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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111

Parenting Q&A

Parenting Question of the Month I love my child dearly, but sometimes she can be extremely frustrating. How do I respond to my child without yelling?


Parenting Q&AThere are times when even the most patient parent loses his or her cool and relies on raising the voice in order to gain control of a situation. But ultimately, yelling not only feels bad for both you and your child, it has been proven harmful for children’s social-emotional development.

At best, it’s counter-productive. Yelling teaches children by example to yell back; and that yelling is an acceptable way to communicate. It prevents them from learning more effective ways of expressing their strong emotions, wishes and wants. And for the youngest children, under 3 or 4, it puts them into such a state of fear that they can’t begin to think about their mistake, so learning from it will be impossible.

Chances are, your child is doing something (again) that you have asked her not to do. Or has made a mess. Or is not moving fast enough. Or has hurt another child. Or is having a tantrum about something they wanted or didn’t want to do. And in a few more years, your child will be talking back. In each of these cases, you have an opportunity to change what happens next time if you can keep it from becoming a yelling match this time.

Retraining yourself not to yell takes effort and a decision to try things differently. If you grew up in a family of ‘yellers,’ yelling will come naturally so you will have to make an extra effort. As long as everyone is safe, it’s ok to give yourself a “time out” until you can think of what and how to say what you need to say. You can say, “I’m very mad and we are going to talk about this in a few minutes, when I have calmed down.” Being a parent in control of your emotions—even at stressful times—provides an excellent behavior model for your children.

Calming yourself down prevents transferring your emotional state over to your child, which often makes matters worse. Here are some tips to help you “keep your cool” even in stressful situations:

  • Breathe deeply—the saying about taking ten deep breaths really works! Do a full body check—unclench fists, your jaw and other muscle groups that are holding your anger. You’ll be able to think and act more rationally.

  • Remind yourself what is normal behavior for your child's age and stage of development. Sometimes they really can’t hurry up or be more neat. And they may have good reasons to be irritated with a younger sibling. Acknowledging that children behave in certain ways at different developmental stages can help you take the behavior less personally. And a little empathy—acknowledging in words what might be upsetting your child—can actually work wonders.

  • Recognize your own triggers. If you are hungry, tired, or tense, you’ll respond more strongly to things that at other times wouldn’t bother you. Find ways to create "breaks" between the outside world and the home.

  • Focus on the positive. Rather than waiting for a frustrating moment to notice your child's behavior and respond with yelling, catch your child doing something good. Noting the positive helps you and your child identify what she's doing right, rather than wrong.

  • Spend some focused, undivided time every day with your child. If you find yourself yelling at your child frequently, it may be the result of a pattern that has developed to get your attention. Children who are craving attention will do whatever it takes to get it, even if it's negative attention. Reverse the trend by simply spending time reading a book or starting a project together, so that your child gets your attention without inciting yelling.

  • Parenting Resources

    Allen, Rose. Dealing with Your Own Anger. University of Minnesota, 2008. Web Site: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/familydevelopment/W00004.html

    The New York Times. Screaming at Children Seldom Helps, May Hurt. November 14, 2004. Health and Energy Web Site: http://healthandenergy.com/screaming_at_children.htm

    Runkel, Hal Edward, LMFT. Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids By Keeping Your Cool. Broadway Books, 2007. Barnes & Noble Web Site: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/screamfree-parenting-hal-edward-runkel/1100304726

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