Yelling at kids is never the answer. It can damage the parent-child relationship and teach children to be yellers themselves. The good news is there are many highly effective discipline techniques that get kids to listen without ever raising your voice. With patience and consistency, you can gain cooperation and compliance from your children in a calm, caring way.
Why Yelling Doesn’t Work
Let’s start by understanding why yelling is an ineffective discipline method. Here are the main reasons raising your voice backfires:
- It teaches aggression. Screaming at children models inappropriate behavior and damages their self-esteem. It causes kids to yell back or become aggressive themselves. Yelling begets more yelling.
- It overwhelms kids. Loud voices trigger a “fight or flight” response, flooding children with stress hormones. This overwhelms their brain’s thinking center, so they cannot process directions.
- It damages trust. Being berated makes kids feel disrespected. This erodes the loving bond between parent and child that is essential for cooperation.
- It escalates situations. Yelling often makes problems worse. Kids may get so upset they have a meltdown or act out more.
- It doesn’t teach long term skills. While yelling may intimidate a child into complying in the moment, they do not learn self-discipline. Once the threat is gone, kids will repeat the same poor choices.
The bottom line? Yelling is an ineffective short-term fix with many long-term consequences. If we want to raise responsible, self-disciplined kids, we need other tools.
Set the Stage for Success
Preventing misbehavior is more effective than reacting to it. Set your child up for success by meeting their basic needs consistently.
Get enough sleep. Well-rested kids are less prone to tantrums and disobedience. Set an early, consistent bedtime based on their age.
Eat healthy. Hunger can impact mood and behavior. Provide regular, nutritious meals and snacks. Don’t let them get too hungry.
Make time for play. Kids need active play and focused attention every day. Get outside for exercise and make time for games and family bonding.
Limit screen time. Excessive TV, video games, etc. causes irritability. Set limits to ensure tech doesn’t replace human interaction and physical activity.
Stick to routines. Kids thrive on predictable schedules for meals, naps, school, extracurriculars and family time. Routines make kids feel secure.
Proactively meeting children’s basic needs goes a long way in preventing power struggles. But we all still face situations where we need cooperation. When this happens, stay calm and use these techniques:
1. Be Clear and Consistent
Yelling often happens when frustrations boil over because kids aren’t following rules. Vague, inconsistent expectations confuse kids and set the stage for misbehavior. Prevent this by:
- Setting simple, age-appropriate rules. Instead of “be good,” say “no hitting” or “finish homework before play.”
- Posting rules. Write 3-5 main rules and post them visibly. Keep it positive – “Walk” vs “No running.” Review often.
- Explaining reasons for rules. Communicate the “why” behind rules. Kids comply better when they understand reasons.
- Following through consistently. Don’t make empty threats or allow frequent exceptions. Consistency and fairness are key.
Example: “It’s bedtime. Please get your pajamas on and brush your teeth. Remember our rule – teeth brushed and lights out by 8 PM because kids need 10-12 hours of sleep to be healthy.”
Clear, consistent rules set expectations and avoid confusion. But even with good guidelines, kids will still test limits. When this happens, stay calm and enforce rules politely to teach kids to follow them.
2. Speak Softly
Words spoken in anger and frustration convey an intimidating, shaming message that overrides their content. To ensure your message gets through:
- Take deep breaths when frustrated. Oxygen calms the brain.
- Press your lips together and count when irritated. Give yourself 10 seconds before responding.
- Lower your voice. Soft, low tones feel less threatening and demanding to kids.
- Speak slowly, firmly and politely. Saying please, thank you and addressing them respectfully maintains an emotionally safe environment where kids can think rationally.
- Use empathy. “I see this is frustrating for you.”
- Give them your full attention. Get on their level, make eye contact and listen without multi-tasking.
The goal is to respond, not react. Their little brains cannot think when yelling triggers their fight or flight response. Staying calm ensures your message can be heard.
3. Give Effective Instructions
Vague, abrupt demands like “Be good!” are hard for kids to follow. Here’s how to tell kids exactly what to do in a way they can understand:
- Get close and have them pause what they are doing. This signals you need their full focus.
- Use short 1-3 step instructions like “Please put your toys away, then wash your hands for dinner.”
- Speak slowly and make direct eye contact. Encourage them to repeat the instructions back.
- Only give 1 direction at a time. Multi-step instructions are hard to follow.
- Use positive phrasing. Say “Walk please” instead of “Stop running!” Kids respond better to positive reinforcement.
