How to Quit Yelling at Your Kids
Disclaimer: I am not a family therapist or expert. The tips on quitting yelling that I am sharing below are simply the things that I applied to my parenting skills toolbox. I will include resources for family therapy at the end of this article. Thank you for supporting my work.
I recently published an article about how science says that yelling is the same as hitting. That piece exploded, and I received more than one hundred messages from parents wanting to know what I did to quit yelling. At first, I was hesitant to share my struggles with yelling because, as any parent who yells can tell you, there is a certain amount of shame that comes with it. But after reading a couple of stories from mothers who told me they feel at their emotional wit’s end, I figured the worst that can happen is that no one will read this. But the best thing that could happen is that someone out there reads this and feels understood and empowered to try and quit yelling.
Assess what kind of yelling we’re talking about here.
It is so critical to note that not all yelling is damaging. If you find that you are yelling at your kids simply to be heard over the din of chaos, then you could easily make functional changes to the general volume of your house.
Suppose you find yourself yelling to startle your child out of doing something dangerous, such as walking into traffic, sticking a fork in the toaster, or eating dish soap. In that case, you might need to have a family chat about safety and set up some boundaries.
But if you’re yelling because you feel anger and your voice and words are escalating into threats (I’ll take away all your damn toys if you do that again!) or swearing (goddamn it, I told you not to do that!) or even name-calling (why are you so dumb?) then this article is for you.
In my situation, my yelling would get to the point of lecturing my entire family about how awful they act. There was a lot of swearing too. And although I did not swear at my children or call them names, the fact that I was shouting at people and uttering “what the fuck is this mess!?” at least once a day, I knew I had a problem.
Apologize. Apologize. Apologize.
I sat my kids down, and I apologized. But I didn’t just say, I’m sorry, and left it at that. In our family, we stress changed behavior over the words “I”m sorry.” So I detailed a plan to show my kids that I wasn’t fooling around.
Quit swearing. Now.
To kick off my attempt to change my behavior, I told my kids that I would quit swearing, and I invited them to feel empowered to call me out if they thought that I was not keeping my word. I’m not forcing them to hold me accountable, but I am inviting them to feel like they get some power in this situation. If I get to call them out for crappy behavior, they should feel empowered to do the same to me. Questioning authority is important, and they are learning how to do it effectively with this family experiment.
And it’s working. Yes, I still swear sometimes, but not with a raised voice, and not because of anything my kids said or did. My kids have called me out, and in those moments, I stop what I’m doing, and I thank them. We talk about what is appropriate and what is not, and I apologize and try again.
Model the behavior you want to see in your kids.
I believe that my kids need to see me going through the struggle of being a better parent because it’s modeling so many positive things for them. Admitting that I am doing something unhealthy, apologizing for it, talking out how to change it, and enacting those changes.
I am unlearning overreacting to my family. But I am also learning what to do when those triggering moments arise, and I feel overwhelmed by stressors. For some people, therapy can be a huge help, and I have turned to therapy to help me with anxiety and depression in the past.
Learn what freaks you out.
If you know that dinnertime will be chaotic and the likelihood that you will start screaming will go up, Up, UP, then try to change your routine. This is like knowing that a bridge is broken but driving over it anyway and then getting upset that you crashed. Try to avoid the crash by avoiding the bridge in the first place.
In my house, bedtime is what made me lose my mind. To fix things, I enlisted the help of everyone in our family. My kids don’t brush their teeth together because otherwise, they fight. My husband reads the bedtime story because I get too tired and cranky to do it. We always make sure that beds are made, stuffies are found, and water is on the bedside tables to avoid all the excuses our kids use to delay bedtime — and which piss me off to no end.
I also started putting in earbuds and listening to podcasts. Yes, my kids think I’m ignoring them — and really, I am — but their needs are met, and I am not falling into their traps of looping conversations that they start to avoid going to sleep. I tell them, “goodnight, I love you,” and then I tune their voices out. My yelling at night has stopped one hundred percent.
I enjoy bedtime now, which is a very new experience in our house.
What to do when you screw up and start yelling.
Instead of yelling (or swearing, stomping off out of the room, blowing steam out of my ears…etc.) I make it a point to take a deep breath and do one of these things:
- Leave the room. I tell my kids that I am feeling overwhelmed and I need a second to calm down. I say that we need to pause our interaction and revisit it when we can talk calmly.
- I go to the bathroom or step outside. When I’m feeling intensely angry or frustrated, I need to be alone for a minute. When my kids are not in earshot, I drop those red hot F-bombs. I clench my fists; I sigh hard, I do whatever feels good to get my tension out. But I do in private where my reaction can’t hurt my family.
- I calm myself down. Once I get that satisfying “OMFG” out, I take a few deep breaths, and I talk out loud to myself. Yes, this is awkward at first, but I speak out loud to myself. I say things like, “Sarah, this is not a real problem. You’re overreacting. You need to calm down and figure out what is actually stressing you out.” And then I think about the interaction I just had, and I figure out what is triggering my reaction.
- Make a plan. No matter how silly it feels, make a plan. There have been days when I told myself, “Sarah, you need to go inside and apologize, then talk to your kids about why you stepped outside. Explain that you are calm and ask if they feel calm enough to work through the issue. If they say no, then drop it and do something else.”
- Create a plot twist. I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling like I was the bad guy. So when we glitch and need to work through our stuff, I try to come back and flip the vibes by offering hugs, asking my kids to tell me a joke, reading a story, eating something fun, anything that can feel the opposite of upset. We take some time to bond over something positive, and then when everyone is emotionally ok, we revisit the problem, and we calmly talk it out.
Be open to new ideas.
The last tip that I can share is to be open to new ideas on how to quit yelling. There are tons of great articles on everything from meditating and mindfulness to dissecting various parenting styles. Yelling and parenting seem to come hand in hand, but I think that is because we don’t teach each other how to cope with the enormous stress of raising kids.
When we can step back and take the time to learn the tools we need, things really can so much better.
CDC Mental Health Tools and Resources
You can find resources for children, adults, families here. If your family struggles with addiction, illness, environmental disaster, poverty, or other issues, this site can direct you to services.
This is a popular online therapy program for families. I am not affiliated with Talk Space, nor have I tried it.
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
I read this book front to back and found the ideas on how to discipline my kids to be extremely helpful. We still struggle with attitudes (hello toddler and tween!), but what family doesn’t? I can not recommend this book enough.