Behaviour & Emotions

“Stop it! Just stop it!” – Nine alternatives to yelling

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Remember the days when a short sharp slap across the legs was considered a solid parental strategy? It might seem cruel and punitive these days, but not too long ago smacking was seen as a reliable tool in the parenting toolkit. The good news is that these days it’s illegal to use violence as a parenting strategy (whew) but the bad news is that in the absence of lashing out physically, a whole lot of frustrated parents are lashing out and yelling instead.

If you find yourself yelling at the kids every now and again, you’re not alone. Parenting is tiring and frustrating and when we get tired and frustrated, we resort to yelling and screaming at each other. But just like smacking, yelling doesn’t work. In fact, it could cause even greater harm.

If you find yourself yelling at the kids every now and again, you’re not alone

Remember the phrase ‘monkey see – monkey do’? – well that’s pretty much how yelling works. Have you noticed that when you yell at your kids, they just yell right back at you? It’s human nature. But yelling at each other invites a whole lot of misery and chaos into your home and your relationships. When someone yells at you, your adrenalin pumps, your heart races, your fists clench, and your brain freezes. Our kids just don’t need that kind of stress and neither do we.

There is a time for yelling though. It’s when your preschooler is running towards a busy road and you need to urgently stop them in their tracks. Or in any other life or death situation. But for pretty much every other situation involving kids and parents – there is always a better parenting strategy than yelling. Why? Because yelling uses fear to motivate kids into action. Although we might frighten them into compliance in the short term, using fear will almost certainly work against you further down the track. In a nutshell, yelling at your kids is like throwing them a grenade and expecting them to hold it nicely and do as they are told. So it’s time to try another approach.

We might frighten them into compliance in the short term, using fear will almost certainly work against you further down the track.

But, how else do we get our kids to listen?

Try going to where they are. Instead of yelling from the other end of the house or from the kitchen, take a trip down the hallway to the bedroom and use your eyes to get their attention. Not angry scary eyes, but eyebrows up smiling eyes to get their attention. Try it, it works.

But, I have to yell to get their attention.

Try speaking to them instead of yelling. You can even use the same words but try getting a little closer and speaking slower instead. For extra effect, you can even whisper which will have them lean in to catch what you are saying.

But, my kids ignore me when I ask nicely.

Try using fewer words. Instead of just barking a torrent of words, try short and simple sentences with their name at the beginning. For example; “Sam, we are ready to leave in five” or “Sam, I’ve asked you to please leave your sister alone”. Putting their name at the beginning of the sentence tells them you mean business and adding the word please softens the approach.

But, my kids just run away from me.

Sometimes they are just running away from the embarrassment of being yelled at. Try asking them a bit more discreetly so they don’t get embarrassed or lose face in front of others.

But, no one listens in our family.

The best way to get our kids to listen to us is to listen to them first. Listening takes time, so make a cup of tea and find a comfy spot to sit and listen. When we listen to them telling us about their game, their toys or their upset, then they are infinitely more likely to listen to us in return.

But, it’s always when we are in a rush and I just don’t have the time to reason with them.

Make the time. Change up the things in your life that have you feeling busy, stressed and overwhelmed so that you have the time to be a much calmer human for your family. Sometimes less is more, so less running around means more in terms of the quality of the atmosphere in the family.

But, my kids just refuse to cooperate.

Try sharing the load. Use together words like ‘us, and we and let’s’. For example, “it’s time for us to go” or “we better get going in five” or “let’s get going now”. Using inclusive language shows them you are on their team. To avoid the inevitable distraction, stay with them or alongside them until the job is done.

But, you have no idea the way they talk to me.

No one likes to feel disrespected. But someone has to break the cycle of disrespect. It starts with us as parents. It takes time to change the pattern but when you respect your kids, they are much more likely to respect you back. Try showing your kids in small ways each day that they are appreciated and respected, you might be surprised how they send it back in your direction.

But, they push me to my limit.

ep, parenting is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But it’s important. So don’t let your anger spill out onto your kids, they deserve better. Kids will push you to your limit, but instead of responding to your limit with an angry outburst – try responding to your limit by taking a deep breath and getting some perspective. Because ultimately we want our kids to trust us instead of being frightened of us.

Jo Batts

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent and a partner. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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