What to Do if Another Parent Yells at Your Child

parent yelling at a child

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On an airplane, at the park, in a restaurant, or at a birthday party—it doesn't matter where it happens. When another parent yells at your child it can be unnerving. Feeling protective of your child, confused by the other adult's behavior, or even angry or upset are all typical feelings parents can experience when another person not only disciplines your child but yells at them in the process.

"These situations are often stressful and bring forth a variety of emotions such as shock, worry, and frustration," says Brittany Schaffner, IMFT-S, LPCC-S, a crisis education supervisor for the Behavioral Health Pavilion and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. "It is important to pause, recognize how you are feeling, and take some deep breaths before having the conversation. This will help you fully assess the situation and give you a moment to identify how you want to respond."

Below we explore how to de-escalate these situations, talk to the adult about what happened, and help your child process the situation. Whether the adult yelling at your child is a stranger, a friend, or a family member, you will find tips on how to navigate the situation with tact and empathy.

How to De-Escalate the Situation

When another parent yells at your child—regardless of whether or not they did something wrong—it is natural for your protective instincts to kick in. Experts advise that you take a moment to calm down and decompress before jumping in to do or say something. Here are some additional tips on how to de-escalate the situation.

Check In With Your Child

Before addressing the person yelling, it is important to check in with your child first. You want to be sure they are OK and try to determine what happened. You may not get a clear picture, but at least you will have some sense of your child's perception.

Laurie Holman, PhD

If you don't first understand what's on your child's mind, then you can't decide what to do about it.

— Laurie Holman, PhD

"If you don't first understand what's on your child's mind, then you can't decide what to do about it," says Laurie Holman, PhD, a psychoanalyst with clinical training in infant-parent, child adolescent, and adult psychotherapy. "Even if it's somewhat embarrassing for you as a parent that your child's behavior wasn't viewed well, your first priority is your child, not you or the other adult."

You also can ask the adult how their child is doing to be caring and polite, Dr. Holman adds. And you can even offer an apology if you feel one is warranted. But don't push your child to do what the other parent wants.

"Kids come first," she says. "Often adults want apologies on the spot, but until you understand what was in your child's mind that precipitated any action, you can't make a split-second decision and have your child feel like you are not their ally."

Remain Calm

In any situation you are trying to de-escalate, Schaffner says it is important to pay attention to your body language and tone of voice. Approach the situation with a calm demeanor and speak in a firm but respectful tone. You also should be direct.

"In situations where you are not familiar with the parent, approach them by introducing yourself and taking a curious standpoint," she says. "For example say 'Hello, I’m Sarah’s mother. Can you tell me what the concern is?'"

Another way to diffuse the situation is to use humor. This approach will depend on your personality and the person you are addressing. If you are not comfortable using humor, it is OK to stick to a more serious approach.

Brittany Schaffner, IMFT-S, LPCC-S

If your attempts have not been successful in de-escalating the situation, it may be most helpful to pause the conversation or leave the situation.

— Brittany Schaffner, IMFT-S, LPCC-S

"If your attempts have not been successful in de-escalating the situation, it may be most helpful to pause the conversation or leave the situation," Schaffner says.

Respond With Compassion

As you begin to address the situation, highlight that you are simply trying to understand what is going on so that you can make a plan of action, suggests Julia Chamberlain, MS, INHC, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor. Be sure to address the other parent calmly and do not match their intensity or this will most likely escalate the situation more.

"Be sure to lead with understanding and compassion, which can offset any defensiveness the other party might feel," Chamberlain says. "Even if the other parent was in the wrong, it is important to not demonize them for their actions."

Instead, she suggests using a compliment sandwich. For instance, you might say: “I know you meant well, but I really didn’t like the way you handled the situation at that moment. I still care for you and do not want this to negatively impact our friendship, maybe we can make a plan together moving forward.” 

Set Boundaries

Keep in mind that if this is a family member or friend and yelling is a pattern of behavior for them, you need to be sure you establish some ground rules when it comes to your child. Letting someone continue to yell at your child every time they do something wrong could have dire consequences.

Research indicates that harsh verbal discipline can lead to conduct problems and even depressive symptoms in kids if it is ongoing. For instance, one study found that verbal criticism and corporal punishment at age 11 influenced adolescent misbehavior at age 14.

Although most of the research centers around parents using harsh verbal discipline with their own kids, if you have a friend or family member that frequently flies off the handle over your kids' transgressions, you should put an end to this type of treatment.

