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Do You Yell at Your Kids?

Let’s be honest:  of course you do.  Every parent, at one time or another, yells at their kids.  The issue isn’t whether you yell at your kids.  The issues are how often you yell at your kids, why you yell at your kids, what do you say when you’re yelling at your kids, and do you sincerely apologize after yelling at your kids.

Let’s take those first two issues together.  If you yell at your kids often and without pressing urgencies at hand, you are inadvertently teaching your kids that yelling is acceptable behavior.  Yelling should be reserved for rare, urgent situations:  for example, you and little Johnny are in the mall parking lot when, in the blink of an eye, he removes his hand from yours and bolts toward a stuffed animal left lying in the course of traffic.  It is appropriate to yell, “STOP, JOHNNY!”  Also, yelling may happen, hopefully rarely, when you momentarily lose your temper.  You’ve had a bad day at work, you come home stressed and tired, and Johnny spills cranberry juice on your new carpet.  It’s wrong to yell at Johnny for his mistake, as a calm redirection would be the appropriate response, but as we are all human and therefore imperfect, many parents in such a situation will yell, “JOHNNY!  HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU NOT TO TAKE JUICE INTO THE LIVING ROOM?  THIS NEW CARPET WAS EXPENSIVE!”  When you yell, you should recognize what you have done (i.e., lost control of your temper), stop yourself before you make the situation worse, and apologize to Johnny for your behavior.  (Apologizing is discussed in greater detail below.)

What you say when you’re yelling at your kids is important as well.  Are you issuing urgent commands?  (“STOP, JOHNNY!”)  Or are you attacking Johnny’s character or intelligence or making him feel threatened?  (“HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU . . .”) (“THIS NEW CARPET WAS EXPENSIVE” – which could make Johnny feel like the carpet is more important to you than he is.)  Kids are sponges.  They absorb the information given them.  If you give them information that they are not ok, they will likely come to believe it. 

Similarly, if you give them information that anger and yelling are acceptable, they will yell and exhibit anger more often and without guilt.  Therefore, a sincere apology is essential when you have yelled at little Johnny.  Not only does that teach Johnny that yelling is not acceptable, he also learns that it’s healthy to apologize when you have wronged someone . . . and he learns that you value him enough to apologize to him.  When you are apologizing to Johnny, ensure that you communicate that his behavior (running into traffic or spilling juice on the carpet) remains unacceptable behavior on his part, but that his unacceptable behavior does not render your behavior acceptable.  

No matter what you choose to do, remember that little Johnny is watching you.  Lead by example.  You are raising the future of the world.  Exhibit and inspire love, calm, and patience.

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