Parenting

How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, And What To Do Instead

Because experts say that it truly does not work.

Spanking, research unequivocally tells us, is bad for kids. But yelling? Every parent does it at some point. How bad can it be?

Pretty damn bad, it turns out.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that yelling can elevate children’s stress hormones and lead to changes in the actual architecture of their little brains. And research also suggests it doesn’t particularly work. It can lead to more of the types of behaviors parents are trying to quell, instead of stopping them. On top of which, no parent likes yelling.

So what then? How do you keep yourself from losing it, particularly if it has become a habit? And what can you do to get your kiddos to actually listen?

Here are 5 expert tips.

1. First, know there is a difference between yelling to protect and yelling in anger.

“Anger itself is an emotion designed to change behavior,” said Dr. Joseph Shrand, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Riverside Community Care in Massachusetts who wrote “Outsmarting Anger: 7 Strategies for Defusing Our Most Dangerous Emotion.” “Sometimes we yell to protect a kid, and that is a different kind of yelling. That’s an alarm. You’re raising your voice to alert your child that there is a danger.”

If you’re yelling at your kid because he is about to cross a street without looking, or she’s about to touch something scalding, or you’re attempting to prevent any of the million other accidents kids seem capable of getting into on any given day, go ahead. Your job is to keep your child safe. Sometimes yelling helps you do that.

2. When you feel the urge to yell in anger, tap your forehead instead.

Does that sound like an odd alternative? Here’s why it’s worth a try: “Anger comes from the limbic system, which is the ancient, emotional part of the brain,” Shrand said. The more thinking, rational part of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, he explained, which helps moderate decision-making and how you behave socially. It happens to be located right behind your forehead.

To avoid yelling, you really want to “keep it frontal, don’t go limbic,” Shrand said. Which is why he recommends putting your hand on your forehead — even for just a second or two — and taking a deep breath in and out when you feel the urge to yell.

“Ask yourself, ‘What do I really want to do and see next? Why am I angry?’” he said. Just that quick check-in — and physical reminder that you’re aiming for a more rational, measured response to your child’s behavior — can help squash the urge to scream.

3. Or cluck like a chicken.

Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of “How To Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids,” likes this alternative to yelling: pause and do literally anything else. Take a breath, stay silent, hop up and down, put your hands flat on a counter to try and feel grounded. Or get silly instead.

“I have clucked like a chicken,” Naumburg told HuffPost, “because it helps get the energy out and because it’s so ridiculous it kind of snaps us all out of it.”

Another option? If you feel like you absolutely must yell, at least keep it vague rather than saying really pointed, hurtful things. “You can kind of yell without saying anything awful,” said Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist and author of “Connected Parenting: How to Raise A Great Kid.” Go for “Gah, I am so angry!”-type stuff, where you’re basically not really saying much. And you’re certainly not saying anything particularly mean or harmful.

4. Channel your best “teacher voice.”

Not yelling at your kids does NOT mean you let them off the hook for behavior you don’t approve of. You can and should totally speak up, but calmly and sternly. Kolari often likens it to being on a plane with turbulence: If the pilot got up and walked around to ask how everyone was doing in a very sweet, soft voice, you’d probably be confused about what was going on and what was expected of you. Likewise, you’d probably freak out if the pilot started screaming. If the pilot spoke calmly but firmly and made it clear that you need to put your seatbelt on right now, you’d do it.

When you scream and yell at your kid, they focus more on your anger than on the lesson you’re trying to impart.

“You undermine yourself when you yell,” Kolari said. “Find that authoritative voice — the one a teacher would use in the classroom. It’s far more effective.”

5. Remember: Repeating things over and over doesn’t mean you’re failing as a parent...

...it means you’re doing your job. In many ways, a parents’ role is to act like their children’s frontal lobes, which don’t fully develop until they’re in their 20s. They need to hear some things over and over until they really get it, Kolari said. So repetition doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re failing or that they’re being undisciplined. It means you’re doing your job as a parent and repeating the lessons they need to hear as they develop.

Also important to keep in mind? You will yell at times. We all do.

“If you raised a child who’d never been yelled at, you’d mess them up anyway,” chuckled Kolari. When they got yelled at by a friend, or coach or boss down the line, they’d just totally crumble. So if you feel bad about an interaction you had, apologize. But don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s important to have compassion for your kiddo and for yourself.

“When your relationship is strong — when your connection with your child is strong — it’s kind of like giving them emotional shock absorbers,” Kolari said. So if and when you do yell, they can bounce back.

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