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Mother Yeller

Hi, my name is Leah Ariniello and I am a yeller.

I wondered if I had a problem when a few years back my son came home from preschool with the task of making up a riddle. “What looks like a horse, has black and white stripes and can be seen at the zoo?” he asked, repeating his teacher’s example. “A zebra!”

Cute idea, I thought, until that sweet boy of mine came up with his own riddle. “Who likes to sleep late, drink coffee and yell a lot?” With my hand over my mouth, after a deep breath, I asked in a tiny voice, “Who?” But of course I know the answer. It’s me.

Ohhhh, that’s bad.

I called my longtime friend for support. If anyone could help me rationalize, she could. A fellow mother-of-two, my former college roommate is an enormous yeller who may be one step above me since she peppers her rants with expletives. As I expected, she noted the positive. The riddle didn’t say I like to drink beer before noon, for example. Which, for the record, I do not do unless I’m on vacation and there’s a swim-up pool bar. She also pointed out that when we yell we do not say things that are mean or belittling. We do not beat our children. We just raise our voices from time to time. And for heaven’s sake, we’re Italian, and Italians have the yelling gene. There’s even a Facebook group for it called, “I’m not yelling…I’m Italian…that’s how we talk.”

My friend embraces her inner yelling and she’s well-known for it. That’s not me. I’m a closet yeller. I’m shamed by it. People who don’t know me well consider me soft-spoken and quite calm. My family, of course, knows otherwise and I can see it affects them negatively. My daughter will jump in the air like someone just lit a cherry bomb in the living room when I yell. My son says that his ears hurt. And following a really good scream, my throat will burn for a few hours.

Ohhhh, that’s bad.

I’ve tried to stick to no-yelling resolutions. I’ve cut down on coffee. Maybe the full caf venti latte makes me have less patience? I’ve read the parenting magazines and tried counting to 10 or giving myself a timeout. It works for a while, but then I find myself saying something for the fifth time and it comes out again: “BRUSH YOUR TEETH! STOP HANGING ON THE BANISTER! GET OFF YOUR SISTER!”

Recently my husband brought up my yelling, as he does from time to time, and said I really need to keep a lid on it. This was after a particularly rough morning when the kids were supposed to be putting on their coats so they could get out the door and make it to school on time. Instead, they were examining the G forces on an array of Bakugan toys, also known as little plastic thingies that are a complete waste of money. First I asked them to put on their coats several times. Then I raised the stakes and said I was going to take the Bakugans, which triggered some movement toward the coats, but still more dawdling. Next, I yelled. They cried. My husband put on their coats, gave me an exasperated look and scooted them out the door.

Mr. Cool, Mr. Collected, rarely raises his voice. How does my husband do it? I began some observational research. I noticed that he somehow manages to repeat the same thing, over and over and over again, without even an octave change, like the “Anyone? Anyone?” guy in 'Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.' “Move these knights off the stairs. Move these knights off the stairs. Move these knights off the stairs. Move these knights off the stairs,” he repeats until this water torture technique prompts me to yell from another room, “MOVE THE KNIGHTS OFF THE STAIRS, NOW!” I also noticed that he redirects his yelling at the TV, during the various sports programs he watches.

And there he was on a recent Sunday, eyes glued to his beloved Eagles, ranting “NO, DONOVAN, NOOOOO!” Hmmm, good technique. I make a mental note that this is a nice way to get out frustration without affecting the kids. Then I notice our son atop his younger sister who is mashed between two floor cushions. “GET OFF YOUR SISTER!” I yell.

Maybe every family needs a yeller.

If you are interested in guest blogging for On Parenting, please e-mail

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 3, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Discipline , Guest Blogs
Previous: Multitasking Gone Too Far? | Next: A Friendship That Crosses Genders


THe main reason I try not to yell a lot is that it loses its effectiveness as a motivational tool. I'm saving the expletives for when they are teens, for shock value when it counts! I'm sure you will get slammed for this and I think it is bad to yell all time time and it can be scary and hurtful, but I also understand how your buttons can be pushed. You don't say how old your kids are, but I have found that there is less yelling now that they are bigger and they understand consequences. I will recommend that you make sure to follow through with your threats and be consistent in your discipline, this is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. Also, if they won't get ready, make them believe you will leave them. I have told the kids I am leaving with or w/o them, warned them and when they weren't ready on time, I got in the car pulled out and drove around the block - they now believe I will leave them and they come - this works at Target, the park etc.... Finally, two things: It really is amazing how quickly they move when you do yell, its hard not to get trained to do that and second "Get off your sister" is totally an appropriate time to yell. I think the fact that you are willing to take a hard look at yourself and your parenting says a lot about you.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 3, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

LOL!! Thank you Leah! This was a great, honest, funny post. I'm sure you'll get slammed by the holier than thous who comment on this blog. I too am a yeller and wish I could tone it down. My husband is a yeller too though so our kids are doubly affected. I do agree with moxiemom that it loses its effectiveness when done all the time. I also notice that my kids yell at each other which I sure they get from us. I don't have the answer. I do yell less at my oldest, who is 9, so I think it does get better as they get older.

I also recently have been doing more things for myself, going out with friends, husband -- trying to have a life apart from the kids. That helps and I come home more able to deal with the not putting your coat on moments.