Clear, specific instructions said face-to-face in a calm voice maximizes cooperation. Allow time for instructions to sink in, then compliment effort. If kids struggle, demonstrate the desired behavior first. Connect your request to their sense of responsibility and independence.
4. Offer Limited Choices
Giving some control avoids power struggles. Instead of barking orders, provide limited options:
- “Would you like to pick up your toys or get ready for bed first?”
- “Will you put your plate on the counter or in the dishwasher?”
- “Will you finish your veggies first or second?”
Choices encourage decision-making and cooperation. But keep options reasonable, safe and few to avoid decision fatigue. Follow through if they do not decide quickly. Offering choices takes patience, but prevents yelling matches.
5. Use Positive Reinforcement
When kids cooperate, lavish on immediate praise! Recognize their hard work and good decisions. Positive reinforcement for desired behaviors teaches them to repeat it.
- Give enthusiastic, specific praise like “Awesome job picking up your toys so fast!”
- Avoid generic praise like “Good job!” that doesn’t explain what they did well.
- Reward with age-appropriate privileges like a bedtime story, dance party, special outing, sticker chart, etc. Follow through consistently.
- Notice times they manage emotions, play fairly, share, etc. and call out these positive behaviors too.
Kids misbehave when they feel ignored. Positive reinforcement flips this dynamic. You’ll quickly notice good behavior increasing and misbehavior decreasing.
6. Use Natural Consequences
When positive reinforcement fails, enact dispassionate consequences immediately with no repeated warnings. Calmly explain how their choice resulted in a logical consequence. See a few examples:
- If they refuse to turn off TV for dinner, the TV gets turned off.
- If they mistreat a toy, they lose access to it.
- If they make a mess, they help clean it.
- If they are late for the bus, no ride to school.
Let them experience the natural result of their actions. No yelling or bribing needed – the situation itself teaches a lesson. Stay calm and detached. They’ll quickly learn to make better choices.
7. Provide Time-Ins
When tantrums or misbehavior continue past warnings and consequences, prevent yelling by using “time-ins” for a short break.
Gently guide or carry them to a designated time-out spot like their room or a boring corner. Set a visible timer for 1 minute per year of age and leave without lecturing or making eye contact. When the timer goes off, reconnect and redirect to a new activity.
Avoid scolding or punishing after. Time-ins give everyone a chance to cool off and reset. Kids learn to self-soothe without aggressive attention-seeking behavior.
8. Model the Behavior You Want to See
Kids absorb everything – the good and the bad. If we want respectful, gentle kids then we need to model that ourselves.
- Stay patient, polite and calm even when frustrated.
- Admit when you make mistakes. Apologize to your kids when you lose your temper.
- Use your inside voice for all conversations. Only speak loudly if there is an emergency.
- Express feelings out loud. “Mommy is feeling really worried because you are not listening right now.”
- Avoid criticizing, lecturing, threatening or shaming kids.
- Physically show affection. Give hugs, high fives and fist bumps.
- Take deep breaths when angry and go for a walk to cool down if needed.
- Congratulate kids when you notice them managing emotions well.
The bottom line? Your behavior is their example. Children will follow your lead.
9. Praise Effort Over Achievement
How you praise matters. Avoid placing too much emphasis on rankings, grades, and awards. Instead, recognize effort.
- “I’m proud of you for practicing your instrument so diligently!”
- “I really admire your commitment to studying. Your hard work shows!”
- “You stayed focused at practice even when it was challenging – that shows grit!”
Celebrate progress over perfection. Emphasize ethics over achievement. Model humility, self-compassion and balance. Teach kids their inherent worth is not tied to external validation.
10. Foster a Strong Connection
At the core, kids listen when they trust us and feel securely attached. Set aside dedicated time each day for non-distracted family connection.
- Share meals together.
- Read bedtime stories.
- Play board games.
- Take nightly walks.
- Share highs and lows from your day.
Life gets busy, but setting aside sacred time to connect speaks volumes. Children spell love T-I-M-E. A strong parent-child relationship fortifies kids to handle life’s frustrations.
11. Pick Your Battles
Parental sanity requires choosing which behaviors to correct and which to ignore. Learning to let the small stuff go prevents blow ups.
Reserve your enforcement efforts for issues affecting health, safety and strong values. Practice saying “yes” more than “no.” Lighten up and laugh at the silly, harmless things kids do.
Save your discipline for what matters – teaching them to be good people. Let natural consequences do the rest of the work. Your blood pressure will thank you!
12. Take Parent Time-Outs
We all have moments where our frustration begins to boil over. Recognizing this early is key. When needed, call a parent time-out.
