Hey, Parents, Here’s a Radical Idea: Don’t Yell at Your Kids

Children shushing As the new year rolls on, I keep thinking about the idea of radical change. My first idea has to do with losing my temper with my kids. Here’s a radical thought: What if I just stopped?

The reason I blow up is because I think it will have the effect I’m looking for. I think the kids will realize I mean business and stop doing whatever they’re doing that’s bugging me. They will—and they should—take me seriously and be frightened into submission, because sometimes kids just need to follow their parents’ rules without backtalk or questioning. And that idea isn’t inherently wrong.

Except that it doesn’t work.

The way I remember it, when my dad yelled, my sisters and I hopped to it. His word was law, we respected it, and if he was mad, we feared him and obeyed. But my kids don’t respond that way. As soon as I get mad, they turn angry, fearful, and hurt. They either yell back and throw stuff, do what I’m asking them to do while sobbing theatrically, or run to their room and slam the door.

Maybe I’m misremembering my childhood and it’s not true (although it seems that most of my peers agree) that kids used to blindly respect their parents. Or maybe we parent so differently today that we can’t expect—nor do we want—our kids to fear us. Perhaps it’s just me and I’ve spoiled my kids, who wouldn’t know obedience if it was an app on their i-gadgets. But whatever the case, losing my temper isn’t cutting it for me. And a lot of the time, my kids don’t really deserve my anger. They aren’t snorting coke or burning the house down, actions that warrant rage. They’re just being lazy, not listening well, or misbehaving—actions that call for consistent, clear rules and discipline rather than inchoate fury.

So, what if I stopped?

If the value I want to teach my kids is that my husband and I have rules that are there to keep them safe and healthy, and there are times when they need to follow our rules respectfully, then what’s the best way to teach that value? Is it by me acting out of control and nasty? Or is there a better way? Well, sure. Pretty much every parenting book out there will tell you that the best practice is to set rules, communicate them clearly, and have reasonable consequences for failing to comply. Research shows over and over that anger and putdowns (“What is wrong with you?” “Can’t you ever listen?” “You little brat!”) make our kids feel low self-esteem and therefore more likely to act out, or make them rebellious against us and therefore more likely to act out.

The next time I feel like yelling, instead I’m going to take a deep breath, walk away if necessary, regroup, and then state what I want to happen. I might even ask my daughter what she wants in the circumstance. For instance, my oldest has trouble turning off the TV. Sometimes, to be honest, I get lax on the TV-watching rules and let her go on too long, and by the time I’m ready for her to stop watching, she’s in full TV-junkie phase, watching glassy-eyed and seemingly unable to tear herself away. If, instead of demanding in increasingly loud tones that she step away from the remote, I can catch her attention and get her involved in the process, it works better. “I’d like you to get off the TV now and I know that’s hard for you. How should we handle it?” She generally answers with something unreasonable—“Let me watch until the end of this movie”—but at least then I can counter with another idea and we can meet in the middle. I usually get close to what I want, while at the same time she feels more respected and more involved in the decision.

I have to admit, it’s hard for me to imagine declaring that I’ll never blow up and following through on it. It feels, well, radical. We want to be able to be the final word in our own homes. We want to be able to lose it sometimes. To a certain extent, we want to be feared. And it’s OK to not always be that perfect, reasonable, calm-headed person the parenting books describe. Instead of shooting for perfection, I’m just going to commit to giving this new, no-explosions regime a shot. It seems like it’s going to feel good for everyone. And I’ll report back as to whether my house declines into anarchy, or whether the most recent parenting intelligence turns out to be true—that clarity and collaboration produce kids who (mostly) listen, are (often) respectful, and (usually) feel good about themselves.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Vicki Botnick, MA, MS, MFTI, Parenting Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Julianna

    January 27th, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    You know what?
    There are days when I just have to walk away, walk away and forget about the situation that I am leaving unsolved.
    Because I know that if I don’t I will yell and say something to my kids that I don’t mean.
    They get a little panicked when I yell, but they really pay attention when I stop feeding into their behavior.

  • Aida

    January 27th, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Sometimes the words just come out before you even realize that they are- those are the times that I feel absolutely terrible

  • sarah

    January 27th, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    I always remember my dad as a yeller and that would scare the living daylights out of me when I was young. Now I can’t say that it ever did anyhting other than scare me, and I guess that when I was young it might motivate me a little, but for the most part as I got older, it really made me just want to rebel against all of that kind of nonsense. I knew very early on that this was not the parent that I wanted to be and that I did not want to marry anyone who would find it very easy to slip into that kind of role either. Sometimes it can feel easy to slide back into what you know, but I know that I will regret it every single time that I do so I just make a concerted effort to not be that way.

  • AnneS.

    January 28th, 2015 at 3:45 AM

    There are so many people who need to read this but will never say that the way that they discipline their children is wrong.

  • Deborah B

    January 28th, 2015 at 5:03 AM

    Hi Vicki,

    I liked your article and absolutely agree. I also happened to notice your last name! Not too many Botnicks out there so I thought I’d say hello. We also happen to be in the same profession as I’m a psychologist. Funny.

    Best, Deborah B

  • vicki

    January 28th, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    Thanks for these great comments. Julianna and Sarah, it’s great to keep reminding ourselves to be our best selves. and then to realize it’s more effective with the kids too. But Aida I totally relate to not being able to do it perfectly. Go easier on yourself, we all lose it sometimes. Hi Deborah! My mom is a therapist too, it must be a family business.

  • Autumn

    January 28th, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    I don’t have to yell, I just have a look that I will give the kids that can stop them dead in their tracks. I have perfected it for years now, and they know when they see that, then I mean business. Actions really do speak louder than words in my house ;)

  • Joseph

    January 29th, 2015 at 3:43 AM

    I guess maybe I have trained them this way but I swear that my kids won’t even move unless I get a little “tone” in my voice

  • Joan D.

    January 29th, 2015 at 10:34 AM

    If they are teenagers then there is a pretty good chance that they stopped listening the moment you opened your mouth, no matter how loudly you were talking.

  • Georgina

    January 30th, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    As a culture I think that we are getting there in terms of being better parents to our children, but we cannot become so passive toward them that they start to believe that they are the ones in charge of every decision that is made. I am not saying that to be a good parent you have to raise your voice, but I am saying that to be a better parent we still have to establish some measure of authority in the home. I think that kids who understand that there is a hierarchy in the home do better than those who are let loose to do anything that they please.

  • Blake E.

    February 4th, 2015 at 4:48 PM

    Love your transparency and the open questions, Vicki! These are difficult challenges, indeed.

    Blake E.

  • jessica

    June 5th, 2018 at 2:22 AM

    WOW! this is me, and right now, this very moment, I’m struggling with my 7 year old. He doesn’t take well to discipline, never listens to anything i say, whether i yell or not…..& i feel like the worst parent ever. Nothing I try works.

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