Let’s face it, what parent hasn’t lost his or her cool in the face of a defiant child or children, and started screaming. If you never have, you’re in a small minority. Nearly all parents — close to 90 percent — have yelled at their kids at some point, according to a survey of almost 1,000 parents by the Journal of Marriage and Family.
But if you’ve ever done it, you know that screaming leaves you, the parent, feeling mentally worn-out and even guilty afterwards. And your children may model your behavior and pick up the habit, themselves.
Occasionally yelling probably won’t hurt or traumatize your kids, say psychologists. But if it gets to be frequent, where your children are constantly being yelled at, even for trivial things, the stress will add up for you as well as them; eventually, they may just start tuning you out, which is the opposite of what you want. Or it can start to tear at your children’s self-esteem. It also conveys to them that screaming is an acceptable way to handle conflict and may turn them into screaming adults when they get older.
There are better ways to handle conflict with a child than yelling at them. In the end, what you’re trying to do is get a message through to your child — get him or her to follow rules, take care of their responsibilities without being reminded, and so forth.
Here are some strategies from the experts for getting cooperation from your kids, while still maintaining peace and quiet.
Take a Parent Time-Out: It is okay to wait 10 minutes or even much longer to address a problem behavior with your child. Even if you’re in the middle of a heated argument, you can end the screaming by simply walking away from the situation, to give you a chance to cool off and look at the problem with a clearer head later. This will also help you come up with a more peaceful and lasting solution to the specific issue, rather than getting into a fight about it every time.
Don’t Let Things Pile Up: If you find that you overreacted to a situation with your child, it could be that you were already upset because of other issues with your child that had piled up. In this case, it is best to address problems as they come up, instead of keeping a running tally of offenses inside your head. It is okay to talk to your kids about things that they do wrong, and even to be firm when you speak.
But that said, choose your battles. While it’s true that we are supposed to enforce discipline and good behavior in our children, it is also true that nobody likes to be constantly nitpicked. In many cases, you’ll find that humor, or a gesture of love, instead of criticism, will get you compliance on an issue from your kids, with the added great bonus that it will draw your children emotionally closer to you, instead of putting emotional distance between you.
Know Your Triggers: If there are particular behaviors that get to you, such as children leaving their dirty clothes on the floor or having to be reminded all the time to do a chore that’s assigned to them, it may be useful to rehearse inside your mind how you’ll respond to the situation in a peaceful and constructive way, if it happens again.
Establish Boundaries and Consequences for Bad Behavior, Before Next Incident: Talk to your child about what will happen, if he or she does (or doesn’t, as the case may be) do something. For example: Inform your child that the next time he or she does something (specify the behavior), you’ll have no choice but to subtract an hour of screen time for one day.
Give Yourself a Break! The job of parenting is a big one, and one that never ends. Most parents have to juggle full-time jobs, on top of their parental responsibilities. If you find yourself getting more irritable with your children, it might be time to take a few hours off from parenting. Can the grandparents or a trusted relative or neighbor watch the kids, while you and your spouse or friends take a few hours’ breather? You’ll come back to the nest feeling refreshed and happier.
Talk to Your Spouse, Friends or Relatives About Specific Problems: If there is an issue that continues to be a problem, despite your attempts to rein it in, consider discussing it with your spouse or other trusted sources. They may be able to offer suggestions that will prove more effective. You can also ask your spouse to pitch in, in helping you enforce the house rules for the children. You may be more effective if you and your spouse present a united front, than if you try to do all the disciplining on your own.
Show Your Kids Love and Affection: Many parents get so involved in their work responsibilities, that they often are short on quality time to spend with their kids. Children may wind up feeling neglected or unloved, even if this is not the parent’s intention.
Make sure you make time often to spend with your kids — at dinner, in the evenings and on weekends, for instance — when you let your children know how much you love them and give them hugs and kisses. Positive reinforcement goes very far in bringing the best out of kids. If you strive to stay emotionally connected to them, which means spending time with them and openly showing that you care, you’ll be pleased to find that you get more ready compliance from them!
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.