Hi, I’m MegAnne. I have a problem with yelling.
I yell when I’m feeling out of control, angry and wanting authority. What I’ve learned is that it actually robs me of the 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.
This week, my phone has been blowing up with clients and friends messaging me about a recently NY Times article “Why You Should Stop Yelling at Your Kids”. I would like to say that I’m a bit ahead of the trend after launching the “5 Days to Less Yelling” challenge in late August!
So let’s start the conversation. Why should you stop yelling at your children?
Verbal abuse is so much more than getting scolded. Pause. To be clear, I’m not talking about yelling to your children as a warning of imposing danger. What I’m talking about is the act of yelling as behavior modification. When we choose to yell because the outcome is not matching the expectation and we feel frustrated!
To the yeller, it can be a strong release. But what I want to explore is 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 the 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.
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, if you’re like me, you were taught to express your anger and frustration. Immediately the room with stop and whatever the request is, it will be done. Fear can be a very effective motivation tool, I just warn that when using fear, what can be left in the ashes is not something we want long-term. I believe that if more people understood what they exchange for in that quick win, they would give up yelling immediately.
Below we’re going to explore three hidden results of yelling.
A stressed out brain
Did you know that your brain checks for safety 5 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. The emotional and logical parts of our brain are turned off, and our brain goes right into protection mode. Yelling can trigger this response immediately.
In a 2014 study, researchers wanted to explore the results of long term effects of childhood trauma. What they discovered is that when exposed to stressful images the amount of cortisol in our brains increase- sending our brain into a stressed mode. With out remedy, our brains will start to function at a baseline of stress. Inhibiting the growth and function of the more emotional and logical parts of the brain.
Internalized negative beliefs
Whenever I give an in-person workshop my very favorite go to activity comes from Positive Discipline, and it’s call “Competent Giant”. For this activity it requires one adult to be sitting on the ground (the child), and one adult to be standing over (the parent). The parent who is 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!”
Afterwards, we process through what everyone is thinking, feeling, and deciding. The emotions that come up can sometimes be quite eye opening. Just last night while doing this activity with a group of strangers, the child shared “I want to cry. I am feeling sad. And I’m thinking 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”, “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 are constantly scanning to check if they are safe, using the responses as a foundation and making decisions about their capabilities and connection. When we rely on yelling as a behavior modification tool, children are really learning a couple of things: “I don’t mean it until I yell.” and “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 be thinking “My children won’t listen to me unless I yell.” and I would say, you’re right. They have been trained to ignore the first 25 times you say something and just hold tight until they BLOW- then they mean it and it’s time to act. This is the same for reminding, nagging, and rescu
By using a reflective process to ask yourself “What were they learning?”, you can start to really pivot into working towards what you want your child to learn through the challenge. Write them down, post them up, remind yourself why doing the hard work of emotional processing is worth it.
I get it, it’s hard work. I grew up with yellers and have tested it out many times. I have spent my whole career working with children and parents, and I have seen just about everything. I have felt anger MANY times. As soon as I made the decision 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 total lifesaver for me.
I would have yelled myself into isolation. I would have yelled myself out of a job. I would be stressed out and causing more stress around me. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. Yelling was a tool I was glad to give up. Giving up yelling allowed me to open up and learn more about myself and the others around me. It allowed me to lean into learning 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 around it. If you can trust one thing, trust that I am in full understanding of how difficult this work it. It is the difficulty of this work that propelled me into become a parent coach- to offer the space and support to aid in making this work easier, not easy- just easier. And less lonely.