Why We Need to Yell Less and Connect More With Our Kids

Life

“Come back here!” she screamed sending shivers down my spine as my son jumped on the spot. He was alarmed, perhaps even a little scared.

We turned back to see what had happened. I expected to see some kind of emergency. Maybe the little boy was in danger. Perhaps he was running in front of a car.

But I couldn’t see any evidence of a crisis. All he appeared to be doing was walking a few steps ahead of his mother. A second ear-piercing scream proved to be too much for my son as he begged me to pick him up for “big huggies”.

As we wandered away to go on an afternoon hike my three-year-old imitated what he’d witnessed, trying to process and rationalize the scene. He lowered his voice and repeated “Come back here!” while asking me to explain why “his mummy” was being “mean”.

I didn’t know what to say.

Children see things as they are. They’re honest and see no reason to sugar coat the truth.

It suddenly dawned on me that I’ve never yelled at my son like that and we don’t use time outs, punishments, threats or rewards. So, from his perspective, the mother’s reaction was foreign and scary. Simple as that.

I’m the first to admit that what we saw was a momentary glimpse of another mother’s day. Perhaps she’d had a difficult morning and this was the final straw. After all, parenting pushes us to our limits and sometimes we snap. I get it. I’m not immune to those dark moments we find ourselves in when we’re sleep deprived, time poor and overwhelmed by the demands of modern life.

But, lately I’ve noticed this isn’t an isolated incident. As physical punishment has become socially unacceptable (and illegal in many countries), therapists are concerned that verbal discipline, including yelling, is on the rise and having detrimental effects on our children’s mental and emotional health.

Yet, when the only tools we have in our parenting toolbox are based on coercion we find ourselves in a lose-lose predicament when things go wrong. It’s an authoritarian approach that mistakenly views behavior as a problem to fix.

There is a BETTER way. A more peaceful, proactive and positive approach to parenting.

So, here are eight reasons we need to yell less and connect more with our kids.

1. BECAUSE KIDS CAN’T LEARN WHEN WE YELL 

Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids explains that when we’re yelled at, regardless of our age, we enter a fight, flight or freeze mode. In that state the ability to learn and absorb information is lost.

I know exactly what she’s referring to. Whenever my husband and I have a heated argument I freeze. It frustrates him beyond belief but I quite literally lose the ability to process rational thoughts. I’ll concede an argument, not because I think I’m wrong, but because my need to restore connection outweighs everything else.

And kids are the same. Except they’re at a distinct disadvantage. They’re smaller. Less powerful. And they’re acutely aware that they rely on us for their survival. When an adult is yelling at them it’s terrifying.

They apologize because they’re scared. It’s understandable that we interpret their apologies as success, assuming they must be learning.

Unfortunately, it’s simply not true because when we’re yelling, learning is impossible. The reason children apologize is to make the yelling stop while learning that their parents aren’t on their team.

2. BECAUSE IT SABOTAGES YOUR STRONGEST PARENTING SUPERPOWER

When yelling becomes a regular occurrence it weakens the parent-child connection and when connection is lost parenting becomes a lot more difficult.  Connection is the only reason kids willingly give up what they want to do and instead do what we ask.

As Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting, says, ““The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.”

Yelling is one of the fastest routes to disconnection and any time I feel tempted to yell I remind myself how counterproductive it is, for this very reason.

We can’t “correct” our kids until we connect.

In the heat of the moment, always choose connection. Once the dust settles and both you and your child are calm, teaching can begin.

3. BECAUSE YELLING IS A DANGEROUS ADDICTION 

For most of us, yelling isn’t a conscious choice. It becomes a default reaction when we’re triggered. We come to believe that it is the only option; that we’re “yellers”. It becomes an addiction, an unhealthy habit and like any habit we can CHOOSE to break it.

