An effective alternative to yelling at your kids

Yelling and screaming at children tends to be ineffective in rendering desired behavior.

I recently worked with a mother of three school aged children (ages five, seven and nine) in a parenting class through Michigan State University Extension that I taught. She disclosed to the class that she has a “major problem with yelling and screaming” at her children when she wants them to behave. She went on to tell stories of how she shrieks and even swears at her children when they get out of line. She also said she felt really bad and wanted to stop the behavior since she knew it could not be good for her children or her family. I was not really surprised by her confession, since so many parents in my parenting class over the years have admitted to have the problem. Most parents I know yell or have yelled at their children at one time or another – including myself. Yelling crosses the line into emotional abuse if a parent threatens, bullies or demeans their child during these episodes.

Over the years, I have always told the parents I work with that screaming is an unhealthy, ineffective tactic to use to get a child to display desired behavior. Screaming can leave emotional scars, stress children out and will not lead to the parent’s desired outcome – a change in behavior. I tell parents that instead of yelling, take a deep breath and walk away or go to another room and give themselves a “time-out” until they can come back to the situation with a cooler head.

Walking away and counting to ten represent a more simplistic way of handling one’s own negative emotions, like the urge to scream at your child. More sophisticated approaches include redirecting a child’s undesirable behavior by changing behavior triggers. For instance, the mom I referred to above said she yells when her nine-year-old forgets to wash the dishes and sweep the floor after dinner. Reportedly, this is happening on a daily basis. I asked her why she thought her daughter was forgetting her chores so frequently and she said because she sneaks into the other room where her younger siblings are playing and watches television and plays with them. When mom said this, it occurred to me that if the television was not on, then the nine-year-old might pay attention to completing her chores. So, I asked mom to turn the television off after dinner and have the younger children engage in other activities until after the kitchen was clean. She came back to class the next week and reported that it was hard to do, but when she enforced that the television remain off during and after dinner, her nine-year-old completed her after dinner chores without incident. This is an example of changing or removing behavior triggers that works.

This is not a hard parenting skill to learn, but one that many parents forget about or see as too difficult to do on a consistent basis. There are many other effective parenting techniques and tactics to learn about through Michigan State University Extension by visiting our website at

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