smart strategies for disciplining kids that don’t involve yelling
Few things are more frustrating than losing our voices from yelling because our kids never listen. Our frustration naturally drives us to yell. The problem is, our kids still don’t listen and, along with that sore throat, we end up feeling terrible later for yelling. So what’s a parent to do?
I was running as fast as I could across our 1-acre front yard at 8:50 AM on a beautiful Sunday morning in Spring.
We were already running 10 minutes late and if I didn’t catch my then 4 year old and get him in the car for swim lessons, we’d completely miss the lesson. Again.
Long story short, I’m officially the town crazy for screaming at the top of my lungs while sprinting after and tackling my son onto the ground.
When I finally got my feral child into the car and drove off, he completely tugged on my heart strings. “Mommy,” he asked sweetly, “Are you mad at me?”.
“Yes! I am mad at you! We’re going to miss your swim lesson now! Do you think I tell you to do things for my health?! Good Lord!”
When I finally cooled off, I felt guilty for the rest of the day for the way I yelled at him and condescended him. I’m sure he wasn’t feeling that great either.
This story must sound familiar to you, and that’s probably how you ended up here. If you’ve ever yelled at your kids (and if you haven’t, are you even human?), then you know the guilt that I felt. It SUCKS. You feel like the worst parent in the world.
But outside of yelling, how the heck else are we supposed to get our kids to listen?
At the time, I honestly did not know any other way.
But fear not, parent friend, there is another way. I have found it, I have used it, and it works [most of the time – I mean, they are kids after all]. Read on to learn how to discipline your kids without having to lose your voice (or your mind)!
How Can Yelling Impact Your Kids?
First off, I don’t want you to think that because you yelled at your older son when you saw him punch your younger son that he’s going to need therapy for the rest of his life.
In fact, if you yell at your kids, you’re not alone. Studies have found that around 90% of parents have yelled at their kids over the course of a year.
And sometimes yelling is completely appropriate. For example, last weekend my 5 year old was running down the driveway at the mail man’s truck that was coming up the driveway. I don’t know if they were playing a game of chicken or what, but neither showed signs of slowing down. So my husband screamed my son’s name and yelled at him to get back up the driveway.
In that case, yeah, we’re gonna yell if it means keeping our kids safe.
But there are many cases where we don’t have to yell at our kids, and if we do it too often, it can have negative results.
- If we yell all the time, our kids will learn to tune it out and it won’t be effective in those instances where we need to yell to get their attention and keep them safe.
- Yelling can make misbehavior problems worse.
- Yelling doesn’t teach our kids how to control themselves better.
- Parents feel bad after they yell.
- Yelling can frighten our kids. When I’ve yelled at my 5 year old, he’s yelled back “Stop it! You’re scaring me!”.
- Yelling teaches kids that this is an acceptable form of communication.
- Yelling can negatively impact your child’s self-esteem and sense of security.
Why Do We Yell?
If we think back to our pre-parent selves, I bet none of us expected to be angry moms, yelling with with bright, red faces and bulging veins in our necks.
Sure, we saw moms like that. But us? No. Way. We’d get it right. Afterall, the best parenting advice comes from people with no kids, right?
So what the heck happened?
As parents, we’re under a lot of pressure, we’re pulled in a million different directions everyday, and we don’t know how else to get our kids to actually listen to us and do what we need them to do. We lose our cool and/or we believe this is the only way to get our kids to behave.
Usually yelling isn’t our immediate response. We escalate to yelling. That’s because our kids aren’t doing what we want them to do. Whether that’s stopping a tantrum or doing their homework.
We feel completely out of control of our kids and our situation. We feel powerless.
Add on external factors, like running late, not getting enough sleep, or not getting enough “me” time, and it’s completely understandable why we yell.
Another interesting fact to consider is the finding from a recent study on screaming. This study found that our brains process screams in a different way than other sounds. Brain images found that screams activate the part of our brain that processes fear. (If you’ve ever had a colic baby, you can completely, whole-heartedly relate to this.)
So the next time your toddler is screaming during a tantrum or your tween screams at you, take a minute to notice how it’s making you feel. Is your heart beating faster? Your anxiety rising? That’s because the screams are triggering a warning in your brain.
And our reaction is… to yell.
So please don’t beat yourself up for yelling at your kids. But please also do not get discouraged!
There is a more positive way to handle your kids’ misbehavior that is healthier for you and for them.
