How to discipline a child without yelling

Let kids know who rules the roost, but in a healthy way.

Most of us have done it – our child misbehaves and our first reaction is to shout at them.

It can be easy to lose it when they’ve done something wrong, leaving you annoyed or even very angry.

While there are occasions when it is important for the form of discipline to match the seriousness of the misdemeanor, screaming at your child isn’t going to do them – or you – any favours.

If they are constantly yelled at and put down, it can leave them with huge self-esteem and self-confidence issues. It can shape their personality, and not for the better.

Being yelled at is scary and can trigger a child’s emotional “fight or flight” response. This sends stress hormones coursing around their body.

Prolonged exposure to these hormones is not good for anyone, kids included. It can lead to anxiety, panic and depression.

When you’re in the fight or flight mode, your ability to think logically about anything other than surviving the immediate situation you are in is shut down – your brain is wired to focus on coming through the trauma in one piece. That’s why some kids lash out or scream back at you when you shout at them – they’re defending themselves thanks to instinctive self-preservation.

With small children in particular, their inability to process information properly at these times means they can’t always understand why their behaviour is inappropriate and why they are in trouble.

If you can stay calm, you’re more likely to get your message across about why what they’ve done is unacceptable.

If being shouted at is a frequent occurrence, some older kids will switch off as soon as they hear you raise your voice, especially if you tend to go off at them over even minor things. After a while, they really won’t hear what you’re saying, even when you are saying it at the top of your voice.

You lose your power as a parent.

Kids who are shouted at frequently come to see it as normal and also acceptable behaviour. If you yell when you’re cross, they will yell too. If you keep your cool, they will see that being calm is the way to handle things.

But what if you have a naturally short fuse and yelling is your default setting when it comes to disciplining your kids?

Parenting experts have a number of solutions, including:

• Stepping away from the situation, if that’s possible, and giving yourself time to calm down. If you feel yourself about to blow, tell your child, “I am not happy about this, so I am going away for a few minutes to cool off and when we come back, we will have a nice calm talk about what has happened.”

• Realising that your tendency to yell at your kids is partly due to you trying to get the upper hand in a power struggle (ie making sure your child knows that you are the one who sets the rules about what household tasks they have to do). State your position clearly and calmly: “We all have tasks in this house and yours is unloading the dishwasher.” If it’s possible to offer them a choice, do (ie “You can unload the dishwasher now or once you’ve done your homework – either way, it has to be done before dinner”). This helps them to feel like they still have a bit of power.

• Get creative with your punishments. If your teenager leaves their clothes all over the floor and you find yourself screaming at them to pick them up, next time pick them up yourself, confiscate them and tell your teen they have to earn them back by doing household tasks. This is likely to be far more effective than shouting.

• Try to use humour if appropriate. This is especially useful with toddlers and younger children. Diffuse a situation by being playful (if appropriate) in order to distract them from their bad behaviour.

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