In my weekly “Ask Manny” post, I answer questions from actual parents seeking advice on challenging issues and topics. Last week, I gave tips for finding a trustworthy babysitter. If you have parenting paradox of your own that you would like Manny to weigh in on, write to me here. This week, an anonymous parent reader asks about yelling:
How do you feel about yelling at children? I am not a yeller but my fiancee is and it is an issue. I only yell when absolutely necessary, but she yells when our daughter knocks something over by accident.
In case you only have 15 seconds to read this post, let me start: I’m generally opposed to yelling, because it solves very little. But that doesn’t make it inexcusable.
Now for the longer version.
Yelling in response to an unacceptable behavior by a child is problematic. It raises the emotional state of everyone involved, often unnecessarily. For a young child, this can mean fear. For an older child or teenager, this can trigger defiance or an escalation in behavior.
It also doesn’t teach anything. The upshot of a child engaging in inappropriate behavior is that it presents an opportunity to learn a different, more appropriate behavior. It’s a chance for that child to learn a skill. Yelling doesn’t accomplish that.
When faced with escalation or acting out in a tense situation — whether it be with a child, spouse, coworker or hat have you — it is actually far more effective to respond with a softer voice tone. Relax. Approach it calmly. Reflect the behavior that you want to see, rather than the one you are seeing. This will defuse the situation much quicker and bring about a more effective teachable moment.
That said, I have two caveats.
First, as the asker noted, sometimes yelling becomes a necessary evil. If your kid’s about to take a step in a manhole, that is not the time for your calm, soft, rational tone of voice. You use whatever volume is necessary to get that kid away from there now.
Second, we’re all human. We have emotions and we get frazzled. And nothing will push you to the limit quicker than a child. So, sometimes we yell. I’ve done it. I admit it. It happens. I wasn’t happy that I did it, and I knew it wasn’t the most productive way to handle the situation, but in the course of almost 12 years working with kids, despite my professionalism and calm demeanor, there have been times when I have found myself at my limit.
And those aren’t even my kids! Your own kids can get on your nerves so much more effectively than anyone else’s can.
If you have or plan on having children, you either have found yourself at that same limit or will very soon. When it happens, don’t beat yourself up or convince yourself you’re a bad parent. The fact that you are even thinking about it means that you’re not. Instead, use it as a teachable moment for yourself. What led you to yell in that situation? How can you handle it better next time?
When the problem is complicated further by the difference in approach between parents, this can even be a collaborative process. In the asker’s case, when Mom yells, she can do this de-briefing with Dad to try to get some clarity on the situation and better unify their approach for the future. Two birds, one stone.
What about you? Do you ever find yourself yelling at your kids? What sets you off the most? Let loose in the NEW comments section below.
(Image credit: Jaako’s flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.)