How to get your children to listen without yelling

Every mom in the world loves their children with all their hearts, and yet every mom also finds herself, at one time or another, screaming her lungs out at that beloved child. It’s simply impossible to avoid. Children don’t set out to misbehave, and certainly don’t want you yelling at them (well, most of the time at least). But they are in the midst of figuring out who they are, how to interact with the world, and what their boundaries are. It goes without saying that this isn’t always a clean process, and usually is more than a bit messy. So is there any way to get your child to listen to you that doesn’t involve you yelling at them?

The first step is on us. Kids will be kids, and you must take the time to understand why they are misbehaving. It isn’t to make you angry. According to some recent theories, kids have two clear emotional goals, belonging and significance. Regardless of what’s going on, kids are looking for ways to connect emotionally and receive attention. They want that attention to be positive, but they’ll take the negative if that’s all they’re given. When they don’t feel connected, they act out until they get a reaction. Kids also want to understand their place within the family. They want to be accepted, to feel secure, and to contribute in some real way to the family unit. The little one may not be able to help out yet, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to. If you can help them feel this significance and connection, they’ll take ownership of a sense of power, and won’t need to act out as much.

In the end, it’s all going to come down to actually getting them involved in their own discipline. They’re never going to want punishment or enjoy receiving it, so couching discipline in those terms won’t ever go over well. However, if you can have them see that negative behavior brings consequences, and that they are fully responsible for how it goes, you may be able to break the cycle of yelling. Here’s one possible way to go about it that has shown results in these troubling situations.

First off, no matter how far off the handle your child is flying, speak to him with respect. The trick is to remain calm, and if that’s impossible in the heat of the moment, go cool off until you can. You need to set the tone for a conversation your child will actually engage in, and that has to come from a place of respect. Next, come up with a real consequence that’s related to their negative behavior, and tie it in with a reasonable length of time. For example, a four-year-old’s tantrum could have the consequence of one day without a favorite toy, while a fourteen-year-old cursing you out could lead to a week without their cell phone.

There are two keys to this actually working. The first is that you must lay these ground rules out in advance of the screaming. It won’t work when your child is already riled up, but if you lay out the consequences prior to the argument, they’ll understand that it’s entirely their choice how it goes. And your child must repeat the consequences back to you. For the little ones, this will prove to you that they actually comprehend what you’ve said, and by saying the words back the two of you are basically making a verbal agreement. Of course, like any wise sayings or parental advice, this will only work if you stick by your own rules. You can’t add to the punishment because you are angry, yell yourself or change up the agreement on them. But with a bit of patience and enough time, it’s a great way to minimize those upsetting shouting matches with your little ones.


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  1. I had a real problem with screaming at my kids. I grew up with screaming in the house. Both my mother and father were screamers and even though I vowed I’d never do that with my own children, that’s exactly what happened. I went to see a family counselor and read books on the subject. I also talk to other parents who were struggling with it too.

    I think I am a “normal” person but one day I was in the grocery store and didn’t even realize I was yelling at my son and another mom from school was in the store too.

    I knew the minute she looked at me that this was not a good thing to be doing to my kid and I was so humiliated and I am sure my son was also. Went back to the family therapist who recommended a book that has been really helpful. (“Changing Behavior” Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills”) It is not easy to unlearn years of yelling, but I am getting better. Both the kids and my husband are happier that I am working on this and I feel much better about m yself as well.