Sometimes, it seems that the only way to get kids to listen is to shout. Arlene Harris discusses how parents can take it down a few decibels and enjoy better behaviour in the process.
Yelling can lead to insults
While yelling isn’t necessarily damaging for children, it can lead to insults which may have a lasting effect – so it’s important to learn how to stop shouting.
We’ve all read the parenting books and made the resolution to count to ten before losing our cool, but there comes a time in every parent’s life (or even day) when they realise that talking nicely and pleading gently is not going to work and whether through frustration or impatience they will raise their voice to their child.
While everyone knows that shouting and losing your temper is not the best way to handle a screaming toddler or a sullen teenager, it often seems to be the only thing that works. However, it usually leaves parents feeling guilty and children feeling insecure.
Roisin Cahill has two daughters and a full-time job. She often resorts to yelling at her children because it has got to the point that unless she raises her voice and threatens to impose restrictions, the girls don’t listen. She is one of many parents that feels she is shouting to be heard.
I often wonder what our neighbours think as I feel like I am constantly shouting at my kids. I always start off asking nicely, but after the third or fourth time, I will inevitably lose my patience and end up screaming at them – which makes me feel terrible and creates an awful atmosphere in the house.
My husband never resorts to shouting and the girls usually do what he tells them, so I don’t know where I am going wrong.
The Dublin woman says both girls had severe toddler tantrums and now that they have reached their teens (13 and 15), they seem to have gone right back to the behaviour they displayed when they were in pre-school.
Both of my daughters are very strong willed and I had an awful time with them when they were little. Then for a few years in primary school, we had a fairly relaxed household and apart from the usual backchat, there were very few major arguments. But in the last couple of years, things have escalated and I find myself shouting at them day and night, which of course results in them roaring back, slamming doors and bursting into tears.
It’s exhausting for everyone, particularly as I know that underneath it all, they are good kids. So I have made a concerted effort to count to ten before I shout and to actually try to explain things in a calm fashion.
So far it seems to be working as I have explained to the girls that none of this behaviour is doing any of us any good and we as a family decided to try and do something about it. We still obviously slip up from time to time but usually an argument just involves two of us, so whoever isn’t in the throes of it, will try to remind the others of our pact to change.
It’s early days yet, but I can see a new respect for each other developing and fingers crossed we will be able to stick to it.
Words have power
Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell has some expert advice.
I would be reluctant to say that shouting damages a child as there are so many factors that contribute to a child’s well-being. What I would say is that the less secure or more anxious a child is the greater detriment shouting or harsh parenting will have on that young person and just raising your voice can happen easily and frequently.
But what is damaging is shouting that is riddled with curse words, name calling and emotionally loaded language or something that attacks the child’s sense of who they are. While most parents shout sometimes, most do not call their child names or ridicule their child.
The parent is the child’s primary attachment figure and should be a source of security and safety. We develop our sense of self-worth and our self-image from the feedback we get in our environment and our parents are one of the principle sources of that feedback. Calm, loving, truthfully positive communication that still has correction when needed can contribute to a strong, positive self-esteem for a young person.
The Wexford-based psychologist says that while it is best to speak to our children in a calm and relaxed fashion, every parent will raise their voice occasionally – so it is best to try to limit those occasions wherever possible.
Our voice is one of the most powerful tools that we have to influence the behaviour of others, especially our own children – so we should use it wisely. Giving directions or making requests of our children is best done with a calm, polite tone. If we use prosody – the tone and emotion communicated in our voice, we are more likely to get our child’s attention and to teach them respectful and effective communication.
However, having said that, all parents shout sometimes without meaning to frighten their child. What parents are mostly trying to do is get their child’s attention after having their initial request met by noncompliance. Instructions and commands are more effectively made when we get our child’s attention by using a respectful tone, using the child’s name and saying what they want our child to do and not what we don’t want them to do.
So it is best to limit shouting as it can be scary for youngsters and it certainly does not model appropriate communication styles. We all know from our experience that the parent or teacher who shouts all the time is either not listened to or can be a terrifying person.
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