Posted by: rjeahib09 | March 3, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

My name is ArlingtonVA1 and I'm a yeller. ...I'm also Italian, but I really don't think I can use that as an excuse. My mother is Italian and she was never a yeller. Neither was my father. My four-year-old just brings it out of me like no other. Our snow day yesterday consisted of me yelling for the better part of the day--mostly while it took him over an hour to eat one waffle for breakfast and almost two hours to eat half a sandwich and applesauce. I really doubt my parenting skills because of all of the yelling, and my child does tell me, "I hate it when you yell at me all the time." Of course, my answer is "If you listened to what you were told and did as you were told, the FIRST TIME, I wouldn't have to yell all the time." Unfortunately, now, if you ask my child a question, the answer is yelled rather than just spoken. I don't believe this happens at school or daycare, but to us, the parents, oh yeah. Lots of yelling. I'm looking into parenting classes, because I don't want to raise my child like this. He really is my most favorite person in the whole world, and I want him to grow up feeling that rather than constant yelling.

Posted by: ArlingtonVA1 | March 3, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the reason you yell so much, Leah, is that you're unable to overlook the little things. By trying to control your children every second of the day, you're going to be frustrated because that's impossible. As your frustration increases, you, of course, resort to yelling. You need to pick your battles.

Also, you don't seem to have a good technique for getting your kids to do what you want. Do you not follow through on consequences? Is that why the kids don't care when you threaten them? Instead of threatening them, just do whatever it is that you have said in the past that you would do. In other words, skip the warnings because they've gotten them already. You should think about these consequences in advance that way you don't come up with outrageous punishments that you will later relent on.

Your kids' reaction to your yelling shows that you really are doing negative to them. You should really only cause your daughter to jump like that if she's about to get hurt. Hope you're able to get help.

Posted by: rlalumiere | March 3, 2009 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Parents today have forgotten that pain is nature's way of saying there's something wrong. Our ancestors knew that and invented the "switch." Elegant, simple, even appropriately named (it switches children from bad to good behavior). And the good news -- you only have to use it once or maybe twice. From then on, it's the threat that does the correcting.

It sounds brutal by today's standards, but take a look around you -- just how effective ARE today's standards?

You have an obligation to the rest of society to raise children who will conform to the social contract. We're already two generations behind in that obligation, and frankly, I'm tired of dealing with the failed children -- the spoiled brats of the 80's and 90's -- of parents who could not/would not/did not discipline their children and/or instill a sense of social responsibility into them.

So, evaluate your yelling in comparison to the switch. Which would you rather use? And consider this -- effective use of one will entirely preclude the use of the other.

Posted by: Apostrophe | March 3, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Maybe your husband doesn't yell because he knows you're going to yell, so he gets to look like the "good guy" with the kids.

Posted by: dkp01 | March 3, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

It's obvious you really care about your family and it doesn't sound like there is any intended meanness in your approach...

I would say, having been raised by a chronic yeller, sometimes I can't stand to hear my mother's voice. It's just a carryover from childhood, I love my mother dearly, but I really wish she would have moderated a bit.

Also, people become tone-deaf if you always go straight for volume control it will only get harder and eventually kids kind of see it is out of whack. It erodes your effectiveness in other areas.

So, you are raising your kids and expecting them to develop good habits... teaching them along the way, why not let them teach you a bit too? Like patience? An undervalued virtue in our society.

Save the angry voice for times when it REALLY matters, and you will do your whole family and your blood pressure a world of good.

The fact is you won't be able to control everything that happens to them or that they get involved in as they grow older. Setting yourself up as the parent that explodes at the drop of a hat may make it harder for them to communicate with you when they need to. And it teaches them bad communication and inter-personal strategies.

Don't put a lid on it, re-train yourself.

Posted by: gconrads | March 3, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Yelling's fine. You obviously don't want to say abusive things, or yell over everything so you trivialize the emotion, but yelling sure works on kids when they need it.

And you can certainly employ yelling well enough that you may never need to raise your hand in discipline (i.e. a spanking, which i dont think is necessarily the worst thing in the world either). Many would agree that's ideal.

Posted by: Comunista | March 3, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Leah, I'm a yeller too! Although I wish I could always be calm and reasonable and speak in a nice tone of voice to my kids, I think that would require a total personality transplant for me. (Plus, saying "stop strangling your brother" in a nice way just doesn't sound right.) Other than yelling, I do pretty well in all the other parenting areas so the children will probably not be too messed up as adults...

Posted by: bubba777 | March 3, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I will eventually raise my voice if I am not listened to and I need to be heard for whatever reason. But I pick my battles. Not everything needs a raised voice.

Often times, the opposite of a raised voice is most effective with my stepson. I discovered this accidentally one day when I had literally had quite enough of his antics. I was tired of being a wage-earner with two jobs and having to return home on a Saturday night after my 55 hour 6 day work week to the crap of being a step-parent - or so I was thinking on this night. He was supposed to be going to bed and said right to my face that he wasn't going to bed. I looked at him and basically said in a soft voice (it was called defeat)... Then don't but if you can't be bothered to be co-operative then I can't be bothered to do X for you. I can't remember what X was - maybe his night time reading. He was in bed within 2 minutes.