I recently listened to an inspiring and practical interview with Sheila McCraith, author of Yell Less, Love More. Her journey began in January 2012, when her handyman caught her yelling at her four boys. Not only did she feel embarrassed, she also felt disappointed and ashamed that she’d become a “yelling mom”. She decided enough was enough and the next day, promised her boys that she would go 365 days straight without yelling. She actually went 520 Days straight without yelling! She spent a decade researching the topic of yelling and dedicated an entire book to it. If you’re struggling with yelling I highly recommend her book as well as her website, The Orange Rhino Challenge.

Any behaviour can be a sign of an unmet need and that holds true for ourselves as well as our kids. We yell, not because we want to be mean to our kids but because we’re struggling. We may have painful emotions from childhood that we weren’t given the permission or ability to cope with. Because when we feel good it’s easier to be kind to others. But when we feel bad about ourselves we snap at those closest to us.

Now is the time to break the cycle, be kind to ourselves, find a way to meet our own needs so that we are in a better position to cope when our tiny Zen masters trigger us – which is their job! Kids are supposed to test boundaries. And our role is to determine what those boundaries are and enforce them with loving kindness and empathy as we guide rather than dictate to our children.

4. BECAUSE CHILDREN AREN’T PRISONERS AND PARENTS AREN’T WARDENS 

In her book Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Won’t Work and What Will, Dr. Shefali Tsabury, Clinical Psychologist, candidly describes the conventional approach to discipline as a prisoner-warden mentality. It’s a vicious cycle in which parents create and enforce rules and children become dependent on parents to “make” them behave, which sabotages the development of self-discipline.

Surely, parents can’t be happy in this dictatorial role. Yet, we’re sold on the notion that this is what parenthood is.

Thankfully, there is a BETTER way. Because our children are NOT their behavior and we don’t have to buy into a broken and outdated system that is selling the illusion of control.

5. BECAUSE CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE 

As Dorothy Nolte famously said, “Children learn what they live.”

If children live with yelling, they’ll learn that yelling is a normal way to communicate. Dr. Markham also identifies that when we yell regularly it trains kids not to listen until we raise our voice.

Equally concerning is crying wolf effect: if yelling becomes normal, our kids won’t know when a raised voice means that we really do need their attention in the case of an emergency. 

6. BECAUSE EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT

Cultural beliefs suggest respect is a virtue that is earned; the implication being the older you are the more respect you deserve and vice versa.

But, I beg to differ.

Everyone, regardless of sex, age or race, deserves to be treated with respect. When it is freely given, it becomes ours to lose. We’re forced to take personal responsibility for our actions as they either solidify or diminish the respect others continue to have for us.

If you’re unsure if the words you’re about the speak to a child are respectful or not, pause and perform a mental check. Ask yourself if you would speak to a close friend the way you’re about to speak to your child. If the answer is no, take a deep breath and find new words.

7. BECAUSE YELLING IS REACTIVE AND POSITIVE PARENTING IS PROACTIVE 

I mentioned that we don’t practice conventional discipline techniques. Many people may assume that means I’m a passive parent. Lazy maybe. Or perhaps they’d assume I have a three-year-old who is out of control. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

As Rebecca Eanes, author of Positive Parenting says, “Being respectful to children, empathizing with them, listening when they speak and showing them kindness is not “coddling”, “spoiling” or treating them like “special snowflakes”. It’s just treating children like human beings.”

I have the same end goal as any other parent – to raise a little boy who treats others with respect. We’re just taking a different route. Connection is the unbelievably more powerful than coercion. And respectful parenting is proactive rather than reactive.

8. BECAUSE THE EXPERIENCE OF PARENTING CAN MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE

Dr. Shefali Tsabury, Clinical Psychologist and author of The Conscious Parent identifies that in order to be the best parents we can be, we need to address our own personal issues first.

“Every conflict in our present lives – whether with our children, spouse or other adults – is in some way a recreation of our childhood. Every relationship, every interaction is based on a blueprint from our own upbringing. In one sense, then, there are no adults in the room; we are all just children acting out. When it comes to parenting, we are in many ways children raising children.”

