If there’s no yelling, what’s left in our parental arsenal?

A new study (don’t you love a new study?) from the US (even better) suggests that yelling can be as harmful as hitting. This isn’t good news for yellers like me:

This was on :

Do you yell at your kids?

“If you yell at your child, you either create somebody who yells back at you or somebody who is shamed and retreats,” said Meghan Leahy, a mother of three and a parenting coach in Northwest Washington. “You’re either growing aggression or growing shame. Those are not characteristics that any parents want in their kids.”

There is a difference, of course, between being verbally abusive and using a sharply raised voice. Yelling alone is not always damaging, although the surprise of a sudden change in volume can cause a child to be fearful or anxious. It’s often what is said that is harmful, according to Deborah Sendek, program director for the Center for Effective Discipline (CED).

“When people raise their voices, the message typically isn’t, Wow, I love you, you’re a great child, ” Sendek said. “You’re usually saying something negative, and ripping down their self-esteem.”

Personally, when I yell at my kids, I’m not thinking ‘Wow, I love you, you’re a great child.’ I’m thinking, ‘You’re are like a mob of kangaroos – you trash one area then move on to ravage the next. Can you, FOR ONCE, put away the game / puzzle / paints / DVDs when you’ve finished with them?’

If there’s to be no yelling, what’s left in our parental arsenal?

Smacking is out. For the record, I’m not a smacker. I admit to having done it, but I hated myself afterwards and apologized afterwards. I think smacking’s ugly, doesn’t work and it  flies in the face of, ‘we don’t hit anyone, ever.’

“Personally, when I yell at my kids, I’m not thinking ‘Wow, I love you, you’re a great child.’

Time-out is often impractical. If you’re busting a gut to get out the door, there just isn’t time for it. Then the whole family gets punished for one kid’s misdemeanor. I guess if you’re Amish and you’re snowed in, it might be a good discipline technique. Handy too, seeing as you can’t withhold the iPad.

The other thing about ‘Time-out’ is that often the punishee gets a nice half-hour alone with his Lego, while you’re left washing the Vegemite fresco from the walls.

The naughty-step is now considered by many psychologists to be a shameful place. And apparently, shaming kids is a bad thing. I’m a bit Libran on this one, being a fan of the ‘good hard think.’ The problem is that a kid who’s been carrying on like a Cirque du Soliel acrobat on crystal meth isn’t likely to sit reflectively on a step without being tied there. And believe it or not, I’m not a fan of tying kids up.

Bribery Although it’s an offence in civilized societies, plenty of families bribe regularly. To disastrous effect. Also, a lot of parents confuse rewards with bribery.

To be clear: A reward happens after the fact, ‘Tarquin, if you are very quiet while Mummy talks to the man at the bank, you may have a Chupa-Chup.’  A bribe, on the other hand, is proffered before the deed is done, ‘Here’s a Chupa-Chup, Tarquin. If I give it to you, will you be good while Mummy talks to the bank lady?’ Tarquin is a brat, but he’s no fool so he’ll take the Chupa-Chup, suck for 30 seconds it then proceed to hold up every customer in the bank, threatening them with its evil stickiness.


I’m not a fan of either bribes or rewards for things like keeping quiet while adults are talking – unless the reward is something quick and free – like a big smooch.

So, if  those ‘techniques’ are off the table, what the hell are parents meant to do?

I’m a yeller from way back. My parents are yellers. My husband’s family (luckily for our kids) are not yellers. They’re more into crippling guilt and insecurity, which I’m not altogether sure is a better strategy.

Kate with her daughters

I like to take a bespoke approach to discipline. One punishment does not fit all. It may or may not work and it may or may not meet with the child psychologists or mothers in law, but it seems to be working.

Sometimes, not always, a yell does the job. In fact, the key to yell that gets results is to use it sparingly. You can’t yell over spilt rice bubbles then apply the same yell when someone’s playing with lighter fluid. You need to keep your powder dry. Especially when there’s lighter fluid involved. I try to keep my yells for safety-related incidents.

I have, I’m ashamed to say, used guilt effectively on occasion. When my 9 year old said she’d like sandwiches for her lunch-box like the ones I’d made for a christening party, I  poached chicken, made mayonnaise and tucked it all between fluffy white bread. It came home uneaten. I made my daughter sit for half an hour, looking at the sandwich, pondering the love that went into it.

I’m also getting the kids used to what my neighbour Joyce calls ‘logical consequences’ – an intellectual sounding term for the ‘what the hell did you expect’ rule. My seven year old, for example, has decided she doesn’t want to go up to bed before her older brother and sister. In my slackness, I let her fall asleep on the couch and then buckled my back carrying her upstairs. I’ve told her – no more. Either she goes to bed when she’s asked to, enjoying a story and a snuggle, or she’ll be left on the couch  to wake up cold and alone in the dead of night. I haven’t had to do it, but I would and she knows it. Bedtimes have got better.

I think people have got to stop looking for the never-fail parenting method. Kids aren’t cakes. They are more like stir-fries – every one is different and half the fun is working out what works for them. And for you.

How did your parents approach discipline? Is yelling a no-no at your place?

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