It’s called Positive Parenting.
What is Positive Parenting?
Positive parenting is a philosophy. It is about believing that kids, at their core, want to do the right thing and that it is our job as parents to teach them how to do so.
The goal is to raise adults who are happy and successful.
Parents who practice positive parenting do not use harsh punishment, such as yelling or hitting, to keep kids from misbehaving. Instead these parents set and enforce consistent boundaries and limits while building their children’s self-esteem and self-control.
Positive discipline is the major component of positive parenting. Whereas other traditional methods of discipline use shame, fear, and guilt as the motivation to stop misbehavior, the intent of this positive discipline is love, understanding, and teaching your child to engage in appropriate behavior.
With younger kids especially, they don’t know how else to behave when we tell them to stop doing something. For instance, if your preschooler throws things when he’s upset, and you tell him to stop – he’s not sure what to do instead to cool off.
It’s easy for us to forget that our kids aren’t always developmentally ready to figure out how to handle big emotions in a constructive way. They need our guidance.
Positive discipline enforces the limits we’ve set, but in an empathetic way. It means taking the time to understand why your child is behaving a certain way. What need are they trying to reach?
Then it’s empathizing with how they feel and teaching them alternate ways to behave. This protects the child’s dignity and your relationship with them.
Remember – your kid isn’t bad, just his behavior. At the end of the day, he wants to make you happy and do what is right. Sometimes he needs your guidance to do that.
10 Ways to Discipline Your Child Without Yelling
Yelling scares kids, makes us parents feel bad, and, according to experts, doesn’t really work. Try these techniques to discipline your child. You’ll be amazed at how much more peaceful your home will be!
1. Let nature take its course.
I love when natural consequences can play out! For my 5 year old, this is one of the most effective forms of discipline and the lesson always sticks out in his mind after the consequence happens only once.
An example of a natural consequence would be if your preschooler refuses to put on a coat in the winter. Go ahead and let them leave without a coat on, but bring it with you. Your child will get cold and will want the coat. The next time you leave the house to go out, your child will likely want to put their coat on.
Unfortunately there aren’t natural consequences for everything. And even then, you’ll only want to use them in situations where your child’s safety won’t be endangered.
2. Give them fair warning.
If your child is misbehaving, in a calm, but stern voice, give them a warning of what will happen if they don’t stop. Sometimes our kids get caught up in what they’re doing and need a reminder to stop doing something they aren’t supposed to do.
If they continue with the behavior, calmly follow through with the consequence. They will kick and scream over the consequence, but they will more easily make the connection between the behavior and the consequence. This will help reduce how often the behavior is repeated.
It’s also a good idea to give kids a warning when a transition is about to take place. For example, when it’s time to transition from playing to getting ready for bed. My little guy especially struggles with transitions and if I don’t give him warning (ie, in 5 minutes it’s time to stop playing and take a bath; in 2 minutes, etc.), he melts down.
3. Put them to work.
That doesn’t sound nice, I know! Let’s say your child is playing with his cup of milk. You tell him to stop playing with it or it will spill.
He doesn’t listen and, as you predicted, the milk falls to the ground creating a mess. Instead of yelling at him and saying “I told you so!”, give him a towel and have him clean up the mess.
Now, to be completely honest, the first time I tried this with my son, he refused to clean it up. So I gathered up all my strength and patience (which was NOT easy) and I sat there with him until he did. No TV or snacks until the mess was cleaned up. He did eventually clean up the milk (with a little help from me because he was 4!).
4. Give your a child a time-in.
A time-in is essentially a time-out, but carried out in a different manner. Usually time-outs happen when we’ve reached our tipping point and we yell out, “That’s it! You’re going in time-out!”.
Then we put our kids in a corner, a special chair, or their room and tell them to stay there for x amount of time and think about what they did.
But at their age, are they really going to think about what they did? Are they even capable of it? And how are they feeling now? Angry, hurt, ashamed? And do we want the motivating reason for our kids to make good choices to be the avoidance of crappy feelings?
Instead, try a time-in. It’s not all that different from a time-out when, except that the intention isn’t to punish them. Rather it’s to help them calm down so that you can teach them.
Remove your child from the situation and calmly go to their room with them. Don’t talk, don’t overexplain. When kids are upset, it’s hard for them to process what you’re saying. It’s not sinking in.