But I think the reason why my comments work is because my stepson already knows that my 'threats' have consequences. If I say that there will a designated punishment if X doesn't happen, he knows I will follow through. So if I said I couldn't be bothered to do something, he probably believed that I wouldn't do it.

Something to think about...

Posted by: Billie_R | March 3, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Do you yell at work?

Excessive yelling is emotional abuse.

The ethnic excuse for bad behavior is really dumb.

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 3, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

In my house, its the opposite. My husband is the yeller and I'm not. And I'm not setting myself up as the good guy. My parents never raised their voices and I was punished if I did. So anytime my husband yells, it causes me a lot of internal strife.

What I have noticed is that yelling is very effective when children are young, but just wait until they are a tween. When you yell they will also yell because that's how it works. The louder you get, the louder they get. That's true for anyone. Also, because they are so "me" focused at this age, you are validating their feelings that they are being disrepected. And in fact its true. Don't you feel disrepected when people yell at you?

Tweens are going to talk back, act obnoxious, etc because that's what tweens do. You have to determine consequences when everyone is calm and not upset, then when they act bad they know what the consequences are and discipline is not given when everyone is in a state of angst and you make some unreasonable statement like "You're grounded for 6 months".

Now I'm not saying that I am perfect and my husband and I don't slip up, but it certainly is easier in the household when we control ourselves. Isn't that why we are the adults? We are setting the example of how to interact with others when you are angry.

Posted by: AnotherMom | March 3, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Fellow yeller, checking in. I used to think I was such a kind, patient mom, then my daughter turned 3. She has this amazing ability to pretend she doesn't hear me when I speak normally, especially when I'm trying to get something accomplished in a timely manner. And she's a master at the guilt card: after being yelled at to, say, get in her car seat when she's dawdling and it's pouring down rain, she'll comply, then hunker down and say in the smallest, most pathetic voice imaginable, "Mommy, are you feeling better now?" Argh. Knife to the heart.

I've been working on moderating the situations where I yell. For example, dawdling makes me nuts, and I know it, so before I yell I'll try to stop and decide whether this is a situation where DD really does need to hurry or if she can move on 3-year-old time. Or I'll try to build extra time to get places into my mental schedule. I can't say it works all of the time, but it does cut down somewhat on the yelling.

Posted by: newsahm | March 3, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Tallies for February are in

202 different posters contributed a total of 668 comments for Feb 2009.

Top 10 listed below:
15 Billie_R
15 dennis5
16 laura33
21 anonthistime
22 interestingidea1234
25 ArmyBrat1
31 emily8
31 WhackyWeasel
32 jezebel3
34 moxiemom1
36 atlmom1234

Posted by: BlogStats | March 3, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I think yelling is inappropriate for adults and isn't something I'd like to teach my kids as a behavior. That's not to say that I deal with my kids in a Mr Rogers, "please oh please Timmy" voice - I can be stern when it's called for. Unfortunately, I've also really lost it some times and I hate it.

My father was a yeller. I learned to tune him out and didn't grow up with any respect for him. He could wield authority while I lived there, but he didn't have my respect, and certainly not my admiration. I pretty much kept my distance - who wants to be around someone whose typical response to stress is to start yelling?

I didn't think I'd be a yelling parent, but sometimes I've followed the lead of my Korean wife, who is too prone to yelling. Koreans are known as the Italians of Asia, and if you watch their TV shows, it's all yelling, hitting, wailing, tears, and high drama. But I don't think home should be a major stressor in a child's life. What do we think of bosses or co-workers who act like this - blowing up and yelling?

I agree with gconrads that if we wish to teach our children patience and restraint, we should show some ourselves.

Posted by: hitpoints | March 3, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

This made me laugh! I too am a yeller, but in our house you have to yell to be heard over all the children. We're working on it...

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | March 3, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Oh I hate it when I yell and like you I do suspect that it is harmful to the kids. It happens when they just won't listen, but yelling, as you noted, just leads to them crying which is not really productive. I have found a lot of success with the "1-2-3 Magic" technique. I know it sounds like just another parenting advice book, but I find it allows me (in fact it demands of me) to maintain my cool while putting the consequences on the kids for not listening. It is not complicated, but I'm not going to explain it here. If your interested check out the book or DVD at your library. You may still loose your cool sometimes (I do) but this really helps cut down on it simply because the kids really do listen better with it.

Posted by: jpf1 | March 3, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

In small doses, yelling is OK, actually more than OK - it is needed. I don't yell all the time, but when I do yell, it really gets the attention of my boys. Moreover, it helps me release the anger or frustration that builds up in me. I value that not because it just lets me vent off some steam, but it actually stops me from reaching that moment that I don't ever want to reach - having to spank the boys - not that there is anything wrong with that, either. Everything in moderation...
The most important thing for me, though, is how you go about your business after the yelling. For me, I always make sure that the yelling is for a specific conduct that I disagreed with. I don't pout or make the kids suffer emotionally after I yell at them. We go back to the loving relationship we have always had within a few seconds of my yelling - provided that the boys have changed the behavior that caused by yelling. Shunning kids after punishment, yelling or otherwise, is the ultimate insult and emotionally stunting, I firmly believe.

