Almost every parent yells. Some more than others. Thankfully most want to figure out a way to stop yelling at their kids. And because you’re reading this article, it’s clear that you want to find a way to stop yelling at your kids. Sadly, generational patterns and default responses make change difficult.
Regrettably, I (Jim) was probably on the side of more than average yelling. It went something like this:
My child did or said something I didn’t like and I felt irritated. In my irritation I said in a firm voice, “Stop it!” It wasn’t technically yelling, but may as well have been. My child felt my negative energy and matched or maybe exceeded my volume.
Then, as the volume increased, since I was the biggest, scariest yeller, I usually ended up defeating my child. I eventually got what I wanted and figured I’d won.
But the cycle continued to repeat. As the kids grew older, they grew colder toward me.
When yelling is your default response
As a parent coach for the last decade, I (Lynne) have never met one parent that feels good about habitually yelling at their kids. One client named Dave summarized what I often hear: “I came from a long line of yellers, and I’m doing the same thing. I’d really like to stop, but it’s harder than I thought.” Like so many parents, Dave’s good intentions weren’t enough. The triggers kept triggering and Dave kept yelling. That is, until he learned a few new ideas during coaching to help break the cycle.
11 strategies to help you stop yelling at your kids
In our work to coach parents who struggle with yelling, we offer strategies that can turn the yelling impulse into a growth opportunity. These strategies are based on scripture, research, our understanding of how the brain functions, and years of experience working with all kinds of parents.
Download this amazing PDF as a visible reminder of all these great ideas to help you stop yelling at your kids!
As you read these strategies over, you may be tempted to try and implement all of them. This could be a recipe for frustration and discouragement. Instead, choose one or two that resonate with you and start there.
- Get passionate about the blessing of a new habit. I quoted James 1:19 & 20 to Dave and his wife, and with deep conviction he said, “That’s what I want for my family!” Meditate on scripture until you are eager for the blessing it promises.
- Proverbs 15:4 ESV “A gentle tongue is a tree of life…”
- 1 Peter 3:10 “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil…”
- James 1:19,20 “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”
- Identify your replacement(s) for yelling. Instead of “don’t yell,” start with a specific, positive goal; one based on past success. For example, when it goes better, what do you do instead of yelling? Then set a new goal: “I will take a slow, deep breath and then be kind and firm.” Or, “I will connect before I correct.” You might even identify 2 or 3 positive options for yelling that have helped you in the past.
- Post a visual reminder. James Clear states: “To form and maintain good habits, ensure that the right visual cues exist in your environment. You become the architect of your behavior when you design your environment to support obvious cues.” Dave posted James 1:19,20 around his house as inspiration. Some in the Connected Families community have the Connected Families Framework refrigerator magnet posted front and center in their kitchen, or the free Four Messages download on a bulletin board. Some parents post the calming steps of Slow, Low and Listen. Visual cues make it easier to get started.
- Keep gum or a calming snack available. Gum has been shown to decrease stress reactions. When you start to get upset, grab a piece of gum, hand one to your child and just chew without talking until you’re calmer. Sugar free lollipops, frozen juice pops or a drink through a straw are other calming options. Pause the conversation until both you and your child are calm and more able to have a healthy discussion. (Make sure your child knows ahead of time that they do not get a treat by faking or instigating conflict.)
- Let your kids know how and why you want to change. Young kids can understand, “I want to take a big breath and use a gentle voice when we have a problem.” With older kids you can also explain the Connected Families Framework. You can share a Bible verse you connect with, and what you love about it. Let your kids know you’ll need encouragement because you will blow it but you really want to change your habit. This helps you stay accountable to those goals and communicates, “It’s safe in our family to be vulnerable and to make mistakes.”
- Empower kids to help you get back on track instead of reacting in anger when you get off-track. You can give them phrases to use when you start to raise your voice, and you can even role-play it so they practice and get a high-5 when they do. For younger kids, “How about we take some dragon breaths, Mommy/Daddy.” For older kids, “Mom/Dad, we’re both getting upset, can we take a break?” Our oldest son calmly said, “Dad, you didn’t connect first,” when Jim launched into angry correction. Dave’s son looked at his irritated dad one day and calmly said, “Dad, do you need a lollipop?” [insert laughing face emoji?]
- Buy time until you have a plan. When parents don’t know what to do, they feel out of control and it’s a natural reaction to get loud and demanding. Consider saying something like, “I’m feeling upset and need to think about this.” Then, go to the appendix of our book Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. Look up the specific challenge you’re having from 15 common misbehaviors we address. Then you can re-engage more calmly because you have insight and a plan.
- Record your progress. “The best way to change long-term behavior is with short-term feedback,” states business guru Seth Godin. He suggests if you want to change a habit, get a wall calendar and put an X on any day you are successful, even if the quality of the action isn’t great. By measuring your progress you get an immediate reward in the moment. Certified Connected Families parent coach Corrie Thetford shared her story about this with us: “When I was desperately trying to break the pattern of exasperated yelling, I divided my day into morning and afternoon/evening and gave myself a check mark if I ‘kept my cool’ during one of those segments.”
- Pair up with a friend. Corrie added, “I told two friends about my plan, and one of them joined me. That was super helpful.” Pairing with a friend or two adds encouragement, accountability and a sense of community, and helps with goal achievement. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” Hebrews 10:24
- Model do-overs. If you start to yell, don’t get discouraged. Just back up, take a few deep breaths, and start from where you entered the situation. This retrains your brain to enter more calmly and wisely. Do-overs also demonstrate to your children that even parents experience growth and change, not just kids.
- If it goes a little better, talk about it! Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on whatever is good. For example, “Did you notice I stayed calmer this time? That’s because I took a couple of deep breaths and prayed first. Did that feel better to you? It sure did to me.” Talking to your kids and your “encouragement friends” about how you’ve been learning to respond without yelling reinforces those helpful brain pathways, because “Focus is fertilizer!”
When Dave returned to coaching he was visibly pleased with how things were going and talked about their success. The family was yelling less, talking more, and generational patterns were changing. He smiled as he said, “I think my son has been maturing a lot lately.” I had to wonder if he was following his dad’s example. 😉
Changing habits is tough, but we’ve had so many parents report they’re no longer stuck in a yelling habit. You’ve got this – you can develop that gentle tongue. We’ve made a PDF download so you can highlight a couple of ideas you want to work on, and get started!
If your family defaults to anger and yelling, download our FREE, in-depth ebook Helping Kids With Anger. It will provide thoughtful insights and creative ideas to help your struggling child.