Yelling often seems like a necessary tool in the parenting toolkit. How else are your children supposed to know you’re serious and you mean it right this very second? About 90% of American parents report using it at least once. While it may be somewhat effective in getting children to do what you want, at what cost? Let’s talk about some of the known psychological impacts of yelling at children.
Changes brain development
Yelling at your child literally changes how their brain develops. One study compared the MRI scans of people who had a history of parental abuse in childhood and those who didn’t. It found a noticeable physical difference in the parts of the brain responsible for processing sound and language. People who experienced verbal abuse had increased amounts of grey matter in the brain’s temporal lobe. Changes in this region of the brain are also seen in individuals with autism.
Being yelled at is stressful and research shows that harsh verbal punishment can lead to chronic stress over time as well as behavioral problems in adolescents. Experiencing stress as a child can lead to long-term impacts on physical health.
Children who grow up in houses with frequent yelling are more likely to develop anxiety in adolescence, likely due to the higher levels of stress they experience.
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Frequent yelling can lead to depression in teenagers. The compounding fear of being yelled at and the accompanying stress combine to increase the likelihood of developing depression in your teenage years.
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Autonomic arousal includes the “fight or flight” response. People who are frequently yelled at tend to be in a constant state of fight or flight. For example, you may notice a faster heart rate or shallow breathing.
Children and teens who are yelled at by their parents tend not to trust their parents as much as other children do. Adolescents with a history of verbal abuse are more likely to be suspicious of and aggressive towards others.
Frequent yelling especially when accompanied by insults such as you are lazy or stupid lead to a decrease in self-confidence with teens adopting a negative view of themselves.
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Strategies to help you stop yelling at children
Go easy on yourself
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you occasionally yell. Once it’s happened, go to the child shortly after when you’re calmer to explain what upset you and apologize. Work to stop yelling and there will be fewer incidents of the same in future. Apologizing also has the added benefit of teaching children how to take responsibility for their actions and repair a relationship in their own life.
Take a time-out
When you feel your anger or frustration building, consider stepping away to calm down so that you can respond to the child appropriately. Recognize your triggers and act fast.
Encourage two-way interactions
Encourage your child to speak up and communicate with you so that they don’t just view it as you making all the decisions and them obeying. Talk to them at their level so that it’s not as intimidating as an adult at their full height. Talk about their choices and why you don’t approve and listen to them when they speak.
Teach them about emotions
Take this opportunity to teach your children about emotions and how to handle them. Show them that anger is a normal emotion that they and you can learn to manage properly. Acknowledge all emotions and show them that they are part of the human experience.
Correct bad behaviour
Correct bad behaviour calmly but firmly and use consequences while refraining from issuing threats. Threats create more angry feelings and resentment and can prevent your children from developing inner discipline
Remember that children are still learning and will make mistakes. Praise respectful behaviour and correct bad behaviour in a way that preserves their dignity and sense of self.
Yelling is not communicating and when you do it at a child, all it does is scare them. Given the one-sided power dynamic parents have, it’s important to wield this authority thoughtfully. When the person they rely on for everything ends up being the one who frightens them, this can rock their sense of security irrevocably. Train yourself to only raise your voice in crucial situations where the child may get hurt so they know to take it seriously when you do.
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