Almost every parent yells. Some more than others. 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. Repeat. 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.
Until it kept happening and the kids grew colder toward me.
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, until he learned a few new ideas to help break the cycle.
In our work coaching parents who struggle with yelling, we offer a handful of strategies that turn the yelling impulse into a growth opportunity. These strategies are based on our understanding of how the brain functions, and on our experience working with all kinds of parents. Read these over and give one or two a try:
- Post a visual reminder. We’re much more likely to do something when we’ve written it down, especially if we keep it visible. Dave posted James 1:19 & 20 around the house as inspiration. Some of our clients post the Discipline that Connects messages, or our calming steps: Slow, Low and Listen. Share below in the comments verses or messages that have helped you stay calm in stressful situations.
- Keep a pack of gum or lollipops available. Gum has been shown to decrease fight/flight 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. Lollipops could be another option. Pause the conversation until both you and your child are in a calm state of mind and you may be more successful in having a healthy discussion. (But make sure your child knows they do not get a treat by faking or instigating conflict.)
- Let kids know you want to be a safer parent. Sharing your goals with others strengthens your follow through, so let kids know what you’re working on. 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. This helps you stay accountable to those goals and communicates, “It’s safe in our family to be vulnerable about what we’re trying to change.”
- Empower kids to respectfully confront you instead of react angrily when you get off-track. As you let your kids know you are trying to be a safer parent you can give them phrases to use when you start to raise your voice. You can even role-play it so they practice and get a high-5 when they do. For younger kids, “You need a big breath, Mommy/Daddy.” For older kids, “Mom/Dad, you’re getting really upset. Let’s 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?”
- Simply say, “I’m feeling upset and need to think about this.” This buys you time to go to the appendix of our book Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart and look up the challenge you’re having with your child from the 15 common behavior challenges we address. Then you can re-engage more calmly because you have insight and a plan.
- Model do-overs. Literally back up, take a few deep breaths, and start from where you entered the situation. Backing up takes motor planning that is calming and the do-over retrains your brain to enter more calmly and wisely. Then celebrate how much better that felt. As you practice this grace, you’ll probably find your child open to taking do-overs as well.
- If it goes a little better, talk about it! 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.” This self-affirmation strongly reinforces the brain pathway of calmer responses.
Consider printing and hanging this list, highlight a couple of ideas you want to work on, and get started!
Dave returned to coaching having implemented a couple of these ideas. He was visibly pleased with how things were going. The family was yelling less, talking more, and generational patterns were changing.
* As always, we protect the privacy of parents and kids by changing names.
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.