Today I read the now viral article about how the owner of a diner in Maine yelled at a customer, a customer who happened to be a two-year-old child. Supposedly, the child was carrying on and on and the owner had enough so she screamed at the child to knock it off. Understandably so, this popular story has elicited a lot of responses about who was right and who was wrong. And while I would love to share my opinion on that matter, instead I am going to focus on one line from the article that reminded me of one of the many important lessons I learned when I stopped (and started and stopped) yelling at my kids.
The last line of the article reads, “I wouldn’t say I was sorry (for yelling,) because it stopped. When things stop, it’s usually a good thing.”
The owner isn’t alone in her thinking that the yelling worked so it’s a good approach. In my four years as The Orange Rhino, a parent determined to respond to triggers warmly and without yelling, just about every single parent I have communicated with has shared the same sentiment. “But yelling works. It stops the behavior that I want to stop.”
I get this sentiment. Oh how I get this sentiment. Trust me!
I have thought that “oh, well yelling works” more times than I can count! I have wanted to buy into this thought as a supporting theory for why it is okay to yell at my kids oh so many times! Yes, when all else fails and my constructive attempts to get my kids to clean up, to stop hitting each other, to go to bed, or to do whatever haven’t worked, yelling has “saved the day” and “worked.” When I used to get loud and mean enough, I eventually either scared my children or hurt their feelings enough so that they stopped dead in their tracks causing the annoying behavior to stop as well.
But does that mean the yelling really worked? That it was a good thing?
I am going to argue no.
Yes, on the surface level the yelling worked. When I yelled, I achieved a short-term goal of getting a said behavior to stop. But let me be honest; that really isn’t my main goal when I think of getting a behavior to stop. One of my main goals as a parent is to teach my children so that their good behavior continues and their “bad” behavior disappears not just for a moment but mostly forever. I don’t want to just stop it once; I want to stop it for (again, mostly!) always. But I cannot teach effectively and change behavior if I am yelling. To teach effectively I need to speak clearly and my kids need to be in a good enough place to receive my words. Yelling successfully achieves neither of those necessities!
To teach effectively I need to speak clearly and my kids need to be in a good enough place to receive my words. Yelling successfully achieves neither of those necessities!
There ain’t no doubt about it, but when I am yelling, there is nothing clear about my communications (well, except that I’m pissed.) I’m yelling so loud and fast, and my heartbeat is racing so much that my words come out as a jumbled incomprehensible mess, completely destroying my communication efforts. Even if my kids were in the best listening place possible, when I yell I am not giving them anything coherent to take in so no, no my yelling isn’t teaching what I want to teach effectively, so no it isn’t “working.”
But what does put kids in a good listening place anyways, you ask? What puts them in a place where they won’t tune me out and will want to (kind of) listen? In my experience, my kids listen best when they feel calm, safe, and undistracted. Does yelling do that? Um, nope, not really. My boys can’t focus when I yell. I can see it in their eyes that are looking anywhere but one spot. I can see all the distracting thoughts bouncing around, “When will she stop?” “I hate her when she yells.” “I’m gonna tell daddy.” “I don’t care. Whatever mom.” They don’t focus on my words; they focus on their own thoughts and potentially own response, “You’re the meanest mommy ever,” being one of the all time favorites!
I also learned that my kids listen best when I speak in a tone that doesn’t hurt their ears or scare their minds; when I use a tone that invites them in and encourages them to listen. Does yelling do any of those things? Again, um, nope, not really. I mean gosh, whenever I have been yelled at, whether as a child or adult, my response has basically been piss off! Yelling doesn’t motivate me to change, it motivates me to do anything but change! It motivates me to tune out the messenger…fast! And it motivates me to be stubborn and difficult, which by the way, I am wicked good at and which double by the way is a trait my children inherited. So no, yelling doesn’t work for me – it actually works against me!
You know, I often think of the Peanuts cartoons when I think of what actually happens when I yell at my kids. I think of how in the cartoons the kids only hear, “Wah, wah, wah!” That’s like my kids when I am yelling!! Yes, they hear the yelling, they get the message I’m pissed, but because my yelling pushed them to tune me out, they don’t get the rest of the message, the lesson that I am really, really, really trying to share. They don’t hear, “STOP HITTING YOUR BROTHER NOW IT’S NOT NICE.” Instead, if I am lucky, all they hear is, “stop hitting, wah wah, wah, wah!”
Is it great they get the message stop hitting?! Heck yeah! But I’ve learned that if at the same time – the time when the behavior I want to change is happening – they don’t also get the message that it isn’t nice, that hitting isn’t how we treat people, etc… it’s hard for them to make the connection between the bad behavior and the lesson. It’s hard for them to internalize the lesson and therefore make the right decision the next time.
So again, yelling doesn’t work as “intended” to, which is to say, it doesn’t stop behavior for the long haul. Yelling simply doesn’t open doors for communication and learning, but rather, it closes them.
Okay, except maybe in one situation. We all know my book is titled “Yell Less, Love More.” That’s because yells will happen. In those yelling moments we might not teach and we might close doors to learning but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be re-opened. They can be…immediately after the yell. Then is the best time to teach an entirely different, unintended lesson: mistakes happen and when they do, we need to apologize.
(Maybe I did share my opinion after all, eh?! And no, that was not intended!)
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Want to Yell Less and Love More and learn more of some of the lessons that helped me stop yelling at my kids? Check out my book, which is part memoir, part journal, part physical reminder to not yell! It is available here. It is a 30-Day Guide to help you on your own journey to discover your yelling triggers and and to create a plan to manage them. Filled with honest stories to inspire you and remind you that you are not alone in your struggle with yelling, “Yell Less, Love More: How The Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids–and How You Can Too!” also shares 100 of my favorite alternatives to yelling and my favorite tools.