Is it OK to yell at children?
Most parents are aware that physical punishment is unacceptable. The Canadian Paediatric Society strongly discourages physical punishment of children, including spanking. But when difficult situations with children arise, many parents yell at their kids. Is this a matter for concern? What impact does yelling have on children?
Think of how you would feel if you were confronted by an angry person, much larger and stronger than you, who began to shout at you. No one should have to feel fear from another person, particularly their parent. Children need to feel safe and secure, and hearing yelling and shouting does not create that feeling. Yelling creates fear in most children, and younger children are easily frightened.
Remember that children learn from what they observe, and so it follows that children who are yelled at, tend to become yellers themselves. This can be seen in many situations, when a child is yelling or shouting at a parent or other adult. It also shows up in behaviour with siblings or other children. If you don’t want your child to yell, then don’t yell at your child yourself.
Maybe you don’t yell at your child, but in your home, people yell at each other. Your child will observe this and may interpret this as typical adult behaviour. Even if you have avoided yelling at your child, you may find yourself on the receiving end of yelling from this small person.
As a behaviour guidance method, yelling doesn’t work. If you yell often at a child, they tend to be less sensitive to it. After awhile, the loud volume and tone of your shouting voice does not get their attention. To them, it is normal communication. This leads up to the previous point, that you are teaching your child that this is appropriate and normal communication between people. If your child doesn’t have a chance to learn that this is not true, he or she will run into a lot of problems in school, and with other adults. If your goal is to have the child stop a behaviour and learn that the behaviour is wrong, then think about whether people can learn when they are in a scary situation. The answer is no. Often a child does not even realize why they are being yelled at. So, yelling does not teach a child.
It is not always easy to stay calm and patient in the face of a strong willed child. Sometimes an angry child will yell and scream at their parent, hoping to get what they want, or for attention. Parents need to keep their own voices calm and at a normal volume, resisting the impulse to respond in the same way.
Remember that this is a child, and it is up to you not to be drawn into childish behaviour. As parents, our job is to help our children grow and develop beyond the impulsive and often inappropriate behaviour that comes naturally to children We need to teach them what is appropriate and what is not and help them develop self control. A child who yells at you can be calmly given a time out (with no yelling) from the parent. The child can be told something like,
“ I will listen to you when you are not yelling at me”. When the child does speak in a normal voice, be sure to pay attention.
Parents love their kids and want what is best for them. However, yelling does not show respect or affection, it causes fear and distress, and it doesn’t work. It’s time to learn some other ways to interact.
Positive Parenting appears every week in LIFE. This week’s column was written by Laurie Lafortune, co-ordinator of the Understanding the Early Years project with Family Services of Central Alberta. Lafortune can be reached by calling 403-343-6400 or www.fsca.ca.