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When Parents Yell

Yesterday I yelled at one of my children, in public, for something lame. Yelled, as my husband gently put it later, “like one of those out-of-control moms you see.” Great.

You see, my children were doing something mildly dangerous, the kind of thing that makes moms nervous but is often tolerated by dad. And I asked them both to stop, nicely, twice. Being children, they were oblivious to my requests and continued their mildly dangerous game. And then one fell and tears and crying started and that is when I yelled. Yelled at the other one that I had ASKED THEM TO STOP SAID DANGEROUS THING AND THIS IS WHY AND YOU MAY NOT DO X WHEN YOU ARE CLOSE TO Y, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.

And even as I was doing the yelling, I was thinking, what the heck is wrong with me? Because when we lose our control, it’s rarely about what the child did, right? It’s about us. It’s about us being tired, or frustrated, or scared. And that, my friends, is why yelling is rarely effective. My child listened to me yell, muttered a quick apology, and then moved as physically far away from me as possible. Like I said before, great.

So now I’m upset, one of my children is crying, and the other feels disconnected from me. Yelling just pushes the lesson away and builds a wall of negative emotions between you and your child. For little children, they might feel scared. Older children will learn to tune the yeller out when at home and will be embarrassed (both for you and them) when in public. And what does it teach if someone older and in a position of power over you yells at you in public? What does it teach if someone bigger than you yells at home? If yelling imprints fear, humiliation, or disconnect, then that is our message and not whatever got you so hot to begin with.

I am eternally grateful that I have forgiving children. I calmed down and apologized clearly and directly for yelling. I explained why I was frightened and that I should not yell when I am scared or upset. My sweet child thanked me for apologizing and gave forgiveness. I’d like to take some credit for that but I’m pretty sure it’s the Montessori education my husband insisted on years ago. My husband, thankfully, also let it go by giving me an hour alone and then discussing it at a later time. He also let it slip that the mildly dangerous act had been sanctioned by him, making me feel even worse.

So here is the lesson I can share. First, pediatricians are not perfect parents either. We mess up. Often. Second, when you mess up with your kids, apologize. Be sincere. Look them in the eye and tell them you were wrong. Don’t make an excuse, and don’t put it on them. The mistake was yours. Own it, and they will learn that it’s okay to own their mistakes. It’s not all that easy but it will help them be better than we are and know how to fix things when they mess up. Finally, accept forgiveness and then forgive yourself. Good lessons for both of us.

 

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About Dr. Sara Connolly, Bundoo Medical Director

Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, Board Certified, is a Bundoo Pediatrician who practices in South Florida.

Comments

  1. What about when parents yell at each other? My spouse is a yeller. Do an article on that.

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    1. You are so right! We need Dr. Anderson to do an article about parents yelling. Thanks for the great suggestion.

      Reply
  2. My husband and I are the opposite on the dangerous issue. I am a lot more laid back than he is. I am guilty of yelling at my children. I try really hard not to but sometimes I can’t help it. My four year old then yells back at me. This is something I really need to work on!

    Reply
  3. As a family therapist and parenting coach, I appreciate this article. As a father and husband I can tell you that my wife and I are on the same parenting page. It takes open communication to get this right. I agree with owning the apology when we get “it” wrong. We are our childrens most important teachers, Lead by example. We are role models every second of every day. I know it sounds intimidating; but it is the truth. Also think about why you actually became a parent. I wanted to have amazing experiences with a child and give them my attention and love. Think about that as a legacy.

    Reply
    1. Thank you for your comment, Sebastian. I couldn’t agree more!

      Reply
  4. It is so hard to remain calm in these situations. With my daughter, sometimes I don’t even need to say anything at all. She responds very well to what we call “the look.” 🙂 My face sometimes says all she needs to understand that what she is doing is behavior that I do not approve of.

    Reply
  5. Thanks for sharing! Going forward, how do you and your husband come to an agreement about what is appropriate “possibly dangerous” behavior in public? What’s the fix here? Aside from trying to remain calm?

    Reply
  6. Oh man do I know how you feel! On a recent trip we took that ended up being rather stressful, I realized mid-yelling that I was the one who needed to stop, not my child. I hate that feeling afterwards, but it’s important for kids to see we aren’t perfect and that we too can apologize when we mess up. It’s a good lesson for everyone!

    Reply
  7. I’m so glad I’m not the only mom who thinks her husband is too laid-back with the danger/safety issues. I make him feel like a bad parent because I don’t understand why he worries less than me. He makes me feel neurotic because I worry too much- especially when it comes to safety.

    Reply

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