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Save your voice, and your kids

May 4, 2019

As a parent witnesses his 4-year-old run out the front door toward the street, a truck quickly approaches the street in front of the home. The parent races quickly and yells “STOP!” The child hears the voice of their parent and can stop before stepping into the path of the truck. Scary right? With this type of example there is good reason to raise our voice to prevent the harm of a child. But yelling can have a totally different impact on children when it is used out of anger.

It might feel “normal” to yell at children when they don’t do as they are told, or when a child is throwing a tantrum. But yelling out of anger has a lot of negative outcomes for relationships and individuals. The following are reasons to move away from yelling at children.

When a child is yelled at, their fight or flight response kicks in, and they learn to fear. Some parents might think this is a good thing, but the truth is, fear is not the same thing as respect, and respect from a child can’t be earned through fear. And fear does not build trust. This also results in the child only responding to the yelling and not so well to discussions that are calm and rational.

It is not unusual for parents to get into what’s called a power struggle. That is, they want their children to know they are the ones with the power, the ones in control. As much as we want to sometimes, we can’t control the decisions children make. And yelling at children conveys the message that the parent has power and the child does not. In turn, it also sends the message that the child is not worth talking to in any other way.

If you’re yelling at your children frequently for the same reasons, maybe it’s time to realize that it’s not really working to change their behavior. And the truth is, it won’t.

If you are trying to identify ways to fix a problem or want your child to learn how to navigate solving an issue, yelling is not going to help, it will frustrate the situation.

Ever hear of negative attention? That’s what yelling can do with a child. If the child is struggling with defiance, they will yearn for any attention, even the attention yelling provides. The defiant child may then translate the yelling into justification to yell at others.

This might cycle back to the parent wanting to yell at the child when they get into trouble for it, which in turn creates a nasty cycle in which the parent eventually loses their voice from yelling too much and the child only feels resentment toward the parent.

It’s important to remember that children are like sponges, they soak up what they see and hear. If we are setting an example to children to yell, they will follow in those footsteps. And yelling with anger only creates tension, anxiety and stress on both parties.

Believe it or not, there are alternatives to yelling at kids or anyone else for that matter. Think of how you want your kids to communicate with you, and then emulate the positive example to them.

Parenting can be frustrating, and this can be normal. Children do not learn the same as adults, and so we need to practice patience. Changing a habit with anger and stopping yelling will take time and practice. If you feel that you need additional help in controlling your anger, please reach out to a local behavioral health provider.

Daniel Park with Health West Inc. is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), native to Idaho, and has worked in mental health for over 10 years. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Boise State University.

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