Posted by: Yeluno | March 3, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

for all of you ganging up... comparing the yelling to abuse.


it would be great if we all lived in la la land where life is sweet and simple, but we don't.

my little girl gets yelled at a couple times each week. it's very effective and she definitely understands the difference between don't and DON'T.

for all of those who are raising kids in the yell-free zone, i hope they never have to work for a yeller or have a professor who is a yeller. because when they do, they will shrink and fade into the background to avoid it.

life is full of different things, and sometimes people yell. get over it.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 3, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for a great post! Funny and honest and true and thought-provoking.

I have found in babysitting that whispering works MORE effectively than yelling--especially if the kids are used to being yelled at. And it forces them to be quiet--because they want to hear what I'm saying.

My son, of course, is perfect, so he doesn't require either yelling or whispering! ;) but, then, he's only six months old...

Posted by: newslinks1 | March 3, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I yell, but I try to limit it to things that are really important ("don't sit on the baby!" "Get out of the street!"). I am not perfect, but I am trying to do better. I have noticed that my older daughter (the only one old enough to get yelled at), behaves much better if I stay calm. A "yelling" enviroment seems to bring out the worst in her behavior.

Posted by: floof | March 3, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I realized a couple of months ago that I was yelling more often than not at my three-year old. That's not the kind of parent I want to be - one that yells and loses their temper all of the time. After a particularly bad morning where I screamed at him to put his gloves on (it was below zero outside), I sat down with myself and thought very hard about what I was teaching him.

As an adult, you need to learn to control your temper. Yes, there are times you will yell, and sometimes it's justified. But in general, day-to-day life with other people in society, do you really want to be known as the person who yells and screams all of the time? No, of course not. No one respects that person. We need to be as reasonable and polite with our kids as we do with our peers. Now, that doesn't mean you don't get stern, or don't give out consequences for bad actions. It just means you need to be a bit more mature in your reactions. It's hard, and I know I've not been perfect since then, but I've noticed a huge difference in his behavior since I had my little epiphany, and I think we're all happier as a family.

Posted by: Mazarin | March 3, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Why didn't your husband help with the coat situation when the kids clearly disobeyed you - before you had to yell?

Posted by: MDmomof3 | March 3, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I find that a low growling voice is good at getting a kid's attention, and it's less stressful on your vocal chords. Following it up with a silent stare if you're being ignored also helps. As for yelling, it probably does more damage to your throat then it does to the kids. It's not the same as physical abuse, or true emotional abuse. Course it depends on what you're yelling, "put your coat on" is not the same as "stop eating brownies fatty." That being said, kids like to test you, it's how they learn, yelling conveys to them that they've hit a button.

Posted by: rnlo878 | March 3, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

What a timely post. Our temperaments sound similar -- those who don't know me think I'm calm and quiet, whereas those within the family know better! I find myself yelling more now that my child is over 2 and has fully embraced his toddler self and tendencies, testing us at every turn. Being a person of short temper and little patience as it is, I am finding it hard to contain myself when I have to repeat myself for the fifth time. Up till now, I pleasantly surprised myself with the amount of patience I had managed to muster and always spoke with great patience and tolerance to our son. I still try not to yell, but I think those days are over, LOL!

Posted by: alkreske | March 3, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I am a reformed yeller. My mother taught parenting classes and never yelled, but my father did. So did I--a lot. My husband never yells (but gets cranky very occasionally)and he was really sick of dealing with the tears and stress that go with yelling. So I got a series of wonderful books—the Positive Discipline series. I started with The Toddler Years, graduated to A-Z, and recently got The Teenage Years. Life is much better.

Part of my problem was that I run late, right on the edge of when we can make school, an appointment, whatever. So, if I get up a little earlier, and get the kids up a little earlier, and keep us focused on moving forward, then mornings, my yell time, work much better. And I have come to realize that sometimes I have been reading the WaPo when I should have been making sure shoes, hair, teeth, jackets, and lunches were moving along, so it is my fault and my problem. So I stifle my urge to yell.

I have gotten a lot more patient. My kids listen pretty well, and a lot of the tears and anguish have gone away. One of the great points of the Positive Discipline series for me has been to point (literally) to things that need to be done rather than TALK about them. Towel on the floor of the bathroom? Tap the kid, point to the floor. No words, no sighs, just a towel now hanging on the rack.

I have come to the opinion that my resistance to being organized and consistent with my kids means I don't always follow through. No surprise they don't either. So, I am on a campaign to fix my behavior first--then theirs, immediately following.

Posted by: benbess | March 3, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

It can be really easy to give in to the urge to yell. And a little bit is not necessarily bad, as long as you are not belittling or insulting your kids. I find that laying out the consequence, and counting to three, has better effects, but I am willing to say things a couple of times. So I will say to my son, for example, to put his books away and set the table. Nothing. So I wait a minute and say "If you do not begin to put your books away and set the table by the time I count to three, you will be going straight to bed after dinner. No books, no games, straight to bed and lights out." It really works. Also, the consequences can't be too draconian for little things like that, because you have to be able to follow through without feeling like you created a mountain out of a molehill. And they have to be fairly immediate. So we have little adverse consequences for little adverse infractions, and in the end, we don' even use them all that often. The threat is enough.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Many years ago I took a women's self defense course. Part of the course was to practice screaming at the attacker at top volume. I was a standout because I yelled so loud. The instructor and admiring fellow students were amazed to learn I was not a mother. They all assumed I must be one, with my yelling abilities!

