Parents yell at their kids because they’re frustrated, frazzled, or have unrealistic expectations. They’re overwhelmed with too much on their plates, and they’re not mature or brave enough to only do what they are capable of doing well. Yet, regardless of the reason, yelling is very destructive to kids.
There are essentially two types of yelling. One is an expression of anger. The other is accompanied by verbal insults (“You’re stupid,” “You’re worthless”, etc.). Angry yelling scares kids and makes them insecure. If the yelling comes with put-downs and insults, it’s abuse. In either case, kids who are yelled at grow up with a lot of anxiety and are often very aggressive. They are also more susceptible to bullying because their understanding of relationships is someone bullying them.
Additionally, yelling does nothing to enforce discipline. Kids who feel a strong emotional connection to their parents rather than fear are easier to discipline and actually remember what you told them. If you just yell at your kids, they don’t know what to do.
Once when my son was 8, I yelled at him for something totally unwarranted, and I still feel bad about it to this day. At the time, my family was poor. I had a local radio show paying me virtually nothing, and I couldn’t even afford to get my son a second pair of shoes. The Power Rangers were starting to get very popular, and I found somebody to sell me two Power Ranger action figures for a small amount of money, just to be nice. I was so happy, and I couldn’t wait to give them to my son.
Now, what I didn’t know is that these action figures were poorly made because if you held them by the arms and squeezed, the arms would pop out. And sure enough, minutes after I gave the Power Rangers to my son, he squeezed one and the arms popped out. I completely lost it. I yelled at him like he intentionally broke it. I yelled like a stupid, out of control, crazy woman. Yet, it had nothing to do with him. It was the financial stress of trying to support my family on a minimal income and everything I had gone through to get them for him. I still remember to this day in shame about what an ass I was, yelling at a little kid when the manufacturers were the problem. Fortunately, because this type of thing was an extremely rare occurrence, my son (now 31) and I have a great relationship (I have since apologized to him for the Power Ranger incident, by the way). However, if your standard M.O. is to always yell, you’re not going to have a very good relationship with your kids when they’re adults.
So, what can you do instead of yelling? What I should have done in that moment. I should have walked out of the room, gone into the bathroom, closed the door, and cried it out because really the yelling was about my piled-up stress, not my son. I should then have come back in and said either we fix this thing or we call the company and give them hell because this should not have been so easily broken by a little kid (he didn’t slam it into a wall or anything).
As parents, being angry and frustrated are reasonable emotions, but we can’t display them unreasonably. Sometimes you have to give yourself a timeout to see what you are actually angry about. Bathrooms are great places to do that. Now, if your child has actually misbehaved, remember that’s a part of growing up. Kids are not born knowing the rules. They are learning them as they go along, and if you scream at them, they don’t learn much.