- Take deep breaths first. Then say calmly, “Mommy needs a grown up time out. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
- Leave the room, drink water, meditate, or do quick exercise to cool down. Set a timer.
- Return when calm. Briefly apologize for getting frustrated.
- Then reconnect positively. “I am feeling much better. Let’s play legos!”
Parent time outs model critical emotional intelligence skills. By naming your feelings and taking space to cool down, kids see how to self-regulate. Return relaxed and ready to reconnect calmly.
13. Involve Them in Problem Solving
Instead of yelling commands, engage kids in solving discipline issues collaboratively. They are more likely to comply with solutions they help create.
If they are fighting over sharing toys, convene a family meeting:
- “Kids, I’ve noticed you two arguing a lot over these toys. What ideas do you have to solve this problem?”
Let them share solutions like setting a timer or picking toys in alternating order. Discuss logical consequences and praise their thinking. Write a plan and post it as the new rule.
Involving children in creating solutions teaches critical thinking and cooperation. Guide them, but let them do the bulk of the work. They’ll amaze you with their ideas!
14. Stay Consistent
Following through is critical, even when it tests your patience. Remaining consistent:
- Builds trust and predictability. Kids believe we will enforce rules fairly.
- Strengthens impulse control. They learn to think before acting.
- Teaches respect for authority. Children internalize that parents have legitimate reasons for rules.
Aim for 80% consistency to allow for flexibility. But avoid idle threats or repeatedly backing down if kids resist rules. Consistency requires grit, but pays off.
15. Explain Rules with Connection and Empathy
Emotional lessons sink in deeper than lectures. When reviewing rules, express your love and concern:
- “I know you want to keep playing, but I get worried about your health when you don’t sleep enough. That’s why we have the 8pm bedtime rule – so you’ll grow up safe and strong.”
- “Hitting hurts people – inside and out. You are such a caring, gentle child. Let’s keep your hands to yourself from now on.”
Connect rules to your values and emotions. Emphasize your confidence in their ability to follow the guidelines. This motivates kids to align with expectations.
16. Praise the Positive
When misbehavior occurs, address it calmly without yelling then quickly pivot back to praising good choices:
- “Please use gentle hands with your baby sister. I don’t want you to injure her. Thank you for being sweet and playing so nicely with her.”
- “Remember we walk inside so no one gets hurt. Nice work listening right away when I reminded you!”
Don’t dwell on the negative. Redirect firmly if needed, then immediately recognize any step in the right direction. This motivates kids to repeat the good choice.
17. Catch Them Being Good
Even when exasperated, notice times kids do listen or make good choices. Scan for these bright spots and call them out:
- “Thank you for turning off the TV when I asked the first time. I really appreciate you listening right away.”
- “You waited so patiently while I was on the phone. Great job keeping your voice down and letting me focus.”
- “I noticed you stopped yourself from hitting your brother. Excellent work using your words instead of hands!”
Watch for any effort in the right direction, no matter how small. Shine a spotlight on good choices to encourage more.
18. Stay Calm with Empathy during Tantrums
Tantrums push all parents to the limit. But yelling only escalates upset. Respond with empathy instead:
- Remain calm. Take deep breaths. Speak very softly.
- Say “I’m here. You’re safe.” Let them release feelings.
- If needed for safety, gently hold or block hitting.
- When they calm down, offer a hug or water. Comfort without indulging the tantrum. Set limits calmly.
Losing your temper prolongs tantrums. Empathize but don’t give in. This helps kids release feelings, then reset. With time, tantrums taper off. Staying calm prevents yelling.
19. Take Care of Yourself!
No strategy works if parents are running on empty. Make self-care a priority so you don’t run out of patience with the kids.
- Exercise daily
- Eat nutritious meals
- Stay hydrated
- Take time to relax
- Ask your partner, family or friends for help when stressed
- Let go of perfectionism. You’re doing a great job!
Recharge regularly. Seek support when struggling. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint! Taking care of yourself empowers you to stay positive and calm with the kids.
Yelling harms kids and erodes the parent-child bond. With patience and leading by example, you can gain willing cooperation without ever raising your voice. Kids look to us to model self-control, empathy and emotional intelligence.
The strategies above work wonders, but require grit and consistency. Be prepared to follow through calmly even when tested. Over time, your family will reap the rewards of a household built on mutual understanding and respect.
The early years are challenging, but this too shall pass. With love and laughter, your family can build trust and learn to communicate in peaceful ways. Keep your cool, stay the course and enjoy the precious – if chaotic – gift of raising children. Their childhood depends on it.