Hi, I'm MegAnne, I have a problem with yelling, and we are going to discuss how yelling affects the brain.
- Yelling, though it might feel like a quick fix, leaves a lasting impact on both the person yelling and the one being yelled at.
- Yelling can trigger a stress response in the brain, inhibiting emotional and logical functions over time.
- It can lead to the internalization of negative beliefs in children, affecting their self-esteem and self-worth.
- Yelling teaches children that they need to be yelled at before taking action, perpetuating an unhealthy cycle of communication.
I am not saying I do not want to do it sometimes. I yell when I feel out of control, angry, and want authority. I've learned that it robs me of authority, hurts my relationships, and leaves me feeling like crap. I've been on a journey of learning and practicing healthier coping tools and spend my days helping caregivers (parents, teachers, nannies, etc.) learn and practice the same.
If you're tired of struggling with temper tantrums, power struggles, and feeling disrespected, this 3-phase Understanding Us series will help you understand WHY it's so challenging to parent your strong-willed child.
This NY Times article, "Why You Should Stop Yelling at Your Kids," made big waves in the parenting community.
So, let's start the conversation. Why should you stop yelling at your children, and how does yelling affect the brain?
Verbal abuse is so much more than getting scolded. Pause. To be clear, I'm not talking about yelling a warning of imposing danger at your children. I'm talking about the act of yelling as behavior modification when we choose to yell because the outcome does not match the expectation, and we feel frustrated!
To the yeller, it can be a strong release. But I want to explore what happens to the person being yelled at. It's not only the act of yelling that leaves an impact but the volume, tone, duration, consistency, insults, affect, and feelings of abandonment that are byproducts of yelling. To the yeller, "It's working," but I want to explore what might be happening to the person being yelled at. I believe that if more people understood what they exchanged for in that quick win, they would give up yelling immediately.
Let's start with why we yell. To be quite frank, it's easy. It requires no restraint, and it can be perceived as highly effective. It's how you were taught to express your anger and frustration if you're like me. Fear can be a very effective motivation tool. However, I warn that when using fear, what can be left in the ashes is not something we want long-term.
To the yeller, "It's working," but I want to explore what might be happening to the person being yelled at. I believe that if more people understood what they exchanged for in that quick win, they would give up yelling immediately.
Below, we're going to explore three hidden results of yelling.
Did you know that your brain checks for safety five times every second?
In the background, our reptilian brain is constantly scanning and answering the question, "Am I safe?" When the answer is "No!" our brain goes into protection mode and engages the fight, flight, freeze response. Our brain's emotional and logical parts are turned off, and our brain goes into protection mode. Yelling can trigger this response immediately.
In a 2014 study, researchers wanted to explore the results of the long-term effects of childhood trauma. They discovered that the amount of cortisol in our brains increases when exposed to stressful images, sending our brain into a stressed mode. Without remedy, our brains will start to function at a stress baseline, inhibiting the growth and function of the brain's more emotional and logical parts.
Whenever I give an in-person workshop, my favorite go-to activity comes from Positive Discipline, called "Competent Giant." This activity requires one adult to sit on the ground (the child) and one adult to stand over (the parent). Then, the parent standing starts to scold the child while shaking their finger.
"I can't believe you did it again! We talked about this a thousand times. I can't believe you did it again! Go to your room!"
Afterward, we process what everyone is thinking, feeling, and deciding. The emotions that come up can sometimes be quite eye-opening. While doing this activity with a group of strangers, the "child" shared,
"I want to cry. I am feeling sad. And I think I'm not a good person. I'm a bad kid." she went on to share, I don't want my daughter to feel like this.
She went on to share that she was immediately making decisions about herself as "not knowing," "wrong," "bad," and "not enough." She didn't realize how quickly, even while role-playing with a stranger, those beliefs would be internalized and fostered.
Teaching children "I don't mean it unless I yell." and "This is what you do when you're feeling mad."
I'm going to be direct. Children are always watching and learning from their environment. Their brains constantly scan to check if they are safe, using the responses as a foundation and making decisions about their capabilities and connections. When we rely on yelling as a behavior modification tool, children learn a couple of things:
"I don't mean it until I yell."
"This is what you do when you're feeling mad."
They start to practice this tool in their own lives. With you, their friends, their challenges, and their future families.
You might think, "My children won't listen to me unless I yell." I would say you're right.
They have been trained to ignore the first 25 times you say something and hold tight until they BLOW- then they mean it, and it's time to act. This is the same for reminding, nagging, and rescuing.
By using a reflective process to ask yourself, "What were they learning?" you can start to pivot into working towards what you want your child to learn through the challenge. Write them down, post them up, and remind yourself why doing the hard work of emotional processing is worth it.
As a parenting coach, this is what I coach to parents willing and ready to do work. It is not easy, but it is rewarding! You might be interested in learning more about the Positive Parenting Journey that I have created to make this work actionable.
I grew up with yellers and have tested it out many times. I have spent my whole career working with children and parents and have seen almost everything. I have felt anger MANY times. As soon as I decided to give up yelling, what I unlocked in myself was strength, control, and composure. I work hard to stay engaged in moments of stress. The result in my life is priceless. Learning that my words can hurt or heal was a lifesaver.
I would have yelled myself into isolation. I would have yelled myself out of a job. I would be stressed out, which causes more stress around me. I didn't want to live like that anymore. But yelling was a tool I was glad to give up. I was giving up yelling allowed me to open up and learn more about myself and the others around me. It allowed me to learn how to release anger and frustration in more healthy ways. Giving up yelling has given me my life back.
It is tremendously hard to face a trigger and circumvent it. If you can trust one thing, trust that I fully understand how difficult this work is. The difficulty of this work propelled me to become a parent coach. To offer the space and support to aid in making this work more accessible. Not easy, just easier. And less lonely.
I will continue to research and find new studies that help us understand how yelling affects the brain. I believe that when we understand why something is not working, it is easier to stop doing that thing.
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