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How to stop yelling at your kids: Expert tips on controlling the habit

Do you ever lose control when your kids aren't listening? Here are four expert tips on breaking the nasty habit

Masterfile

It’s not just me, right? Because some mornings when there’s only 15 minutes before my family needs to be in the car, seats buckled, pulling out of the driveway and I come up the stairs only to find my two kids square dancing to Crazy Frog’s Cotton Eyed Joe (again!), I get a little yelly. Did I mention that I’d asked them about five times already to get dressed and they’re still dancing around in their pyjamas, breakfast sitting in the corner on plates, untouched. Come on guys, I plead. No answer. Just swinging their partners round and round. Guys! I shout. We’re going to be late—let’s go! Eat your breakfast and get your clothes on! Please tell me this sounds familiar. Please share that I’m not the only mom who resorts to yelling once in awhile to make myself heard in a household I supposedly head.

Thankfully, the call I put into Judy Arnall, the Calgary-based author of Discipline Without Distress, eases my mind. “First of all, yelling is so common,” says Arnall. “I don’t know a parent who doesn’t yell once in awhile. But it is a kind of learned reaction and it is something we consciously choose to get kids motivated. And we use it because sometimes it works. Sometimes if you have a really easy going child, it does work on them or on small kids. But it doesn’t work all the time.”

That said, even if it’s a technique you’re employing in your household, chances are you don’t love doing it and would like to stop. I know I’ve tried counting to 10 to cool off, putting money in a yelling jar and creating a Supernanny-style list of house rules to curb my outbursts. (To no surprise, when I asked the kids any rules they’d like to add to the list on the poster board on our fridge, they added no yelling. Gulp.)

So I asked Arnall for her advice on how to get out of this nasty habit. And here’s what she had to tell me:

1. For the first week or so, try to yell at the wall rather than at a person if you have to get it out. “Because it’s a lot less scary when kids see you yelling at a wall than them,” she notes.

2. If you feel the need to yell, slow down and count to 10 to cool yourself down first. It didn’t work for me, but that’s not to say it won’t work for you.

3. If you’re really going to make the commitment to try and yell less, fill your kids in on your efforts. “Tell them—okay kids, I’m really trying not to do this, but if I’m yelling give me a sign that I’m yelling, something to bring me back in the moment and change. So put up your hand or point to your mouth or cue me in that that’s what I’m doing,” says Arnall.

4. Nip the habit of parenting from another room in the bud, which often prompts your voice to get louder and yell, even when you don’t want it to. “So that means you have to get up, go to the child, make eye contact, speak to them directly, make sure they heard you and stay there until they do what you want them to do,” says Arnall. “It involves a bit more action and interruption into a parent’s day but it’s getting kids to listen without yelling.” And if you do slip, it’s not the end of the world. A short and sweet apology should suffice and then return to your no-yell efforts. “It’s something that needs to be practiced,” she says. “Because when we’re mad at bosses or neighbours, we don’t yell at them. We almost make a choice to yell at our children. But we can choose not to yell and takes a lot of practice, especially if you grew up in a household where yelling was common.”