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 otherwise react such as becoming sarcastic or withdrawing. They say they will work harder not to yell, but they realize that working harder is not the same as working smarter.
Yelling at your kids just makes you a “poster adult” for temper tantrums. Yet, so many parents still continue to yell. 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. Fortunately, there is a way out of this messy, emotionally laden power struggle.
Here is one strategy that you can quickly use to stop yelling: The next time you feel like you want to yell, get some imaginary tape and fasten yourself to the ceiling. By observing how your child and you are interacting you will have more control to make a better choice. I recall some years ago, one of my own children really giving me the business. I felt angry and hurt and wanted to yell. Instead, I imagined myself taped to the ceiling and was able to see both her perspective (despite what felt like her abrasive delivery) and my own reactivity, which would have just created more mutual frustration and anger.
It may help to first take a few centering breaths to keep yourself calm, Once you are calm, you can truly rise above a fruitless power struggle with your child by imagining that you are observing from above. Give it a try and you will hopefully yell much less.
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.