For me, parenting has been my single greatest catalyst for self-improvement; my son is a mirror reflecting an image that most of the time I like, but sometimes I don’t. As difficult and painful as it is at times, I’m trying to deal with my own emotions, past and present, rather than taking them out on him.

REPLACE YELLING WITH POSITIVE PARENTING SUPERPOWERS

Kids push our buttons and sometimes its difficult not to yell and claim the immediate short term result coercion produces. But, it always comes at a price.

Yet, even when we understand why yelling is destructive, the demands of parenthood can get the better of us. We all struggle when we’re pushed to our limits. Burning out and a lack of self care are genuine issues that we need to take seriously as parents, while reminding ourselves that none of us are perfect. This isn’t about striving for perfection, but rather choosing to create more loving moments by yelling less. And that starts with self compassion.

If you’re struggling and finding yourself snapping at your children do whatever you can to care for yourself first – order takeout for dinner, hire a cleaner, meditate, ask a friend to babysit, take a walk or a long bath, confide in a friend, speak to a counsellor or get more sleep. And instead of criticizing yourself, be your own best friend, look forward instead of back and give yourself some grace.

Let’s seize the opportunity to grow together and evolve into the best versions of ourselves, because when we accept the honour of being our children’s role models and lead by example we can’t help but feel elevated and empowered as we guide rather than dictate to our children.

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COMMENTS
  • April 26, 2017
    Hannah

    I never thought I would tell at my children. That was some thing I had intentionally thought about before having children because my dad did it and it was not healthy. I was really calm and great when I had one child, but once I had a second and he was a toddler along with a 4 year old I started yelling. I felt overwhelmed and out numbered. Whenever I feel out of control I get so stressed that I can’t control myself very well. Thanks for the info and tools.

    • April 26, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much for your comment Hannah and I can totally empathize – I only have one child at the moment and that pushes me to my limits at times so you’re doing amazing with two little kids. Its so hard that there is that subconscious trigger there. Growing up my parents didn’t yell much at all – no family is perfect, we had our share of issues but this is one thing that I didn’t have to deal with too much as a kid so I feel for you. Being conscious of it I am sure will help. I’ve had a few people tell me recently about neurolinguistic programming (NLP) as a powerful way to rewrite some of these types of subconscious programmes and I’m going to give it a go myself – just thought I’d mention it. Thanks again for the comment and for sharing your story xx

  • April 26, 2017
    Mom of 2

    Love your blogs. I had a chuckle with this one because I felt the exact same way when I had just one child. I was never going to be THAT yelling mom. And suddenly, one day you are. And it’s ok. as long as you have other great tools to work for you like the ones you provide. Parenting is really about learning. You learn things about yourself you never thought possible and then, hopefully, you learn how to undo them and become a better human. <3

    • April 27, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks so much! And thank you for sharing your story as well. I appreciate it becomes much harder with more kids in the mix. I’m one of four and I have no idea how my parents did it and stayed so calm 🙂 You’re so right – when we have other positive tools it can make it much easier to resist yelling. Thanks again for reading. xx

  • April 26, 2017
    Emily

    I always enjoy your posts and agree with a good percentage of what you write. However, I do wonder what you do if you don’t believe in punishment. What do you do with the child who wilfully destroys property, or hurts others, or steals, or disobeys? It seems a little naive to assume that the one-on-one, full-time attention you’re privileged to be able to give your toddler would be possible to give to children in a larger family. Punishment doesn’t have to be shaming, or painful; but it needs to teach children consequences for crossing known boundaries.

    • April 27, 2017
      Nikki

      I had the same question. It’s possible to not yell and still have there be a consequence to a child’s action. There are consequences that grown-ups face when doing something inappropriate so why not for children too?