So don't overthink this yelling thing, is my advice. Yelling and verbal abuse (belittling, etc.) are two quite different things.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | March 3, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

"for all of those who are raising kids in the yell-free zone, i hope they never have to work for a yeller or have a professor who is a yeller. because when they do, they will shrink and fade into the background to avoid it."

What makes you think they won't do this at home in the face of a yelling parent?

Posted by: hitpoints | March 3, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Yelling a lot is counterproductive. They tune you out. It also makes you have less authority. However SELECTIVE yelling is very effective.

Posted by: pwaa | March 3, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I don't have any children, and therefore almost never find a need to yell. I have, however, yelled at my dog before. Her ears went down and she slowly moved towards me in a cowering fashion. I felt horrible. Now I find that keeping a piece of chicken or sausage works really good for getting her attention. Can you use some type of treat for your kids instead of yelling? Positive reinforcement.

Posted by: Alan4 | March 3, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Yelling teaches kids to yell and use threats. Where do you think little baby learned how to be emotionally manipulative and give guilt trips? (the answer is YOU). Kids learn how to have relationships and deal with problems from parents, so why lead with a bad example?

Do as I do? Or do as I say?

Also, if your spouse or child is telling you to "cool" down, they've already identified a problem, it's up to you to take action. If you -wish- you were a certain way, but can't change your behaviors, then you know the yelling is already out of your control.

Instead of yelling over and over again with the same results (more yelling), why not try a different tactic? Why does one resign themselves to the fact that their child doesn't listen unless their voice is above a certain decibel level? Why train your kids to ignore your regular voice?

(FYI - I grew up in a house of constant yelling and corporal punishment. It didn't make me disciplined or respectful, just an ill-adjusted person who confuses emotional and physical abuse as "love".)

Posted by: jaylin4dc | March 3, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

When your kids turn into teenagers, the level at which you have to raise your voice to get their attention will depend on how loud they like to listen to their MP3 player.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 3, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

"for all of those who are raising kids in the yell-free zone, i hope they never have to work for a yeller or have a professor who is a yeller. because when they do, they will shrink and fade into the background to avoid it."

Or depending on the kid's personality, he/she could also react by becoming a yeller. In fact, don't be surprised if you end up being the target at some point.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I do not like yelling. I do not like loud unpleasant noises in general, like leaf blowers, trucks backing up, fire alarms. I prefer not to live in a home where yelling is used for shock value. I also think it's rude to thrust yelling upon people. It's unpleasant. Generally doing unpleasant things to others is considered rude. Not funny, not cool, not acceptable.

Posted by: heiken | March 3, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

How do you feel about green eggs and ham, heiken? in a box? with a fox?

Seriously, I hope you marry someone as smug as yourself. Not funny, not cool, 100% judgmental.

Posted by: anonfornow | March 3, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Thank you so much for this post! I am relatively new to the parenting scene (I have a 20 month old and a 4 month old), and I find myself increasingly turing to yelling as a means of communication with my todler. I am not proud of this, and I never thought I would be one of those mothers who constantly yell at her kids....I did not come from a yelling home. However, the challenges associated with having small children test my patience every day. I appreciate all of the posts who offered alternatives to the constant yelling, and I will continue to try to improve! Thanks again

Posted by: swimrox80 | March 3, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Think about why you yell. You yell because your children do not respond to your repeated requests. Instead of working on your yelling, you should work on not allowing your children to ignore you. If you make a request, they ignore you. At the second request, get up off the couch and move toward them. If they still don't respond, make a third request, announce that they have lost privileges, and help their bodies move in the right direction.

Posted by: sscritic | March 3, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I like emily's take of how to handle dawdling-- but do you have to actually name the consequence? Can't you just say "if you don't come to the table, there will be negative consequences."-- I mean, why shouold I do all this work to come up with the appropriately negative, but not too harsh consequence, when in all likelihood (hopefully!) it won't be necessary to impose it? That's what i started saying because at the end of a really long day I just wasn't feeling particularly creative about punishment-- excuse me-- consequencies.

Another thing-- the whole "if you don't do X then Y will follow"-- does that count as emotional manipulative? I see as straight up manipulative-- and I don't see any better way of parenting. I guess you can spin as more positive by saying "first let's do X before we do Y", but it's really all the same right? manipulative. nothing better though.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | March 3, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

totally agree that yelling is pretty unpleasant.

but there are lots of things in life that are unpleasant - i'd much rather my little girl gets used to a little yelling here and there than go into the world and be freaked out when people start yelling.

if yelling was the only form of communication that we practiced, i'd be very worried that she would become some yelling monster, unable to solve problems any other way. hopefully we'll show her other means to that end.

i also hate it when my girl falls down. it's unpleasant and can be labeled as abuse. but if i always protected her, and she never fell down, she'd have a hard time in the real world.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 3, 2009 12:07 PM | Report abuse

"Can't you just say "if you don't come to the table, there will be negative consequences."-- I mean, why shouold I do all this work to come up with the appropriately negative, but not too harsh consequence, when in all likelihood (hopefully!) it won't be necessary to impose it?"

