How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids

Mother telling toddler boy (2-3) off for painting on walls
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Exhaustion, frustration, anxiety, and even the worries we have about our kids can make a parent a bit of a ticking time bomb. With all of that stress bottled up, sometimes little things--like your toddler dropping Cheerios on the floor--can unleash strong emotions.

Maybe after a particularly rough day, you let out a little yell of anger when your child threw his dinner across the room. Or perhaps you screamed at him when he ran away and wouldn't let you change his diaper for the third time that day.

You're not alone. One study found that 90% of parents of 2-year-olds use at least some type of "psychological aggression" with their children. Psychology aggression can include just yelling or more extreme, but non-physical, reactions such as cursing or threatening to spank a child. If you feel guilty or just unhappy about all that yelling (especially since it never seems to do any good), you're also not alone. In Mommy Guilt, authors Julie Bort, Aviva Pflock, and Devra Renner report that yelling is one of the things moms feel most guilty about.

Teach Your Children Discipline Without Yelling

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you want to end unnecessary noise and find a better way to teach your child good behavior.

  1. Recognize when loud is necessary. On their blog Parentopia, two of the moms behind Mommy Guilt clarify that not all yells are created equal. Some are "productive yells" they say. These might include screaming at your toddler, "Don’t touch!" as she's reaching for the hot stove or "Stop!" as she's running toward a busy road. You can keep up this type of yelling without feeling guilty. Saving your child's life or preventing injury trumps the goal of peace and quiet. Remember: The less you yell though, the more likely these productive yells will have the desired effect on your toddler. 
  2. Don't assume your baby doesn't understand. In a moment of frustration, you may say things that are mean or inappropriate to your toddler. With such limited comprehension, your toddler may not understand each word's exact meaning, but he may still understand that your words are unkind. Also, plenty of moms are shocked to hear a curse slip out of her toddler's mouth. It's in situations where you let the profanities fly that he's going learn those words.
  1. Keep positive discipline rules in mind. Toddlers will inevitably test boundaries, have tantrums, refuse to sleep, throw food, and find a hundred other ways to push a tired mom to the edge. You can handle these problems with less yelling if you can remember positive discipline tips and if you can keep a few tricks up your sleeve. For instance, you might be able to redirect a tired toddler with a favorite song or distract a picky eater with silly faces. In fact, silliness is often the best tool a mom has for defusing a tense yell-provoking situation with a toddler.
  2. Forgive yourself for losing it a bit. Yelling at your child occasionally when she's done something wrong should not cause any long-term issues for her even if it makes you feel bad. In an interview with TODAY Moms, psychologist George Holden, Professor of Psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, noted that getting yelled at could actually teach kids an important lesson about dealing with negative emotions. Dr. Holden, who has done extensive research into the effects of corporal punishment on children, does note, however, that if you are yelling frequently it is a sign that something is wrong. If you are dealing with stress or depression, it could manifest in how you interact with your child. Getting help with those issues can lead you to be better able to handle mishaps and crisis with your toddler without resorting to yelling.
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