      • April 27, 2017
        Tracy Gillett

        You’re right Nikki – there are consequences for actions. But, natural consequences are different to artificial consequences. Lately, “consequences” have been used but really it’s just punishment. Because if a consequence is created by the parent it’s not actually a consequence. If my son is running too fast and I suggest he slows down and he doesn’t and trips and falls, that’s a consequence of his action that he can learn from. But if he runs too fast and I tell him to slow down and he doesn’t and so then I say the consequence is that he can’t have an ice cream – that’s just punishment because one has nothing to do with the other. Letting kids experience natural consequences is wonderful and teaches them lessons in life much faster than telling them something, while also fuelling resilience. But when consequences are just punishments, we should just call them what they are.

        You’re right that adults experience consequences but they’re natural consequences, not punishments. If I decide to go on a diet to lose weight but then eat a piece of cake, the consequence is that I may not lose weight. But if my husband saw me eat the cake and then said the consequence is that he’ll take away my phone, that’s punishment and I wouldn’t stand for it as its disrespectful. My litmus test is that do or say something to my husband I won’t do or say it to my son.

        I don’t know if that helps but it’s my way of looking at it. Thanks for reading!

        • April 27, 2017
          Nikki

          Thanks for the reply. I’m going to pay attention to when I tell my daughter that there is a consequence to determine if there would be a natural consequence or not. I also requested from the library two of the books you suggested to Emily (the only 2 they had).

          • April 27, 2017
            Tracy Gillett

            Oh thank you for letting me know Nikki! There are SO many things that I have done so differently as a parent to what I thought I would. As a teenager my mum used to say she felt sorry for my future kids as she thought I’d be such an authority – I used to beg my parents to heavily discipline my brother who was naughty. But, reading and reading and reading has opened my eyes to what our kids really need and when I’ve parented through connection so many of the problems other parents describe just don’t happen, or they’re a blip in the radar rather than a major disaster. Working with rather than against our kids is so beautiful and then I even find myself feeling happy in a way when my son is having an issue as I’m like “yes, I get to use these skills and we can connect more and he’ll trust me more, this is where the good stuff really happens”. I just scheduled this wonderful post to share on Facebook later, I thought it was great. A RADICALLY DIFFERENT WAY TO RESPOND WHEN YOUR CHILD IS AGGRESSIVE. And Dr Laura Markham’s site, Aha Parenting is a brilliant resource. And watching any YouTube videos of Dr Shefali speaking is awesome too – she speaks a lot about identifying our own triggers. Hope that helps. xx

    • April 27, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thanks Emily, so happy you enjoy the posts and it’s ok, we don’t have to agree on everything 🙂 So healthy to be able to discuss these things openly though and seeing things from another perspective sometimes can be so helpful. I totally agree with you that boundaries are so important – it’s a kids job, especially young kids, to test the boundaries and for us as parents to let them know when they’ve reached them. The Danish don’t use the phrase terrible twos but instead use “boundary age” which I think is so true.

      You’re right – I don’t believe in punishment as it is designed to hurt a child either physically, emotionally or mentally and when kids are hurt, like any of us, they don’t learn so it defeats the purpose of discipline. I have experienced first hand the damaging effects of passive parenting though and am certainly not advocating that at all – destructive behaviour can’t be ignored but conventional discipline techniques with shaming, punishments and threats ONLY focus on the behaviour instead of asking, why is my child doing this? How can I actually help my child to learn so they don’t repeat the behaviour.

      Conventional discipline is like a bandaid, addressing the symptoms but leaving the issue festering below the surface.

      I haven’t made any naive assumptions – as they say assumption is the mother of all f* ups and I believe in research and making decisions based on facts. So, I don’t assume that conventional discipline works or doesn’t work, I research it, find out the basis of it and find out what does work.

      Yes, I have one child at the moment but I wouldn’t say that’s a privilege; my husband and I struggled for three years to fall pregnant and we feel very grateful to have been blessed with one healthy, happy child at this time. I also work full time, run the blog and run myself ragged so that I can spend as much time as I can with my son.

