“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.