One of my friends told me that she felt like a bad parent because she sometimes yells, and I assured her that all parents yell. It happens. (Ask me how I know.) But if the yelling isn’t working for your and/or your kids, and chances are it’s not, there are some reasons why and other approaches to take that you can read about in this guest post by RitaMaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC, a leading mental health expert and pediatric therapist at Individual & Family Connection in Chicago.
Every parent has been there. It’s 6:30 a.m., you’re sleep deprived, you haven’t had your coffee yet, you are trying to get everyone out the door on time and then your child engages in behavior so outrageous it triggers you into your own “grown-up tantrum.” Before you know it, you are involved in a full out battle.
No problems are solved, and it is just a matter of time before the next battle begins because yelling does not solve problems.
Yelling instills fear and causes an incredible increase in the stress hormones that force your child’s brain into flight, fight, or freeze mode. This makes problem solving an impossible feat.
The more you scream, the less you are heard.
Yelling pushes children away at a time when they need to be pulled close.
When your child is upset, the logical and problem solving part of their brain shuts down. Instead, they operate mostly from the primitive, survival part of their brain. This is why screaming “calm down!” will never result in your child calming down.
Yelling gives their brain even more reason to shut down the logic and focus all of its energy on survival in the form of either fight, flight, or freeze.
No amount of threats, punishment, or yelling is going to help reach a child whose brain is in a primitive, survival state.
Even threatening to ground your child from television for the next ten years won’t be enough to get them to comply, because once their panic has set in, their brains have lost the ability to cause and effect think.
Based on the chemistry of your child’s brain at that heightened moment, they need your connection to get out of panic, survival mode. Empathetic listening, reflective statements, touch, soft tone, and nurturing expression are all ways your child will feel you hear them.
By verbally expressing your child’s perspective, no matter how irrational, you give your child the opportunity to feel supported and the defenses come down. In therapy this sounds like a lot of ‘wondering.’ For example, “I wonder if you’re upset because I was rushing you out the door this morning and yelling a lot.”
By using this technique, your child will begin to learn more about their own emotions and connect their big, overwhelming feelings with much needed logic. This will enable your child to learn how to manage these big emotions and then, how to manage behavior.
Once your child has calmed, you have the opportunity to help your child explore those big emotions, with the help of their whole brain this time! A brain that is feeling connected and supported is a powerhouse for effective problem solving and emotional growth.
In order to help your child reach this logic, you, also have to be calm enough to support them, and not be in fight, flight, freeze mode yourself.
When you yell, you are reacting from those same primitive emotions. So before you connect and calm them, you must first focus on taking care of YOU.
Your child’s brain is still under construction and big emotions will take over. Providing verbal acknowledgement and an empathetic response to your child who is in destress will result in a much better outcome than expecting them to behave in a way that is out of reach for them.
Remember, your child is not giving you a hard time; your child is having a hard time.
Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago, IL. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection in Lincoln Park. Read more about Rita at: IFCcounseling.com
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