Capitolhillmom - It does sound like a lot of work to think of that not to severe, but appropriate consquence and to state it explicitly. But I have found that stating it explicitly is more effective for my son. This "there will be negative consequences' business is just not real enough for him. Having his DS confiscated for the day is actually something that he cares about. I think it is fine to refine your method to whatever works for you though. I have found that my threats are down to about three consequences that may vary depending on the time of day. (sending him to bed (works in the evening), cancelling a play date (works on weekends), or confiscating games or taking tv away for a day (any other time). So we really don't have to be that creative to come up with appropriate consequences.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I try very hard not to yell at my daughter but some times I find that I do. But I have never yelled enough to hurt my throat.

Todays blog was funny and honest.

I think if you yell too much or say abusive things to your children it is equal to abuse. But just the volume alone doesn't equate abuse. I think it is the way you yell that can get out of hand. I actually think my SIL is coming pretty close to that. She is definitely emotionally abusive to her husband. I could see her crossing the line with her kids one day.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 3, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

There have actually been several studies done that show that children (toddlers through school age) do actually tune out their parents' normal speaking voice. SOmewhat similar to when your spouse seems not to hear you. One of the most effective ways to actually get their attention is to use a high pitched or low pitched voice, and to modulate your voice. So if you're normally pretty even toned, speaking in a sing-song voice is more likely to catch your kids' attention and focus.

Disclaimer - said as a soon-to-be parent, so I haven't personally tested this theory.

Posted by: JHBVA | March 3, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I agree that volume and tone are different things. It is one thing to yell, "ALL RIGHT. WE ARE LATE. EVERYONE NEEDS TO PUT ON COATS AND BE OUT THE DOOR NOW." And it is another thing to call names, belittle, or otherwise insult family members. You can yell good naturedly as well as mean spiritedly.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse

right on emily8 - raising one's voice does not = abusive yelling. you can yell with a smile on your face and still get your message across.

but i'm still not opposed to being a mean daddy and raising my voice to let the little girl know i mean business.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 3, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I both have pretty long fuses, but there are times when you do have to yell to make yourselves heard, usually either when the kids are being rambunctious in the house, or when you've already told the older one (she's 6 1/2) ten times to do something and she's either ignored you or not budged. Then we explode once, and that usually gets her attention.

Me, I prefer the "countdown" method as a last resort. When I start counting to 10 after I've told her several times to do her chores or whatever, she KNOWS I'm serious then and she should either haul a-double-scribble or lose privileges! (Being sent to her room as punishment works wonders too...she HATES that!) You should see how fast she moves half expect it to be like one of those Wile E. Coyote moments when he leaves those whizzing lines behind him when he blasts off in a hurry.

That's not to say I don't have my cussing moments, which are few and far between and directed at inanimate objects that are giving me trouble (ex. the car acting up). To prevent the kids from understanding what I'm saying and copying it, I've learned to swear in several different languages (a mix of Klingon, Tenctonese-the language from Alien Nation-and several others), non of which are English). When I start using that mix, everybody knows I'm officially P.O.'ed and they'd better hit the deck!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | March 3, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

It's not the shouting per se, but the underlying expression of hatred and anger, which has many forms, including punishment, that adversly affects kids. The most effective way to turn children into losers is to treat them like they deserve to be losers. Want to raise kids to be happy, confident and successful adults? Treat them like they deserve your unconditional love.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 3, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

any yelling that i would do would NEVER involved hatred.

however, expressing my anger (yes, i mean anger. i want my girl to know that her behavior has angered me), and showing my unconditional love are two entirely different things.

i have told and will continue to tell my daughter that i will always love her no matter what, but there will be times that her behavior is disappointing and at times makes me angry.

i want my children to be strong, happy, confident, independent adults. to me, that means that they need to learn how to handle having people be angry at them.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 3, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

I would also add that disciplining kids is part of our duty as parents, and we should do so consistently, appropriately, and lovingly. This does mean that sometimes, you express your anger and impose consequences for misbehavior. But we do this because we love our kids and want them to grow up as responsible, productive people who treat others appropriately. To eschew our responsibility to impose discipline is a kind of abuse in its own form.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Yeller here too. I TRY. I really do. We do time outs, we do consequences that I do follow through on. I have a 3 year old and a 15 mos old and yell at the same triggers as above. You've asked nicely 6 times and are now rushed b/c the 3 year old insisted on "doing it" herself (whatever "it" may be) and you just want "it" done to get going! It was my new years resolution to stop yelling and I read that instead of yelling you should get really quiet. I tried that but it almost seemed more scary than yelling! I was seething! Back to yelling. I feel guilty when I hear my 3 year old yell to her sister...I tell her we shouldn't yell....what to do.

Posted by: kimf13 | March 3, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

This is going to sound snarky, but when you are losing your temper at a 3 year old and a 15 month old, you really need to reassess how you are handling your temper. People give free reign to losing their tempers with their little children, and rationalize it by saying they can't control it, but I don't buy it. If it were your boss that was frustrating you, you would find a way to control it because you would not be allowed to get away with this bad behavior.

So what to do? Stop rationalizing and get a grip on yourself. You are dealing with a 3 year old and a 15 month old. Manage your expectations and reign in your temper.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Jezebel, you missed your cue again. Every child is different. Every parent is different. You have to figure out what works for each of you.