      I’ll be writing a lot more on this topic as it’s so important and complex. It’s impossible to cover it all in one blog post. If you’d like to learn more about alternative approaches to discipline instead of punishment these are my favourite books on the topic:

      Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr Laura Markham
      Out of Control: Why Disciplining Your Child Doesn’t Work and What Will by Dr Shefali Tsabury
      Connection Parenting: Parenting Through Connection Instead of Coercion, Through Love Instead of Fear by Pam Leo

      I hope that helps 🙂

      • April 30, 2017
        Rachel

        I think the reason you’re getting pushback is that having two kids requires very different parenting from having one, and when the second one comes you find yourself doing all kinds of things you never thought you’d do and didn’t have to do with one. If you’ve never experienced that, for whatever reason, people are going to recognize that you don’t speak from experience.

        I think that the parenting model you advocate is great and works most of time for most kids. But it doesn’t work when parents are spread too thin to give older children everything they feel they need to be perfectly connected. Or when you have a very spirited child who marches to the beat of their own drum no matter how connected they feel. The success of that “parenting superpower” is very dependent on the temperament of the child.

        I think it’s important to recognize that good parents do yell sometimes, and that the world won’t end when they do. What matters is what you do next. The world does not need more parenting guilt.

        • April 30, 2017
          Tracy Gillett

          Hi Rachel,

          Thank you for your comment. I understand what its like to be spread to thin and totally appreciate that it can get harder to manage with added pressure of more children. I come from a family of four kids so I have some understanding of how different it can be with more than one child.

          Having said that I can’t be everything to everybody and as you say, I can only speak from personal experience.

          The point of this article is not that we must NEVER yell though – that’s totally unrealistic and I don’t think necessarily productive. It’s healthy for children to learn how to cope with a wide range of emotions. I mentioned that at the end of the article and also acknowledged a lack of self care is a major issue that we need to address, all part of being spread too thin in our demanding modern world.

          The point of the article is that yelling is being used as a systematic tool against kids, as if its a completely acceptable way to treat kids on a regular basis – no matter how many kids one has. I have friends with one child who yell and treat their kids disrespectfully – one of the motivators for writing this post was being at a friends house for brunch when she called her little girl an idiot directly to her face, laughed about it and then said she hopes the next child is a boy. My heart just breaks for these kids. My sister is a single mum which has its own set of challenges but she chooses not to use yelling as a regular parenting approach.

          No matter what I put out there I’ll be accused of adding to parenting guilt by somebody. After writing for a while now I’ve learned it’s impossible not to ruffle feathers when one has goes against the mainstream. The truth is that yelling is on the rise and it’s not good for kids. I laboured over this post, I must have rewritten it ten times, over about 2-3 weeks (up late at night, spread too thin) as I wanted to get the balance right but if I try to be too politically correct I’d end up putting out posts that were pointless. There are plenty of websites out there advocating time outs and strategies for punishing children or giving consequences. I am hoping to be a counterbalance to that rhetoric.

          Thanks again,
          Tracy

  • April 28, 2017
    Lauren

    Hi Tracy
    I signed up for your monthly emails a few months ago and I really love reading your posts. I feel strongly that your ‘path’ is the way to go, but it is so challenging to implement in the heat of the moment! Especially as I am a pretty impatient person.
    Not sure if this is right post to ask this, but was wondering if you (or any others!) have any suggestions around fussy eaters?! Yelling and coercion is most definitely not the way to go – just makes everyone miserable with no difference made. But discussion and reasoning makes equally little difference. My middle daughter (5) in particular will often go to bed having eaten absolutely nothing for dinner in preference to trying something new – or even eating something she has eaten happily many times previously but which has suddenly been added to the ever growing ‘will not eat’ list. So she has the natural consequence of being hungry, but it doesn’t encourage her to eat the next time. At my wits end! Pretty much the only protein she will eat is sausage and deli meats. Corn the only vegetable and only under sufferance. Any suggestions would be very welcome!

