no yelling at your kids

F for Beth Youdell, a Lake Bluff, Illinois, mother of three, dinnertime is the yelling hour. By the time 5:00 P.M. rolls around, Youdell, who works part time, has already spent countless hours explaining to, and reasoning with, seven-ear-old Kate and four-year-old Gerrit—as well as tending to six--month-old Charlie. (Her husband is often away on business.)

When dinner is ready and the kids just won’t come to the table, “I’ll ask, and I’ll ask, and I’ll ask, and then I feel my blood pressure rising,” Youdell says. “Suddenly something snaps, and I’ll start yelling. It’s like they don’t hear me any other way.

We hear you, Beth. What parent (this writer, and your website Editor included) hasn’t raised a voice when pushed to the limit by kids who talk back/fight with each other/have to be reminded ten times to clean up their rooms? “I do yell—I do admit it,” says Jennifer Lowery, a mother of three kids under six in Kensington, Calif-ornia. For her, it’s a combination of frustration—”I don’t think time-outs work for discipline”—and exhaustion. “Someone always needs milk poured, someone is asking for a book to be read, and the baby needs to be changed,” Lowery explains.

“And not 30 seconds for myself.”

Many of us remember our parents sounding off when we misbehaved—and things don’t seem to have changed much. In a recent study of nearly I ,000 families, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, 75 % of the parents inter-viewed admitted to yelling. What has changed is that experts now seem worried about this. The study says that “yelling, screaming, or shouting as a method of correcting... the behavior of the child” is “psychological aggression.” And study lead author Murray Straus, Ph.D., professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, believes that angry yelling at kids can he considered abuse.

Such studies really push Deborah Zucker’s buttons. “People have gotten involved in psychology and in all of these studies about what’s good and bad,” fumes the mother of two, who lives in Summit, New Jersey. “Kids are way overprotected. I don’t yell at my kids all day, but yes, on occasion, I do. If my son’s watching TV and I want him to hear me, I’m going to have to yell. Is that going to damage his self-confidence? No!”

While no one questions a mom’s need to let out an attention -getting yelp on occasion, there seems to be widespread agreement that frequent flare-ups frighten and upset children. And they certainly don’t set the best example.,” says Judy Linger, M.D., medical director of child services at the Center for Emotional and Behavioral Health in Veto Beach, Florida. And, concede some parents, yelling doesn’t even work. “I end up even more frustrated—and I lose my voice,” says Scott Rappoport, a New Jersey father of three.

How to turn down the volume? You can’t take a deep breath or count to ten when you’re in the middle of a combat zone. Here are some more-realistic ideas for how to regain composure... and control:

RECOGNIZE THE REAL PROBLEM. Sure, the kids are squabbling (again), but are you about to explode because your boss was on your case all day at work? “That’s not corrective yelling,” says Tim Gobek, a family therapist and program supervisor for the Tn-Cities Mental Health Center in East Chicago, Indiana. “That’s ‘I’m in a bad mood’ yelling.” Instead, do something to ease your load, like stream-lining dinner plans. Grab something from the freezer or call in for pizza—and use the time you’ve saved to sit on the floor and play with the little ones or listen to an older child talk about her day at school. You’ll all feel better.

Lena Willis, a Vallejo, California, grant writer and the mother of two school-age kids, says weekday mornings are the worst. “We’re always running late and rushing around in the morning and I end up yelling,” says Willis, who has to get the kids up and off to school. Getting started a little earlier, she has found, even if it’s difficult, can help. So can laying out clothes, making lunches, and putting finished homework into backpacks the night before.

ADJUST TOO-HIGH STANDARDS. With jobs, bills, chores, and meals —not to mention kids—to contend with, parents ‘often feel they’re the victim of the clock,” says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a child psychiatrist in Elkins Park, Pennsyl-vania. No wonder we feel like screaming! Dr. Berger suggests letting non— essential tasks slide from time to time. Maybe it’s OK if rooms are a little messier than you’d like, or if beds occasionally go unmade.

FIND A STRATEGY FOR REDUCING EVERYDAY STRESS. You’ll be less likely to yell if you have a way to release daily tension, say experts. Obviously it’s hard to carve out “me time” when you have small kids, but with creativity, you can do it. A fast-paced walk works wonders for some. Jotting down thoughts in a journal, meditating, or doing breathing exercises helps others.  “The goal,” says Lisa M. Schab, a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville, Illinois, who also conducts anger-management workshops, “is to find something that keeps stress at a reasonable, workable level.” Even going ahead and yelling can be OK, she says—as long as you do it into a pillow or in the basement or even the back-yard (never mind the neighbors). “Yelling to get the anger out is different from yelling at someone,” she says. “Once you’re feeling calmer, you can go back and deal with the person who set you off in the first place.” •


Chances are you’re going to blow up at some point. But what you yell may be more important than whether you yell. “The problem is that yelling sometimes leads to irrational threats, which undermine your credibility with your child,” warns Nancy Samalin, who has run parenting workshops in New York City for 25 years.

Try the following tactics:

***Stick to your own feelings—and not the child’s actions—and you’ll avoid blurting outsomething hurtful. Yell “I’m furious!” rather than “You make me so mad when you mess up like that!”


***Be brief, and aim for simple, descriptive statements when parental orders need to be obeyed pronto. Suggestions: “Shoes belong in the shoe bag, not in the middle of the kitchen floor!” Or, in the car, simply: “Seat belts!”


***After a hurtful outburst, explain yourself. “If you really lost it and said something you’d never say when rational—‘You’re a spoiled-rotten brat’ or ‘You’ll never learn’—it’s necessary to apologize,” says Samalin. “You can say, ‘I wish I hadn’t yelled at you. I had a temper tantrum. You must have been scared when I made that threat to walk out on you.”’ This lets your children know you still love them. The lesson: People who love each other get mad—and get over it.



May 2004, (pgs. 71-72)

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