My husband and I are both not naturally patient people. He was raised in a big yelling family, but was one of those kids who could just tune out everything. So his view is "worked fine for me, so what's the problem?" Problem is that it didn't work so great for his much more self-conscious and less-confident sister, who still has "issues." Now, me, my family never yelled unless it was a real "at the end of the rope" kind of day. I realized that when I yell, it's because it feels good to me to vent, and not because it was what was best for my kids. So I have worked very hard on my own self-control and on finding alternate strategies that work with our kids.

We have ended up with an older girl who is very much like his sister, and a younger boy who is his dad's mini-me. The boy, you almost have to yell at him periodically to let him know you're serious. But the girl, jeez, she picks up on the slightest nuance of a frustrated tone; yelling just sends her into tears.

I've found a lot of things that work pretty well with her. Getting quieter instead of louder works well, because it doesn't send her into fight-or-flight defensive mode. Finding positive incentives instead of negative repercussions works. When consequences are necessary, staying extremely unemotional and doing exactly what you say you're going to works well. The 1-2-3 Magic approach was great for me (I tend toward the post-consequence lecture).

The one thing I haven't found a good cure for is the getting organized/getting going when we're trying to go somewhere -- 1-2-3 Magic works great for stopping the bad stuff instantly, but it's been a harder battle to get her going on the good stuff. She is just the Putz Queen who will drive you nuts trying to get out of the house (how it can take 10 minutes to put shoes on, I don't know -- but she's actually doing something that whole time). Unfortunately, my husband, Mr. Efficiency, has less tolerance for that than just about anything else (except maybe crying). So most mornings usually end up with some version of a meltdown.

Ironically, the one I really feel like yelling at for that is DH. He's so proud of being Mr. Logic, Mr. Efficiency. And yet: He knows that yelling at her is counterproductive and ends up wasting even more time. He sees that he's setting the standard for how she should expect future boyfriends/husband to treat her. He understands that he is repeating his dad raising his sister -- and his sister's "issues" drive him nuts, so he really, really doesn't want to repeat that. He sees how she's learning to treat her brother exactly the way he treats her. And yet, when she putzes, he still yells at her. And I'm thinking, this is logical and efficient, how? He knows it's not. But he likes to vent, so he still does it.

So basically, I feel like a mediator most of the time, trying to navigate some middle ground between two equally strong, mismatched personalities. I have to support him so we can parent with a united front, guide him toward defusing before he blows, get her to get her act together before she reaches critical mass, etc. Which is pretty exhausting. On the plus side, since I've never been one of those people who seem naturally attuned to the emotional nuances of a situation, I guess I can at least say that I'm learning a lot from all of this. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | March 3, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

this is going to sound snarky, but... i bet you could use a long look in the mirror emily.

lose your temper with a 3 yr and 15 month old? wow. hard to believe. any parent who says they haven't lost their temper is full of it.

and lets keep it in perspective. losing your temper and yelling at a child is a whole lot different than LOSING your temper and doing anything beyond that.

i'll stand by my contention that getting yelled at here and there is part growing up.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 3, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I beg to differ with you, interesting idea. I actually think that managing expectations is a big part of working toward not losing your temper. What good is losing your temper with a baby or a toddler. What does it really accomplish, other than to make you feel better at the expense of a child who may not fully understand why she is being yelled at. It is one thing to expect a 7 year old or an 9 year old to do something 5 times. Quite another thing to hold a very young child to such expectations. So I really do think it is unacceptable to routinely give reign to hissy fits when dealing with kids, especially with very young kids.

So I stand by what I said.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I meant to say it is one thing to expect a 7 year old or a 9 year old to do something without having to say it 5 times.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Stacey, I had another post held -- can you pull it out? Thanks.

interestingidea -- I agree that getting angry and yelling at toddlers is part of life. But I think when you find yourself yelling at them so often that you call yourself a yeller, and vow not to do it any more, emily is right that you should take a harder look at what you're doing, and whether it is affecting your kids in a negative way. That much anger percolating right under the skin on a daily basis isn't healthy -- for anyone.

Posted by: laura33 | March 3, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I think some people just respond to stress differently. Some yell, some back down, etc. I think if I yelled at someone they'd laugh in my face.

Kind of related -- It's all about responding to a situation. I volunteer as an EMT, and I've noticed that since I've been doing that, nothing much gets to me anymore. People are stressed about a project and a deadline, and I just assess and react. People yelling at the office; assess the situation and act. I've found that people start yelling as they're losing control of the situation and/or panicing. And in most cases there's nothing to panic about.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | March 3, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I spend much of my day yelling at your husband. "Mr. Cool" is simply too exhausted to yell when he get's home.

Posted by: zookie1 | March 3, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

This is going to sound snarky, but when you are losing your temper at a 3 year old and a 15 month old, you really need to reassess how you are handling your temper. People give free reign to losing their tempers with their little children, and rationalize it by saying they can't control it, but I don't buy it. If it were your boss that was frustrating you, you would find a way to control it because you would not be allowed to get away with this bad behavior.

Emily, I hafta say this. I've never had a boss who urinated on the wallpaper, down the vents or on the sofa, bit me or pushed his little sister down. If my boss did what my 3 year old did, I would likely yell at him/her too! I think you are talking apples and oranges.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 3, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

LOL Moxiemom. I have never had a boss who urinated on the wallpaper either (although I knew of one that picked his nose and stuck the fruits of this endeavor onto the underside of his leather chair). They figured this out once when the leather had to be repaired and the chair was turned upside down. But I digress.

