(CMR) While most parents have raised their voices louder than they may have meant to at some point to get a point across to a child, yelling may not be the best way to get your child to do what is right.
According to parents.com, here are six reasons not to yell at your children.
1. Kids can't learn in “Fight-or-Flight mode”
“Yelling is about releasing anger; it's not an effective way to change behavior,” says Laura Markham, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting. Dr. Markham says that when a child is scared, they go into fight-or-flight mode and the learning centers of their brain shut down.
The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction that occurs when we experience something our brain perceives as threatening. As such, your child cannot learn when you're yelling at them because their brain tells them this big person yelling down at them is a threat and effectively shuts down the other parts of the brain not dedicated to protection and defense. On the other hand: “Peaceful and calm communication helps a child feel safe and makes them more receptive to the lesson we're teaching,” says Dr. Markham.
2. Yelling can make children feel devalued
“The common thread that binds all people together is wanting to feel valued,” says Dr. Shrand. For most of us, feeling valued by others is how we measure our self-worth and how we determine whether we matter to the world around us. When we're yelled at, we see ourselves as inadequate and question our capabilities. “Yelling is one of the fastest ways to make someone feel they don't have value,” says Dr. Joseph Shrand, M.D., an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Outsmarting Anger: 7 Steps for Defusing our Most Dangerous Emotion.
3. Yelling can fuel anxiety, depression, and lower self esteem
Studies have found that children who are yelled at are prone to anxiety and have increased levels of depression. Dr. Markham teaches that children pick up anxiety from their parents and that the manner in which a parent reacts to any mistakes they make “either soothes the child or stimulates their anxieties.” Yelling, of course, is never a soothing experience.
4. Yelling can interfere with bonding
“Yelling breaks your connection with your child and puts your relationship bank account in the red,” explains Dr. Markham. When yelling is occurring, it can be a challenge to generate empathy for each other. Instead, yelling can put you and your child at odds with one another and makes them feel like you're not on their team. Invariably, children leave interactions where they've been yelled at feeling defiant, defensive, and disconnected from you; not open to change, receptive, and more deeply connected.
“In my 40 years as a psychologist, I've seen thousands of kids and have never had one tell me they felt closer to their parent after being yelled at,” one psychologist said.
5. Long-term yelling can have negative impacts on children
Multiple studies have illustrated how yelling harms children. One study includes “yelling or screaming” as one measurement of “harsh discipline” in the home and concludes that children who are disciplined this way have “poor school achievements, behavioral problems…and delinquent behaviors.” Another study demonstrated that yelling has a similar effect on children as physical punishment; and a study in the National Library of Medicine deduced that verbal abuse and being yelled at frequently can even change the way a child's brain develops.
Keep in mind, of course, that a one-off instance of you yelling is not going to permanently damage your children forever. These studies look at long-term patterns of yelling and other abusive behaviors.
6. Yelling is not effective communication
“Children have a hard time learning to regulate their own emotions if their parents don't show them how,” says Dr. Markham. Parents who tend to yell every time they're upset may wind up teaching their children to similarly overreact when they encounter frustrating situations of their own. In other words, yellers raise yellers.
Dr. Shrand explains that this happens, in part, because when we yell at our children, we activate their “mirror neurons”—the part of the brain that mirrors the behavior of the others—causing them to respond in kind. “Anger begets anger,” he says, and “yelling at our children makes them want to yell back at us.” The good news is, mirror neurons can also have the opposite effect—in children and adults. “
What to do instead of yelling
The first step to changing how you handle your emotions may be to seek professional help from your primary care provider or a mental health professional. You may have some underlying health concerns contributing to your emotions, such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid conditions, hormone imbalances, or postpartum mental health issues. You may also benefit from therapy to help you identify triggers and patterns.
The second step will be dealing with the immediate situation of anger by acknowledging it. You can even do this out loud if you wish. It might sound silly, but recognizing your anger is actually a powerful step that literally changes your brain in that moment. “The moment you recognize your anger, you activate your prefrontal cortex and interrupt your spiraling emotions,” says Dr. Shrand.
There are several ways to do this, according to the experts. These include taking deep breaths, counting backwards, running in place, thinking uplifting thoughts, or even forcing a smile or a laugh can send a message to your brain that the situation isn't an emergency.
After you've calmed yourself down, you're ready to diffuse the situation instead of aggravating it further, explains Dr. Markham. This means approaching the situation that caused you to be upset in the first place calmly and mindfully.
Not yelling takes work, of course, and for most of us it takes a lot of time and practice to finally put an end to the unproductive and harmful behavior. But Dr. Markham teaches that it's a lot easier not to yell when you have a strong connection with your child. Working on your bond when you're not in the middle of an aggravating situation is a great place to begin.
After all, enjoying and appreciating our children for who they already are makes parenting more fulfilling for parents too, says Dr. Shrand. “It's much more rewarding to be amazed at who your child is than disappointed for who they are not.”