How to Stop Yelling (so much)

A happy family. A father hugging his daughter while his wife, her mother watches

Do you yell more often than you like?
Does yelling fall short of getting the result you want?
Do you find yourself yelling when you don’t realize you’re doing it?
Do your kids say you yell all the time?
Is yelling easier than stay calm?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be addicted to yelling. We can get addicted to patterns of behavior, especially when we experienced those patterns growing up. And what’s scary is that, like addictions, we often don’t realize we’re yelling and will actually deny it when we are. But your kids hear it as yelling.

Research has shown a a direct link between harsh verbal discipline and adolescent conduct behavior and depression. What’s worse is that warmth shown from parents who yell does not offset the damage of yelling. Kids who feel rejected and criticized by yelling do not have strong self-worth.

Ideas and assumptions about our children and about ourselves get triggered when our children don’t do what we ask, don’t behave in the way we expect, and when we don’t know how to handle it. Those ideas—He’s so violent, She’s out to get me, He’s doing this on purpose, Why won’t she ever listen, I’m a pathetic parent—happen at lightening speed—too quickly to get control of the yelling that automatically results. The key is to change your perceptions in order to change those automatic reactions, to think differently in the moment.

An angry mother yelling while standing over her teen daughter.There is nothing inherently wrong with yelling and getting angry as long as you own your anger and don’t dump it on your kids. When you blame your kids for your anger, “Why can’t you ever just do what I ask? Why do I have to yell at you?” you are asking them to take responsibility for your anger and your yelling behavior. But you can certainly express your anger with, “I am so angry about that mess in the kitchen. I hate seeing things left out. Can someone please take care of that before dinner?” It’s certainly needed to yell “Stop” or to be heard over the noise level. It’s all about how you yell.

When blame comes with the yell, when your behavior looks too much like the behavior you are trying to eradicate in your child, when you think your kids won’t do anything unless you yell, work needs to be done.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

If you feel somewhat in control of your yelling and are aware of how easily you yell:

1. Wait before you say or do anything. If you take just a minute or two, even a few seconds, you will allow the adrenaline rush to slow down in your body and will allow rationale thought to return.

2. Think about what you want to say or do. Immediate reacting will never get you where you want to be as a parent.

3. Come back to it when you are calmer and can own your upset. “I didn’t like it when I saw the mess in the dining room. Let’s talk about what happens next” is far better than yelling, “Who made this mess! I’m not cleaning it up. Somebody better and fast.”
If you try the first three steps and say to yourself, “I just can’t help it”, continue with:

4. Admit that you yell more than you want and that you are perhaps a “yellaholic”.

5. Acknowledge that right now it feels out of your control but that it is up to you to bring it in your control. It is not your child’s job to change so that you can stay calm. The pattern likely is rooted in a deeper, old place.

6. Know that the pattern set from your past is not your fault. You learned it as a child when you were simply protecting yourself.

7. Commit to doing the personal inventory needed to get to the root of the pattern of yelling. (When Your Kids Push Your Buttons book and workbook can help with this)

8. Become mindful of the times you yell and what triggered you. Write them down. Is there a pattern? Is it every time you feel taken for granted, unappreciated? Every time you think your kids don’t listen to you? Bringing it into your consciousness is a huge step.

9. Get help—whether a partner, a trusted friend and good listener, or a professional.

10. Self-care, whatever form you like, is essential every single day. Especially in Covid times. If you ignore your needs, how can you care for others? And what are you modeling for your kids?

11. Admit to your children and/or partner that you have a problem with yelling. Let them know you are committed to stopping and would like their help (if children are six or older). You might give them permission to call you on it with a word or phrase you agree on.

12. Keep a journal or notations on a calendar to keep it clear.

When yelling comes from your past, it’s as if you are under a spell. We cast spells on people when we are reacting in an unconscious way. Think about what spell you are under from your past (I’m the stupid one, the accident, the smart one, the one who ruins everything, never good enough) cast by a parent, a teacher, a sibling. Ask yourself what spell you were under that you have broken out of (No one wants to hear what I say). When your children behave (or don’t) in a way that pushes your button, the emotional memories stored in the amygdala in your brain get triggered, and you react in ways you might have back when the memories were made.

Then ask yourself what spells you are casting on your children by yelling. Be as specific as you can. I keep sending them the message they do everything wrong. When you yell, you may have all good intentions of teaching your children something important. But what they hear through the yelling is something you never intended.

This work is not about blaming anyone. This is about taking responsibility for the patterns of behavior we get into, discovering why, and committing to breaking the cycle so your children don’t carry it forward. It’s about being in charge of your relationship with your children—being the adult.