Raising children is hard work. Even though no one ever told you that it’d be easy, many of us are remarkably surprised by precisely how hard child rearing is! Mistakes are common occurrences in every avenue of life, and parenting is no exception. We all lose our tempers and those of us who are more vocally inclined can tend to yell. However, a 2014 study in The Journal of Child Development shows that households with regular instances of shouting tend to result in children with lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression! (1, 2, 3)
The Lifetime Scars Of Emotional Abuse
While some parents might think that only physical abuse is capable of scarring their child, research is proving otherwise! Not only is yelling entirely unproductive as a discipline technique, but it’s also capable of causing harm. Yelling has been shown to result in similar consequences as physical punishment on children, such as an increase in anxiety levels, stress, and depression, as well as an increase in other behavioral issues. (1, 2)
No matter how loud we make our voices or how intimidating that ends up sounding, yelling doesn’t make you look authoritative and it rarely results in any positive progress. In fact, yelling only makes you appear out of control and weak to your kids, generally leading to a worsening of the situation. And let’s be honest: if you are yelling, then you are most likely out of control and weak since yelling is a response most often done by a person who doesn’t know what else they can do. By screaming at your children as a correction technique won’t allow you to be productive in punishment. Instead, you are setting them up to have lower self-esteem, a higher risk of depression, and possibly an increase in behavioral problems, all the while teaching them to fully expect to be yelled at when they’re older and that it’s okay to yell at other people. None of these things are desirable outcomes. (1, 2)
How Do I Stop Yelling And What Do I Do Instead?
But even with that being said, many parents can still have an incredibly difficult time getting through their day without yelling at or around their children. This brings up the questions: how do I stop yelling and what do I do instead? According to Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale, the simple knowledge that yelling is bad all on its own won’t help. “If the goal of the parent is catharsis, I want to get this out of my system and show you how mad I am, well, yelling is probably perfect,” Dr. Kazdin explained. “If the goal here is to change something in the child or develop a positive habit in the child, yelling is not the way to do that.” And according to Kazin, there are other strategies that don’t involve screaming to do this. (1, 2)
While Kazdin makes it clear that there are times when raising your voice at your child is necessary – such as them running into traffic, getting into a fight, if they’re far and cannot hear you otherwise, etc. – most instances of yelling are completely unnecessary. So the simplest, most straightforward strategy to replace yelling as a punishment is a technique of positive/negative reinforcement. Instead of only yelling at your child when they do something wrong, focus on rewarding them when they do something right: Smile at them, praise them and encourage their good behavior. And when they do something unwanted, focus on maintaining a calm, coherent conversation with them where you explain why their actions were wrong. (1, 2)
Think about times you’ve been yelled at or when you’ve yelled at your child. Do any of them result in any sort of progress? Have you ever been yelled at and left feeling more inclined to do what that person wanted? Have you ever yelled at your child and felt good about it afterward? As a punishment or correction technique, yelling is quite useless so it’s important to develop other means of communication to help your child develop properly, all the while protecting their physical, mental, and emotional health. Positive/negative reinforcement will not only help you guide your child better, but it will help them understand the difference between what is good and bad. (1, 2)