Not everyone has lost their cool with their kids like me but there are many that have yelled on occasion. I believe yelling became the go-to discipline method when child abuse was put on the books and could be “investigated” and “punished” by law. Yelling does not leave marks that you can see but the scars are still there.
To my fellow parents who yell, I would like to “show” you what yelling looks like from another’s perspective. Your face turns a lighter shade of crimson even before you utter your first yell. As soon as your child sees this they’re not sure if you are about to be sick or they are in trouble. The eyebrows meet in the middle and take on the V-shape of birds flying south for the winter and then your eyes squint as if you just chomped into a lemon. Your cheeks puff up and get hard so they can spew the words you think will make a life-and-death difference in your child’s behavior. Your child can’t listen to what you are saying though because they are too busy watching to see what the birds are going to do. Your head is nodding as you begin to rant and gives you the appearance of a buffalo pawing the dirt to kick-off rutting season. Yeah, it isn’t pretty.
By now you are out of breath because the pacing to go with the yelling is causing partial hypoxia. You put your hands on your hips to spread your lungs to increase the supply of oxygen. Your child still hasn’t heard a word because they are too busy worrying when the first blow will fly— they wish they could think ‘cause there’s sure to be a question-and-answer session following immediately. You deliver a summation to the condemned I’m sure Judge Judy would be proud of and toss out a few consequences for good measure. Your child is holding their breath because the end is near; you reach over and give them a stiff hug and stomp out of the room. Right now your child takes their first, full breath and is desperately trying to figure out “what just happened.” They are completely confused by the contradiction between the fear and the possibly fake hug.
If you think that child was scared you would be right but they weren’t the only one— the windows were open at the time. The mail carrier was delivering the usual bills wrapped in advertisements as your words hit the air. The carrier double-checks the name on the mail and makes a mental note, “screamer lives here.” Your neighbor gassed up a lawnmower and overheard too, feeling pity for the child and spouse inside. The jogger passing by wonders if the authorities should be called and circles the block to get the house number.
A lot can happen on a warm day in autumn, whether you realize it or not. The mail carrier delivered to my house that day but he didn’t hear me yell— that was my husband that day years ago. Nothing can be more sobering to a yeller than realizing they have been overheard by others. In apartments or houses yellers are usually well-known by all who frequent the area, even with windows closed. (Note: My husband is not a drinker or a drunk; he is a bona fide yeller and other parents in our neighborhood would not let their children play with our children.)
From my experience as a child I can attest to the fact that yelling at children is not effective. Yelling and screaming can vent but rarely ever solves any problem. Anytime a parent approaches a child it makes more sense to have a goal in place— to understand and be understood. Calm, deliberate communication from a face that is not contorted with anger will encourage cooperation, not fear. Neither my daughter nor I remember the reason my husband yelled that day but we do remember the mail carrier— his shock and then my husband’s well-earned look of embarrassment. The moment yelling or screaming starts, the child’s focus turns to self-protection and fear, not conversation.