"Establish clear boundaries," Schaffner says. "Boundaries are a necessary and healthy part of all relationships. They provide parameters and expectations around what is and is not appropriate."

Setting a clear boundary might sound like this: “When addressing issues or concerns with my child, I use a non-yelling approach. I would like you to use the same approach,” Schaffner says. You also can ask that they communicate with you first when issues arise with your child.

What to Say

Having a conversation about what happened and why the person yelled at your child is not an easy task—but it is one that has to happen. Schaffner suggests opening the conversation with an invitation. Say something like: “I’ve been reflecting on what happened yesterday, and I would love to talk about it more with you.”  Also, approach the conversation wanting to hear more regarding their perspective.

"In general, we are more open to conversations when we feel like the other party really wants to understand where we were coming from," she says. "This often can help clear up any misunderstandings and provide information that we may not always have."

It is also important to identify the impact it had on your child and you, Schaffner says. In other words, share your story and what the experience was like for you and your child. Many times, people are receptive to this information. But even if they are not, it is important to try to share your side of things.

That said, never yell at another yeller, adult, or child, says Dr. Holman. By remaining calm, you are showing your child that you can control your emotions regardless of the cause.

How to Help Your Child Process the Incident

Regardless of your child's age, being yelled at by an adult—especially one who is not their parent—can be frightening and overwhelming. For this reason, you need to make sure you listen and are supportive. Approach the conversation with an open invitation to talk, similar to how you discussed it with a friend or family member.

"Be curious about their experience," Schaffner says. "[Ask them] 'What was that like for you?' Your child may or may not share the same thoughts or feelings that you experienced. Checking in to see what they were feeling is a great way to allow them to explore. Be sure to validate their feelings on the situation."

You also should let your child know how you addressed the situation. Allow them to ask questions and express any additional worries or concerns.

"Talk together about a plan for the next time they might find themselves in a similar situation," suggests Schaffner. "Remind them that you are there to support them."

Tips for Regrouping and Moving On

Schaffner says that regrouping often can happen on two levels—individually and relationally. Individually, people have different self-care strategies that help them relax after a difficult situation. On a relationship level, regrouping includes talking and sharing openly about the situation together.

"As a parent, it is important that we identify and use what works for us and encourage our children to use the self-care that works best for them," Schaffner says. "This could be a number of things including journaling, going to a quiet space, deep breathing, reading, listening to music, and going for a walk, to name a few. It is also a wonderful time to share in a fun or relaxing activity together."

Here are some additional tips for helping your child regroup and move on.

Check Your Emotions

Children experience a variety of emotions regarding stressful situations, Schaffner says. The important thing to know is children are impacted by the emotions of adults.

"Children learn about emotions, how to express them, and how to regulate them through adults," she says. "This is called co-regulation. Therefore, it is important to check-in regarding our own emotional states during those stressful situations and after."

Turn It Into a Learning Experience

Stressful situations also are opportunities for learning. As adults, we are the greatest model and tool in helping children learn, Schaffner says.

"Demonstrating how to navigate stressful situations helps children learn skills they need as they grow, such as emotional regulation and conflict management," she adds. "Have a conversation with your child. Reflect on the events that happened, feelings they experienced, things they used to manage their emotions, and what we can learn from the experience."

It is also important to acknowledge that people make mistakes and those mistakes are opportunities to do something different. Schaffner suggests asking your child "What do you think could have been different?" and then exploring those different ideas. 

Practice How to Handle Future Incidents

Practicing is another great way for kids to learn skills. Schaffner suggests taking the time to “act out” a situation and have your child practice what they may say or do in those situations.

"Remember practicing is also a great tool for helping adults too," Schaffner adds. "When it comes to having tough conversations, it's also helpful to write down what you would like to say and practice."

A Word From Verywell

When another adult yells at your child, it is normal to feel defensive, confused, and even angry. But before you rush in and confront the person yelling, take a deep breath and compose yourself. You also should check in with your child. They need to know that you support them and that you are their ally in every situation.

Once you have made sure your child is OK and you have let them know that you love them and will protect them, then you can attempt to address the situation with the adult. There are a number of different ways to broach the subject. The key is that you are calm, respectful, and willing to listen.

Even though it is not OK for another adult to yell at your child, it is still important to be tactful and empathetic. By doing so, you are showing your child that while something may be upsetting, you can still choose to respond in a calm way.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wang MT, Kenny S. Longitudinal links between fathers' and mothers' harsh verbal discipline and adolescents' conduct problems and depressive symptomsChild Dev. 2014;85(3):908-923. doi:10.1111/cdev.12143

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.