The Cost of Yelling
I’m guilty. I’ve done it. There have been times when I’ve yelled at my kids… and probably when the windows were wide open so the whole neighbourhood could hear. Probably prompted when one of my kids were arguing with me, refusing to listen, being disrespectful and raising their voice.
You can’t let them win, right? So not only do you match their tone, you ramp it up louder to override them, until you cower them into silent submission, or they just give up and tune you out.
But yelling works…
When our kids are young, it seems that yelling is effective. We terrify them into compliance and it works – in that we coerce them into doing what we want. The problem is that no one feels very good afterward; relationships are not strengthened and there is usually some lingering resentment – on both sides.
So why do we yell?
Yelling in its most simplistic form is a means to capture someone’s attention above all the other chaos going on. As a quick, attention-getting tool it can work to break through the noise and have your child stop and look at you. But that’s the limit of its effectiveness.
The root issues…
If we’re honest, most of our yelling is rooted in an angry response to our kids who are not living up to our expectations. At a deeper level it is rooted in my own personal insecurity and fear that I am not respected or loved. It happens at times when I am not in control and things are not going as I feel they need to go in order to be at peace. Yelling then becomes a defense mechanism and an attempt to regain control of a situation that feels completely out of control.
Unfortunately, because it “appears” to evoke a response, in times of conflict we can sometimes resort to it very quickly and not develop other, more effective, communication responses. It can easily become our preferred approach to punishment or control.
My wife was a substitute music teacher at a local elementary school. Some of the kids were misbehaving and my wife would simply stand there quietly until they all eventually realized they needed to be quiet. She later talked with one of the girls later about her attention issues and the girl responded, “You don’t get mad enough…you don’t get loud enough.” In other words, “I’ve been conditioned to only respond when you get really mad and yell loudly at me. Otherwise, the bad stuff I’m doing isn’t all that serious and I can ignore you.”
You can imagine what her household is like.
The problem with yelling
There are a few problems with using yelling as a means to control your children
- It means you have lost the capacity to calmly exercise authoritative discipline and are trying to use fear to control your child. Kids will understand that they now exert influence over you. It may be a negative form of control, but regardless, they have the power to make you lose it, and they know it. They can press your buttons. They control you!
- Kids will only respond to you out of fear, not love or honour
- Kids will eventually become desensitized to the volume, which will demand that you must keep increasing the volume and intensity to get the same results
- Kids will believe they are not deserving of love because they did not measure up, enhancing the lie that their worth and acceptance is based on their performance
- They will learn to use yelling and anger manipulation to get what they want in other relationships
A better way
There are a few better approaches to conflict resolution than raising the volume level.
Exercise quiet authority:
You can be authoritative and calm at the same time. Yelling actually undermines your authority and reveals you think you’ve lost control, apart from external force. By being calm and in control of your emotions you reveal that your children cannot control your emotions or decisions. As a result, it places the focus of the issue on their behaviour as apposed to your anger. They understand they are not getting a consequence simply because you’re angry, but because they have a behaviour that needs to be held accountable and changed.
My kids sometimes used the opposite approach and would try to get me to laugh when they did something wrong. They were thinking if I laughed and wasn’t angry, then they might not get a consequence. To their dismay I would say, “I might be laughing, but you’re still getting the consequence!
Affirm your love:
When I approach issues calmly and firmly with my child, I communicate that I love them and I am concerned about their approach to life and relationships. The consequences are understood to be rooted, not in my anger, but a desire for them to mature and be respectful of people. At the end of every discipline session with my children I tried to make sure there was a reconnecting hug and the statement, “I love you!”
There are times when you need to use a loud, commanding voice to command attention and immediate reaction. For example, when your child is about to do something dangerous and life threatening, like running into traffic or placing their hand on the stove burner. At those times you may need to be loud and firm to stop them in their tracks. But these instances are rare and not rooted in anger, but loving concern. If your child knows that you only yell when their life is in danger, they will be much more ready to respond when those times come. By yelling constantly, we actually reduce our effectiveness when a real crisis arises.
Yelling is a one-way form of communication that usually doesn’t produce heart change (or it might involve two, one-way communications where each person yells at the other but no one listens). Heart change comes through meaningful conversation. Before I express disapproval or give a consequence, it helps if I first understand their thinking and motivation. What was really driving their behaviour? Then, if a consequence is needed I can share what was damaging about their “choice” of behaviour and why it requires a certain consequence. This is the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment merely penalizes a behaviour. Discipline forms maturity. Just because I’ve given a consequence does not mean I have helped shaped their character. That requires conversation.
Apologize when you lose control:
You will lose it at times. There are times you will act out of your anger as opposed to your concern for your child. We all do it. When it does happen, understand you’ve now modelled for your child a destructive pattern for conflict resolution in their life. Unchecked, they will approach their relationship conflicts the same way – including how they talk to you. You counter that by owning up to it. Confess to your child that you’re sorry you yelled and lost control, that that is not a good approach and does not convey your love for them. Tell them how you wish you had responded and work toward that response in the future – they’ll be watching. They still get a consequence, but they will understand why – even if they don’t agree. When they choose to yell, you then have a basis to explain why that does not communicate respect, and encourage them to communicate in the same manner they want to be communicated to.
What it comes down to is, communicate to others in the way you wanted be communicated to. It’s that simple. No one wants to be yelled at.
Ephesians 6:4 (NLT2)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.
Before I go into any conflict discussion, I need to do some quick checking on where I am finding my sense of value and identity. If it is rooted in anything other than God, then I will be acting out of self preservation as opposed to a love for the other person. This includes confrontation conversations with my kids.
Face it, there are times when your children will not respect and value you; they will challenge your competency as a parent and be quick to point out your failings. If you go into a conversation demanding the respect you think you deserve from them and looking for some sense of identity – then this really has nothing to do with disciplining your child, and everything to do with your insecurities.
When I find my identity in Christ, I do not need it from anyone else, including my children. This frees me in incredible ways. I am no longer manipulated by my insecurities and their attacks, but by an authentic concern for my child’s future maturity. When they start accusing me of things, shifting the focus of the discussion, I can gracefully listen, but then lovingly turn the conversation back to the real issue of their destructive behaviour that needs to be addressed. When a loving concern for their maturity drives the discussion, I can stay calm and focussed. They may vent, but I keep my eyes on the real issue and the desire for them to move forward.
If I go into the discussion with anger, I become an easy target for counter-attack and accusations. My insecurities will react by putting up defenses, pointing out more of “their” issues and escalating the tensions. We all know how that ends.
So before I go into any conflict discussion, I try to pray a prayer similar to this:
“God, I want to thank you that you love and accept me. I thank you that my identity and life rest in your hands and not the opinions of others, even my own children or spouse. Help me to remember this, especially as I go into this difficult discussion, so that I will not become defensive. Help me to stay lovingly focused on how I can build greater maturity in my child. If my child accuses me of anything, help me to hear any truth you want me to hear and to respond in grace. Give me wisdom and discernment to see below the surface to the real issue and help me speak loving correction into my child’s life. Soften my child’s heart to be receptive to truth and your leading. Help me to raise this child into maturity on your behalf.”
When I take this approach, relationship become stronger and my child feels valued and loved, even while being disciplined. When I react out of anger, well… I may get what I want on the surface, but lose in the big picture. Simply having this little conversation with God before reacting, can make a huge difference.