Let them know that you’d like to give them a few minutes to feel calm again. Some parents advise not to leave the room; However, my son will not calm down if I stay in the room, so I tell him I’m going to stand in the hallway until he’s ready to be around me. As long as you’re being calm and it’s coming from a place of love and not anger, it’s all good.
When they have calmed down, talk to them about how they were feeling and why they acted the way they did. Ask them how they can act differently next time, and help them come up with ideas.
5. Use stories.
Research tells us that kids learn best through narratives and storytelling.
Telling stories is something my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law have always done with my two boys to teach them why they shouldn’t do something.
At first, I didn’t know how I felt about it. Like, isn’t that kind of lying to them? I know, I’m a nerd. And Santa is pretty much the same thing. Anyway, when I saw it was actually working, I jumped on board.
If they saw my older son climbing up a shelf or something else crazy like that, they would gently pull him down and tell him about Little Johnny who climbed up a shelf, fell, and had to get stitches. Of course, they made it much more entertaining than that, but you get the idea.
Believe it or not, these stories stick with my boys, especially my 5 year-old. They think twice before doing something that Little Johnny has done!
Also, there’s this group of people who live way up in Arctic Canada called the Intuit. NPR wrote an article about how they teach their kids to control their anger. Telling stories is one of the most common methods they use. It’s definitely worth a read!
6. Act it out.
Time to brush up your acting chops! I actually haven’t tried this one yet, but plan on adding it to my bag of parenting tricks.
This is another method the Intuit use. For example, if one of their children is hitting another child, they wait until they are calm, and then put on a show.
They’ll tell their child to hit them (yep. Stay with me here.). The child will pause (like is this really happening? Is Mom serious right now?), and then they hit their mom.
The mom responds playfully “Ouch! That hurt me!” or “Hey, are you a baby?”. It sounds like teasing a bit, which is why it’s important to do this playfully and ask questions while you’re doing it.
This teaches the child that it’s hurtful to hit someone else and that big kids don’t hit.
7. Give your kid choices.
This usually works great with my strong-willed boy. Strong-willed kids like to feel like they have some control over their little lives. And choices give them just that.
One of the many reasons your child might be tantruming or refusing to do something you’ve asked them to do is because they want power, and refusing to do something is a way to exert power.
So, if you see your child starting to resist, instead of yelling which will exasperate the refusals, take a deep breath, get down to their eye level, and calmly, but firmly, tell them they have a choice and what would they like to do.
This usually works in the mornings with getting dressed. My older son likes to mosey around in the morning, which drives me and my husband CRAZY as we’re trying to get out the door for work. After many a power struggle, I gave the whole “choices” thing a shot.
“You have to get dressed or we’re going to be late to daycare and you’ll miss circle time. Do you want Daddy to help you get dressed, or me to help you get dressed?”. Now, at this age, he should be getting dressed on his own, but sometimes ya gotta choose your battles.
He usually picks me, we get him dressed, and that’s that.
8. Use one word.
This sounds so simple that you’re probably going to think there’s no way in heck it works. But it does.
Imagine it’s the end of dinner and your spouse and kids finish eating, get up, and leave the room. “What the heck, guys?!”, you yell. “How many times do I have to tell you to clean your plates before leaving the kitchen? I mean, I cooked dinner, the least you can do is clear your plates!”.
Maybe they come back and clear their plates, maybe they don’t. But tomorrow night, it’s likely to be the same story, or they clear their plates, but with attitude.
Next time, try saying “Plates” as they start to get up from their seats. You’ll be surprised that they pick up their plates and put them in the sink.
Sometimes, all our kids need is a simple reminder. Not too wordy of a reminder or they’ll tune you out. Keeping it simple also keeps them from getting defensive.
9. Use misbehavior for teaching moments.
I just added this in here this second, because this literally just played out in my kitchen as I’m writing this post:
My sweet, little 2 year-old boy was walking around the kitchen in his grandmother’s cheap-o, bedazzled sunglasses from Target. I could tell he was feeling especially cool. I mean, wouldn’t you?
Then his big brother comes along, sees his little bro having fun with these Elton John-like glasses, and snatches them off of his face. A shrill scream exits my toddler’s mouth and runs right through me.
My older son lets out an evil laugh, “BAHAHA!”.
Armageddon is about to ensue.
