On one of the Christian Parenting forums I watch, the following post caught my eye:
“It seems like my house is so full of yelling. Just to normally communicate something like “May I have Juice” is screamed. My 2 children seem to scream at each other at unnecessary decibels. Then there’s the fighting where they both just scream until I scream at them to stop. I’ve got to figure out some way to stop all this yelling.”
I read this thread with great interest. After having been in education and working with families for more than 25 years I have seen my share of yelling.
Before we get into yelling, lets differentiate between speaking loudly and yelling.
There are many reasons why, but some children are just loud. I had a child who was 70% deaf through her first 2 years until an operation restored her hearing. That together with Sensory Issues where she doesn’t easily differentiate volume, she is loud. To help her we have a signal where we open our hand and slowly close the 4 fingers to the thumb, almost like a puppet slowly closing its mouth, to indicate to her that she is loud. Without missing a beat she quiets her story. Mind you, she is in her mid 20’s now and this little method took training and practice!
Children will also get loud when they are very excited about something. Yes, loud sounds are annoying. But loudness can typically be “endured” as a passing phase of childhood.
For a child who is loud you need to equip and train them to lower their voice. Set up strategies and then clear expectations with rewards for proper execution! But in general, unless your child is purposely rejecting your expectations and requests, don’t treat being loud as being defiant.
Now to yelling and screaming. This is very different from being loud. For both parent and child yelling is typically a lack of a fruit of the Spirit. Nearly ALWAYS! (oops, did my all caps mean I was yelling? For more on the Fruits of the Spirit see Galatians 5:22-23.)
First, lets look at parents who yell, then the children.
Sometimes as parents we get lazy with our teaching, training and guiding our children and we look for an “easy, quick solution” so we try out yelling. Perhaps we were taught by example and had loads of yelling in our home growing up.
Let me be clear, yelling as an instrument for teaching, training and guiding children is inappropriate. That is because yelling is disrespectful and typically triggered by an emotional impulse and such impulses will tend to be inconsistent. Inconsistent discipline confuses children and breads further disobedience. Discipline should not be disrespectful and should not be triggered by an emotional impulse. Rather discipline should be done with respect, predictable and revolve around clear Loving Limits. For some parents, yelling may appear as effective, and may work on occasion, but I have never seen yelling work for long.
Let me explain because this is a very important point. Our kids are born with a predisposition to listen less about WHAT we SAY, and listen more to WHAT we DO! If we look at our child and say, “stop annoying your sister by poking her with that pencil,” your child then begins listening to what you are going to do next. What you said actually matters little. It is what you are prone to consistently do following a warning that matters. When further disobedience occurs, if you consistently follow up with a consequence your child realizes that your pattern is to “ask once, then take action!” They will be far more likely to stop when you ask because children don’t like consequences. It is the action that he “listens” to and what will cause him to obey and stop before the consequence.
But what happens if you add a few steps before taking action? Then your child adapts and refuses to obey until he knows you will take action. Many a mom falls into adding an extra step, thereby postponing obedience. The extra step (or steps) may be begging, nagging, pleading, threatening, crying, lecturing and for a select few it is yelling. If you request, yell, then take action your child will ignore you until you yell. Remember they hear what you do, not what you say. If yelling is the last thing you do before the consequence, then your child will respond at the point of yelling. Not because yelling is effective, but because taking action is effective! Let me show you this graphically:
Because your child hears what you do he realizes, as you can see in the graphic, the last thing you did before giving him a consequence was to scream. Therefore, he is now trained to ignore when you speak and respond when you scream. In psychology this is called the Pavlovian conditioned response or respondent conditioning. No matter what you call it, your child has been trained not to respond until you result to yelling.
But do we want to be parents that lose our self control and give into the impulse of yelling? Is that the example we want to show our children? I hope not! Instead you should examine how you respond to disobedience and take action at the right time. Do you want to be a one request mom, a two request mom, a one request – one yell mom, a screaming raving maniac mom? It really is your choice! You decide on the type of mom you will be by where you take action. Your child will effectively read you no matter what you say because they hear what you do, not what you say. Children totally understand and live by this, but many parents completely miss this important reality.
OK, now to children who yell. All kids have to learn impulse control. We teach them not to steal, not to hit, not to be rude – even though we have impulses to do these things. Yelling should not be an exception and should be controlled. I have come to recognize two types of yelling in children. One is a “defensive” response and the other is an “offensive” act or aggression.
Often defensive yelling is an emotional impulse response. This may be due to a child who is outmatched physically, intellectually or socially. If the child feels trapped, they typically think the only way to even the field is to yell and scream. Yes, the feeling of being trapped is not their fault and often unwanted, but giving into the impulse of yelling is a lack of self control which is a fruit of the Spirit.
“Son, I know that it is very frustrating to feel trapped. Some kids will use their physical strength, others their quick wit or clever deceptions and still others the social or power structure to put you in a position of having to defend yourself. But you are going to have to learn how to feel safe and not be taken advantage of without resorting to yelling. If ever you have a real emergency, such as an adult who makes you feel uncomfortable or someone who is about to do you great harm, I want you to yell and scream. But for other times when you feel you have no alternative but to yell, such as when an older sibling gets aggressive and kicks over your lego creation, it is not OK to yell and scream.”
Then after clearly stating what I expect, I would let him know that because I don’t want him to feel trapped, we will talk together on alternatives to yelling. I would explain to him that he has more than just two choices: 1. to lose or 2. scream. Then we would discuss some alternatives.
Now this is where parenting gets creative – you better be ready with REAL alternatives for your child on how to handle these situations! Talk through different alternatives. If you find yourself in this situation wondering what to tell your child here are some suggestions to get your conversation started:
- Who is the adult in charge? What is their role in settling disputes? May he come and get you to intermediate when a sibling is bothering him?
- Is there a place he can go to calm down or to feel safe? If he is at a club or on a team, can he go and stand next to the coach? Can you alert the adult in charge of the problems that have been happening?
- Is it possible to meet with his adversary and establish courtesy rules?
Once you have given him alternatives, then you can require him to properly deal with the impulse.
Now to the child who screams as a way of controlling others. I strongly believe you should treat this type of yelling the same as you would if your child hits or torments others to control them. I doubt you would tolerate your child punching. So too, you should not tolerate yelling to control others. If you find your child screaming and yelling in an offensive way you should be very swift to correct this issue. Like a weed in the garden, early failure to root out aggression towards others means the problem will grow and get worse. If you would like a clear system to set and keep Loving Limits such as “speaking kindly and respectfully to others” then check out my free book Loving Limits. (Click here to check it out.)
A Final Word
Many times as you get into the root of yelling in your home, you may find that your parenting needs to rise to a new level. You may be surprised to find out many acts of sin have been going unchecked allowing children to feel trapped or allowing them to be aggressive. If this is the case, ask God for help and begin to address the issues. If yelling is the result of your children being rude to each other, begin to address both problems, rudeness and yelling. But NEVER excuse away sin in our children, even if another person’s sin is directly responsible for the impulse that led to your child’s sin.
If you need more help with setting and keeping Loving Limits, like controlling your child’ yelling, check out my free book Loving Limits.
If you would like to motivate your child to do right then check out my 4 blog posts on setting up a positive was to motivate your child here: Positive Motivation Plan.
May your house be a quiet one. God bless you in your very, very important job of parenting!