at your kids.
Squelch Emotional Reactivity
There’s a good chance that if you grew up in a household where physical punishment was acceptable, you were spanked when your parents had an emotional reaction to something you did.
What surprised me most about dealing with my children’s misbehavior in the preschool years wasn’t how much they misbehaved but how emotionally reactive I was to their misbehavior. While my first impulse wasn’t to use physical punishment, I’d easily to raise my voice to show just how serious I was.
If you take the emotion out of the situation and focus on solutions instead, yelling is automatically extinguished.
For example, if your child breaks a window instead of becoming emotional (angry) while you think about the expense and repair time involved, focus on the fact that there is a solution to the problem. Calmly explain your child’s responsibility in the solution – whether they will use their allowance to pay for the repair or if they won’t be allowed to play ball in that area of the yard or whatever other logical consequence you choose.
Your job as a parent is to discipline (read: teach) your child. Your job isn’t to heap on punishment to make your child feel pain. Keeping your emotional reactivity to a minimum requires you to be emotionally mature, but it will set a wonderful example for your children of how to handle tough situations with a calm head.
Tell Your Children How You Feel
Until you’re able to master the last tip try telling your children how you feel when they misbehave. You’re responsible for your own feelings, so you have to word them in a way that doesn’t put blame on your child. The goal is to help your children see how their actions affect others.
For example, if your children fight with one another let them know that when they fight you feel frustrated or annoyed. Don’t say, “You make me frustrated when you fight!” Instead say, “I feel frustrated when you fight!” Take responsibility for your emotions, but explain to them how you feel.
This helps your children both develop empathy and learn to own their emotions. The ability to do both of those things makes for an emotionally healthy adult.
Did you know when your child engages in non-dangerous misbehavior you don’t always have to deal with it immediately?
Let me explain.
Let’s say your child refuses to clean his room. If you’re angered to the point of yelling at him, it’s okay to walk away. Let him know you’re angry and need a minute to cool off before continuing the discussion.
I’ve done this very thing with my sons and sometimes I’ve come back to finish dealing with the situation to find their room cleaned. The seriousness in my voice – even at a low, quiet tone – was enough to let my kiddos know I meant business.
Other times I’ve come back to the situation to explain why the task must be done or the behavior must be stopped and because I was non-emotional about it, my child wasn’t defensive and was able to fully cooperate.
If you’re at a stalemate in an otherwise safe situation, walk away for a bit. Gather your calm before going back to discipline your child. You’ll be surprised how effective your refusal to engage negatively can be.
Let Your Children Help You
One of the tips I gave in my guide for how to start gentle parenting was that I told my children that it’s not okay for mommy to yell at them. I asked them to tell me to stop if I yelled at them.
Asking your kids to tell you to stop yelling teaches them that parents can make mistakes and that, most importantly, they don’t deserve to be yelled at and they don’t have to accept it.
Now, it wasn’t often that my children actually told me to stop – a yelling parent is an intimidating parent – but every once in a while they’d meekly remind me that I wasn’t supposed to yell.
Even as tweens my boys asked me to calm down and offered a hug if they saw me teetering on the verge of raising my voice toward one of their brothers. I appreciated their bold protectiveness of their brothers and their way of showing us all that a kind word can turn away wrath.
Let Your Partner Help You
Ask your partner to stop you if you yell at your children. This isn’t the same as undermining your discipline. Instead,by stepping in, they help relieve a tense situation and become a calming presence. If your partner explains to your child what needs to be done (or not done) in a calm manner, then your child will get more true discipline from your partner in that moment than your child will get from you.
If you and your spouse aren’t on the same page about discipline check out my article My Husband and I Disagree on Discipline.
Fill Your Discipline Toolbox with Positive Parenting Strategies
Now that you’ve improved yourself it’s time learn some positive discipline strategies to use in those moments when you’re tempted to yell.
If you’ve taken physical punishment out of your discipline toolbox and plan to removing yelling as well, it’s crucial that you have other methods of getting through to your children. Here are a few of the things I’ve used over the years to replace harsh parenting practices.
Use a Whistle
When my boys were little and their volume was not, I found myself yelling over them when they squabbled. I looked crazy and they learned nothing. Since I felt like a referee, I bought a whistle and used it to get their attention instead.
I only used it about three times when merely raising the whistle to my mouth would get their attention.
Raise Your Hand
When I can’t get a word in edgewise with a whiny, complaining, or argumentative child, I simply raise my hand and don’t speak until they’re finished. Then I ask that they do the same while I say what I need to say. The conversation stays civil instead of ramping up in intensity.
This is similar to raising your hand, only here you aren’t waiting to speak. You are done speaking. This is useful when your child is talking back or continuing to beg you for something you’ve already said no to. When they realize you aren’t going to continue to negotiate or argue with them, they’ll likely stomp away or hurl a lovely, “I hate you!” your way. Let it go, mama! Let it go.
While playful parenting isn’t my default style, it is very useful for diffusing intense situations. If you feel like yelling, “You guys are driving me crazy!” change your accent and give them a dramatic British version of the same sentence. (And if you’re British, throw them a Californian “OMG, you guys!”)
Also, singing your requests helps lighten the mood while getting their attention. When it’s time to clean up or get ready to go, turn it into a silly song that prompts your children to move faster just to get you to stop. One caveat on this one, though – if your child has become truly annoyed with your silliness, don’t keep heaping it on. This only teaches them to be the bully who says to others, “What? I was only kidding! You’re too sensitive!”. Nobody likes that person.
Write it Down
When your kids won’t listen to you, start writing! Request that your children submit their complaints, demands, and rebuttals in writing. This helps them skip the whining and get to the point because most kids don’t want to write that much.
Take It One Hour At A Time
Remember when you first try to stop yelling at your children you will fail. You will probably fail daily. That’s why it’s important to take it one hour at a time. Congratulate yourself for every hour you get through without yelling at your children. Take the beginning of each new hour as a fresh start.
Resources for Positive Discipline
For more information on gentle parenting and positive discipline check out these articles and books.