I open my mouth to yell, and then stop, reminding myself that it will just add the chaos. I get up from my chair, walk over to my older son, get down on my knees so I can make eye contact with him, and say, “Hey – how would you feel if I walked over and took your new Buzz Lightyear away from you while you were playing? It would suck, right? That’s how M. feels. How about you give him the glasses back?”.
And he freaking did!
Yelling averted. Empathy and respect taught. This. shit. works.
10. Meet in the middle.
I’m still trying to master this one, but it does make sense. A compromise is a fair way to approach a situation with your child and will help them feel a bit more in control of their lives, which will ward off a shouting match.
If your child is watching TV, for example, and you tell them “Hey, time for bed”, they don’t exactly jump to shut the TV off and run to their bedrooms.
They usually respond in a whiny voice, “But Mooooooom, 10 more minutes?”.
It’s not going to kill anyone if you meet them in the middle and reply, “5”.
Where I struggle with this sometimes is that my son then counters – “8”. Then I counter “6”. And then somehow we land on “9”.
So if you’re going to go this route, confidently state your compromise and walk away. Do not negotiate with preschoolers (or toddlers, tweens, and teens).
This is not something I’m proud to admit, but I used to not pay much attention to my older son. There’s a reason I’m confessing this to you.
Yes, I’d sit on the couch next to him while he was watching TV. But I wouldn’t be engaged in the show with him. I’d be on my phone.
Sure, he’d be talking to me in the kitchen while I was cooking and I’d be responding. But my mind was elsewhere, and my responses were superficial. So superficial, in fact, that every time I said, “Oh yeah?” to something he told me, he’d yell, “Stop saying that!!” and storm off.
And then I’d turn around and try to apply one of the techniques above. And you know what? They never worked. Not once.
That’s because my son, just like every other child in the world, has 2 buckets that need to be filled…
Attention and power.
My husband and I weren’t doing a good job of filling those buckets for him. Many times, when we were there with him, we weren’t really present in the moment with him. And kids 100% pick up on that.
Also, we were always trying to control him and get him to do what we wanted him to do. He felt powerless.
Looking back on it now, it’s no wonder he misbehaved so often. And it makes complete sense why these strategies would not work with him. There was a disconnect between us.
For these strategies to really work, you have to have a strong relationship with your child. You need to make them feel like they matter and they play a very important role in your life and in your family.
You need to make them feel in control (even when they aren’t) of their days.
When I learned this and started to act on it, I saw changes in my son right away. He no longer had to do something “bad” to really get my attention. And because we were getting along better and he felt seen and heard, he was much more willing to listen to me and want to act in a way that makes me happy.
So remember – you’ve got 2 buckets to fill – attention and power. And if you’ve already been filling them, then you’re 10 steps ahead of where I was and you’ll see a much faster turnaround!
What To Do If You Yell
I know this will probably come as a shock, but you and I are not perfect. Don’t get me wrong, we’re both fabulous. But we’re human, and parenting is hard as hell, and discipline is no walk in the park.
You now have some really great tools that you can use to minimize yelling. But there will still be times where you just lose it and yell. And that’s ok. I truly mean that from the deepest depths of my heart – it is ok.
Here are some things you can do to help you reconnect with your child after you’ve lost your cool with them.
- Once everyone is calm again, sit down with your child and let them know that the way you acted wasn’t right. Tell them you know you should have handled it differently. Not only does this begin the reconnection, but it also shows your child that owning up to mistakes is the right thing to do.
- Explain how you felt in that moment, why, and what your child can do to help you. “I feel stressed if we’re going to be late for school and work. It would be really helpful for me if you got yourself dressed in the morning after you finish your breakfast.”
- Let your child know how you should have responded in that moment. “I should not have yelled at you like that. I should have asked you if you needed any help getting dressed.”
A quick note here – be sure not to place any blame on your child. Saying something like, “You make Mommy really mad when you don’t get dressed in time. I won’t yell at you if you just do what you’re supposed to do” is not going to help mend the connection between you and your child.
It’s just going to make them feel worse than they already do.
Bottom line – yelling sucks. Own it and help your child understand what they can do in the future to make both of your days run more smoothly.
You Got This
The more you practice these techniques, the easier they will become. Not only will they become more of a natural response for you when your child misbehaves, but you’ll have honed them to become really effective for your kid (or kids) spefically.
And, when you’ve yelled at your kids, please know you’re not alone. I’ve been there – and I still go there sometimes – and I understand.
You got this.
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