    • May 12, 2017
      Kathryn

      I have a five year old who is my pickiest eater out of all 6 kids. (She’s the fifth.) Finding things she will eat that are not grains or treats is really hard. At dinner she will almost always leave stuff on her plate. Our choice to her is to eat her dinner, or she can try one bite and eat a PB&J sandwich. Usually she just leaves it and doesn’t eat a sandwich. We leave her plate on the table so if she’s hungry enough she can come back and eat it right before bed. She rarely revisits the plate – even if she tells me she’s hungry. It’s just not that big of a deal to her. I figure she knows her hunger pains pretty well by now and can judge whether or not she wants something. All I can do is continue to offer a variety of foods and not play short-order cook. There’s no yelling or coercion involved. The rules have been established long enough she knows whining is not going to change anything. It’s always a victory if we can at least get her to take one bite of something new. She also knows on the nights we have dessert that there is none for children who don’t make a good effort on their dinners first. And sandwiches don’t count toward dessert. I hope that helps!

  • May 12, 2017
    Kathryn

    I really appreciate this post, Tracy. As the mother of six and oldest of eight myself, I find myself yelling too much. I didn’t grow up in a house like that, so it’s still a surprise to me that I’ve turned out to be a yeller. If I take anything away from the article it’s respect and connection. These are such great things to concentrate on. Keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to your posts discussing punishment and consequences.

  • May 14, 2017
    Barbara

    I am looking for the Natural Parenting Superpowers Mini Course but can’t find it… Thank you

    • May 14, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Hi Barbara, if you scroll to the bottom of this post there’s a pink sign up box. Feel free to email me if you can’t find it (tracy@raisedgood.com) Thanks!

  • August 05, 2017
    Renata Cantave

    I find your posts very wise and thoughtful, and full of sound and proactive approach to this most difficult task of parenting we, who do have children, were entrusted with. I have two children also, and, while I agree it is easier to be more composed and sane as a mom of one, I must admit I made mistakes which then I got a chance to correct with the arrival of the second child. I was wiser, more seasoned as a mom, as a woman, as a wife, I found “my” voice as a parent and went against popular beliefs, techniques, and advice. I went with my gut. I loved on my children more and more, I know their world, I know their desires, I know their fears, because we talk. I talk to them all the time I have available, often at the expense of “my” time, my friendships, my relaxation. My persistent actions created a bond with my children that is not based on me disciplining them, it’s based on love, and they truly love me and do the right thing to please me. We can’t let the toys, the internet and the world to raise our children, it’s our responsibility, and a privilege that was not granted to many couples. Be thankful for the messes, for the challenges, for the appalling behaviors, for the fact that there is a person in your life that knows how to push your buttons – feel blessed that you have children and you get one chance to be a great mom that raises honest, decent and responsible human beings. And don’t ever behave with your children in a way that would embarrass you if your boss, or pastor, or their teacher witnessed it. Simple as that. And you, Tracy, give us so many resources to educate ourselves as parents, thank you for that, we must as moms be better than the world, but we must learn, read, research, because our children did not come with a manual. I encourage all moms to be a disciplined parent – practice the tone of your voice, the choice of words, and do not talk to them when you are angry, calm yourself first, then speak. Thank you again Tracy for speaking the truth and wisdom into our lives.

  • August 20, 2017
    Lindsay Ray

    Hi Tracy,

    I am a young father of one. It was so great to read the post on yelling and especially the comments of experience and differences afterwards.

    My fiancé forwarded this post via email to me a while back, but due to real or perceived busy-ness I didn’t read it for almost 2 weeks. This morning she yelled at our son in complete innocence in order to have fun…”BOO!” He didn’t like it and continued to cry in tantrum for almost 20 minutes. This prompted me to go the the email and read with an open heart.

    I don’t want ramble on and crowd this post, so thank you very much for the awesome work and help to me and our family.

    Blessings,

    Linz

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