Yelling at your kids just makes you a “poster adult” for temper tantrums. Doing this unfortunately also gives your kids the message that you are not in control. Defiant children and teens especially already believe that they are equal or above adults in authority. The last thing you want to do is fuel this perception. It is also crucial to understand that kids feel unsafe when they perceive that their parents have no control.
In my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, I describe this messy, coercive cycle: When you yell your children will likely either yell back or act out in some other negative way. As a result, you yell more. Then, they yell louder or act out further. Fighting just ensues and nothing gets resolved. Yelling is obviously counter-productive and can easily become a downward spiral.
Bearing this in mind, so many parents still continue to yell. Many parents end up in my office expressing that they feel frustrated and upset after they yell. They also share feelings of guilt over the way they handled challenging situations. They say they will work harder not to yell, but they realize that working harder is not the same as working smarter. Fortunately, there is a way out of this messy, emotionally laden power struggle:
Tune in to the situation - Reflect about what is causing you to yell at your kids in the first place. Is it fighting? Are they leaving their toys all over the house? What is stressing you out? Identify it and evaluate what can be done to make the situation less stressful.
Remain mindful – Keep awareness that yelling itself is a loss of emotional control, regardless of the underlying intended message. Yelling teaches children to release their emotions in similar outbursts.
Promise yourself to stop yelling - I know the idea of making a promise to yourself to stop yelling may sound overly simple and possibly fruitless. If, however, you really commit to staying mindful of your goal to not yell, you will more likely succeed. Changing behaviors all begins with making yourself accountable with firm, positive intentions.
Speak quietly - It may sound outrageously counter-intutive, but when you get upset, speak quietly. By speaking in calm tones, children have no choice but to stop and pay close attention to what you're saying. You remain calm, the child remains calm, and everyone learns how to listen to one another.
Manage your expectations - If you don't want to yell, make it easier not to do so. Working smarter really does go a lot further than just trying harder. So if you're always yelling at the kids to put their toys away, put a limit on how many they can have out. Make it easier to not yell and you'll reduce the amount you do.
Don’t take it all so personally - If you stop and think about it, most of the time you yell at your child, it’s because you are taking her behaviors too personally. Realize that your child, even if trying to provoke you, is really behaving in this manner because of her own struggles, not yours. Remembering this will help you not get so frustrated and your risk of yelling will be much lower.
Take a time out - When all else fails, do what you can to walk away from an exasperating situation. In the case of overheating emotions, it makes sense to go slower versus faster. When your kids are driving you nuts and you feel you're about to lose it, step outside, phone the babysitter, or just even take some deep breaths.
Stop comparing and be grateful - Comparing yourself to other parents or your child to others just puts you on the expressway to misery. Keep an attitude of gratitude and you will feel more content and have more self-control. Remember that there are many parents out there with children who are not as heathy or as fortunate as yours and would love to trade places with you--without any yelling or protest.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal and executive coach, and motivational speaker in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, National Public Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child and Liking The Child You Love.
You can also follow Dr. Jeff on Twitter.