Most parents yell at their kids at one time or another. However, for some parents, yelling becomes a bad habit.
Studies consistently show that yelling is one of the eight discipline strategies that can make behavior problems worse.1 This can lead to a downward spiral—yelling leads to bad behavior which leads to more yelling.
Yelling loses effectiveness over time. A child who gets yelled at on a regular basis will begin to tune you out.
Another problem with yelling is that it doesn’t teach kids how to manage their behavior. If a child gets yelled at for hitting their sibling, they won't learn how to resolve problems peacefully. Here's how to discipline without yelling.
Establish Clear Rules
You’ll be less likely to resort to yelling if you’ve established clear household rules. It can help to keep a list of household rules prominently displayed in your home.2
When rules are broken, follow through with an immediate consequence.
Resist the urge to yell, nag, or lecture. When you do, your words aren't likely to teach your child to do better next time.
Establish Consequences Ahead of Time
Explain the negative consequences of breaking the rules to your child ahead of time. Use time-out, take away privileges, or logical consequences to help your child learn from a behavioral slip-up.2
For example, you could say: "If you don't do your chores before dinner, there will be no TV for the night." From there, it's up to your child to make good choices. Since the ball is in their court, you'll be less likely to yell at them about doing their chores.
Consider which consequences are likely to be most effective. Keep in mind that the consequences that work well for one child may not work for another.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
Motivate your child to follow the rules by using positive reinforcement. If there are negative consequences for breaking the rules, make sure you also offer positive consequences for following the rules.
Praise your child for following the rules. Say something like, "Thank you for doing your chore list right when you got home today. I appreciate that."
Give your child plenty of positive attention to reduce attention-seeking behaviors.3
Set aside some one-on-one time each day to motivate your child to keep up the good work. If your child struggles with particular behaviors, it might help to create a reward system.4
Reward systems like sticker charts work well for younger children. Older children can do well with token economy systems.
Examine the Reasons You Yell
If you find yourself yelling at your child, try to figure out why you react in this way. If you are yelling because you’re angry, learn strategies to calm yourself down. This will help you role model healthy anger management strategies.2
Take a self-timeout to gather your thoughts. Unless the situation is dangerous, wait until you are calm to discipline your child.
If you’re yelling because your child doesn't listen the first time you speak, try new strategies to get (and keep) your child’s attention. You might want to practice giving effective instructions without raising your voice.
Finally, if you’re yelling out of exasperation, develop a clear plan to address a child's misbehavior. Often, parents yell empty threats that they never plan to follow through with but just don’t know what else to do.
Offer Warnings When Appropriate
Instead of yelling, give your child a warning when they don't listen. If you use a "when...then" phrase, it lets them know about the possible outcome once they follow through. Say something like, "When you pick up your toys, then you will be able to play with blocks after dinner."
Yelling often leads to a power struggle. The more you yell at a child to do something, the more defiant they are likely to be.
Avoid nagging or repeating a warning over and over. Instead, follow through with the consequence to show that you mean what you say. Consistent discipline is the key to getting your child to change his behavior and become more compliant.2
Keep in mind that taking away electronics for 24 hours or assigning extra chores will help your child think twice about breaking the rules again. Those consequences will be more effective than raising your voice at them.