If you've ever witnessed a mom or dad yelling at their child and thought to yourself "What a terrible parent. Don't they know that yelling isn't effective?" you're not alone.
Marianna Franklin* used to be that person, until she had a child of her own. Now, as a single mom by choice, she often finds herself at the end of her rope by the end of the day.
"I work a full-time job at work, and then I work a full-time job at home, and I don't get any days off," the 51-year-old Torontonian told HuffPost Canada. She finds she yells most in the evenings when she's run out of the energy and patience required to enforce bedtime rules for her boundary-testing nine-year-old son.
"I don't yell at my kid because he's being bad or acting out or not brushing his teeth fast enough. I'm yelling because I'm exhausted and I'm angry that I'm so tired. I'm yelling because I have reached the absolute end of my rope and I have lost the ability to tap into other strategies," she said.
"I feel terrible when I yell. Like it's a failure at parenting."
Having grown up in a family of introverts who never raised their voices, the concept of yelling was foreign to Franklin until the past couple of years.
"For me, it's upsetting because I'm a soft spoken person who rarely raises my voice. So for me to raise my voice and yell at my son in anger is a real warning sign that something is wrong."
Franklin recently reached out to a counsellor for support making changes in order to ensure she won't end up exhausted and yelling at her son come the end of the day.
It can be a struggle not to react
"Parenting is really hard, and it can take you to places where you're so frustrated, and you just get so angry," child and family therapist Jennifer Kolari told HuffPost Canada.
"It doesn't mean that if you yell at your kid you'll ruin them for life. You're going to yell sometimes — you're a person. But, you want to make sure that it's not your primary [parenting] method."
Kolari says parents need to work on responding to their children's behaviour rather than reacting to it.
Which is exactly what mom of three young boys, Sera Alfadili*, finds herself struggling with on a daily basis.
"I try being patient, and I try distracting the kids. It doesn't always work, and, with three little guys trying to get out of the house every day, sometimes you just need everyone to hustle," Alfadili told HuffPost Canada. "Sometimes they listen, but most of the time, they just escalate their bad behaviour, which in turn escalates mine."
Alfadili, who lives in Toronto, finds her yelling embarrassing, and wishes she had more support in order to stop.
"I hate yelling. It ruins my mood and makes everyone grumpy."
Yelling shouldn't be the primary parenting strategy
Kolari says that it is important for parents to recognize that if yelling is their primary parenting strategy — to the point that they can hardly stand the sound of their own voice anymore — that they have gone off the rails and need to find a way back.
"Here's my tip that I use for myself: If I'm angry and what's coming out of my mouth feels fantastic, it's wrong," Kolari said. "It should feel restrained. It should feel stuck in your throat, like you're pushing it back down. When you are angry and you are free flowing yelling, your frontal lobe is offline and it's completely not effective."
Victoria Ward* admits that it's nearly impossible for her to control her angry yelling at her three sons, and says most of the time she isn't even aware she's doing it.
"It makes me feel like crap," the Port Credit, Ont. mom told HuffPost Canada. "So ashamed. Like a total failure as a parent."
Ward wants to break the cycle of yelling, having come from a physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive home herself. "In all attempts to avoid any kind of spanking, which I swore I would never do with my own children, I have ultimately resorted to yelling and screaming."
She admits she hates yelling, but that there are days that her voice is hoarse because she ends up raising it so much. "I would love to stop yelling. I just don't know how."
Tips to help parents stop yelling
Kolari acknowledges that parents are often incredibly hard on themselves.
"It is so much harder than you thought it was going to be, and than it looks like it should be," Kolari said.
She offers a few strategies for parents who are looking to curb the yelling in their home. First, checking in and ensuring that your child's immediate needs are being met — are they tired, hungry, or have you sprung something unexpected on them?
"Honestly, as cliche as it sounds, having structure almost like a camp counsellor is really effective," she said. Children — and adults — thrive off routine and being notified of changes ahead of time.
Allowing children to have their big feelings, and safely express their tantrums while the parent remains completely calm and neutral — a strategy referred to as the paradoxical technique — is another way to quell yelling quickly. Parents yelling and kids reacting can be a cycle that feeds itself, noted Kolari. When you act unexpectedly, you help break the cycle.
Parents should also be modelling healthy behaviours for their children when it comes to stress management, Kolari said. Recognizing that you're upset and could use a walk, drink of water, or few deeps breaths to calm down before responding to your child are all excellent tools.
"That way you can show your children that you can get very very angry, but there are things that you can do to bring your anger back down."
Parents also need to take time to recharge their batteries by engaging in activities that bring them joy, Kolari said.
Franklin has recently started exercising again, and Alfadili makes a point of regularly getting out of the house with friends in order to unplug and recharge. For Ward, self-care is more of a struggle with a partner who works long shifts and no family nearby to offer support.
"It's not the end of the world"
For what it's worth, Kolari says that never yelling at your child isn't the path to not "messing them up" either.
"One day, somebody is going to yell at them — a boss or a teacher — and they're going to be devastated. So once in a while it's not the end of the world. People have big feelings — it's a natural consequence of upsetting someone," she said.
The key, she says, is recognizing and repairing the damage, and ensuring that yelling is not the primary coping strategy.
"You also have to remember that if you can't keep it together, then how are they going to keep it together?"
*the moms interviewed for this story all asked for their identities to be concealed.
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