But I have had bosses that have made me want to run out of the building screaming. In fact, I would say that a few of them have frustrated me more than the average 3 year old ever could. And yet, somehow, I managed not to yell back, scream or swear at them (although I have stolen away to secretly cry a few times). So I don't think it is apples or oranges necessarily.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Actually...if you equate 'yelling' to 'lose your temper,' well, um, you shouldn't be doing that. Kids don't have much control in their lives - and they DO get a kick out of you losing your temper. So if they can 'control' you by making you angry to see what you do - well, they do that. It's not surprising.

I raise my voice at my kids from time to time, but I try not to yell. And I've found many ways of making myself NOT yell. My kids love certain things and hate certain things. They love wii/tv/the computer. That sometimes gets taken away when I get angry. But I don't yell at them, I tell them with an even tone. They HATE when I take things from their room - which I do if they are not listening (you have to find the consequences that matter to your kids - like, not going to a birthday party...or whatever).

I grew up in a house with a yeller, and I don't want my house to be like that. It was terrible (and I have one sister who is a yeller, among other things, and another who married an abusive yeller - great). So I've seen the consequences of it. Again, it's not the yelling - it's the losing of control, of temper, or whatever, that is no good. If it's just raising your voice, that's a different thing. But if you have to tell your kids MORE THAN ONCE to do something, they have to know that there are consequences to their actions. If you don't give them consequences after the first time - you are teaching them to not listen to you, this time and every time. Because they've learned that there are no consequences to not listening, why would they listen?
Kids don't know everything - they need to learn. And by yelling at them because you've lost your temper teaches them that 1) they can make you lose your temper and 2) there are no bad consequences to not listening to you the first (or fifth or whatever) time.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 3, 2009 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Moxie, good point, but Emily has a good point, too. I notice my DH yells when he can get away with it -- at the kids, at his employees, at other drivers from the anonymity of his car, etc. Yet he never yells at his bosses (even though his bosses routinely drive him just as crazy as his employees), at his parents (ditto), or at me (double ditto!). So he can control himself when he needs to -- he just chooses not to with our kids.

Kids seem to be born with a magical ability to push our buttons better than anyone on earth. It's just a fact of life that we're gonna be tempted to yell at them more than most other people -- and most likely give in to the temptation more, too. But there's a difference between yelling once in a while when your kid has gotten on your last nerve (totally normal, inevitable, and dare I say even healthy), and being so angry all the time that the intensity of your anger scares you when you try to keep it in (which is the post emily was responding to).

Posted by: laura33 | March 3, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Laura.
And yes, I want to clarify that yelling once in a blue moon probably won't cause much damage, but it is troublesome to live in a home where yelling is the MO for responding to frustration, stress or conflict. It is one thing to yelp in pain when your one year old bites you (been there), and another entirely to constantly yell at your kids because they are dawdling, playing with the food, messing up the furniture, spreading sugar all over the kitchen floor, or whatever. Raising kids is hard work, physically and emotionally. I totally understand the impulse to yell. But I really think we need to contain ourselves, as much as possible, so that these outbursts are the a rare event.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I yell. After I've told the kids to do something five times and they haven't done it, I yell. The main reason I'm trying to yell less is because it really doesn't work, at least with my kids.

Posted by: dennis5 | March 3, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Dennis: if you keep telling them something five times, and they don't do it - well, they're learning that you wait til the fifth time before you react, why should they listen on the first time? Start giving them consequences...after the FIRST time. I hate repeating myself, so I don't...I just got tired of it. The kids are slowly learning to change their behavior. And I'm learning to change mine, too...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 3, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Generally speaking, I agree with Emily, especially when we're talking about children under the age of 6. The problem is that, at those ages, their brains have simply not developed enough to have good impulse control.

So, when parents get frustrated at their 3 year old doing something that they KNOW is wrong, we have to realize that the 3 year old does not have the same impulse inhibition abilities as an adult. Moreover, children at that age want to challenge you, the rules, and boundaries. And they want to test them over and over to see whether they get different results.

That's why Emily is correct that you shouldn't be venting your frustrations through yelling at a child this young. If a child is doing something they shouldn't, you'll just have to stop them -- not repeating the same thing over and over until you're yelling. Yes, it's eminently frustrating that you've already told them not to and they're certainly understand English, but YOU are the adult and YOU need to understand that children are NOT miniature adults.

Posted by: rlalumiere | March 3, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

A few minutes ago, I said that we need to contain ourselves as much as possible so that we aren't yelling all the time. Maybe the problem lies in having to contain ourselves at all. Maybe we should be examining what is making us so angry to begin with. Is it because our lives are too stressed and harried, because we have too many commitments and not enough time? This constant, simmering anger that is ready to erupt at the slightest provocation is a sign of something more intrinsically wrong than frustration with a toddler's stubborn ways. So for those of us that are feeling that way, I would suggest that we need to figure out what is making us feel so frustrated and fix it.

Posted by: emily8 | March 3, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Emily, (tongue firmly in cheek), I think it is urine on the wallpaper! kidding. I think you are right, often times we treat those closest to us worse than we ever would a stranger which is wrong, but for any bodily fluids outside of the bowl, I still advocate yelling, and a lot of it!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 3, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

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