How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids
I’m writing this from the perspective of a mom with very young kids. My toddlers are 4, almost 3, and 1. If you’re a mom struggling with how to stop yelling at your kids – understand that my heart is with you.
How to Stop Yelling at Your Toddler
The toddler years are HARD and it’s so hard to see past the hard moments and realize that ultimately, these little people depend on us for their security and sense of self.
That’s what makes it so incredibly important that you get a handle on your yelling NOW before there are any lasting effects on your little ones.
Obviously our 1 year old never gets yelled at, but her two older brothers try our patience on a daily basis.
We’ve definitely yelled at them and then felt guilty about it for hours or days afterwards.
I’m lucky in that my husband and I both feel terrible when we don’t parent exactly the way we think we should.
We talk about it at night after they’ve gone to bed, commiserate, decide we’re monsters as parents, and will do better tomorrow.
Then tomorrow comes and they do something completely crazy or dangerous – you know, like any human without the capacity for much common sense would, and we’re back to yelling or threatening time out again.
Here are our strategies for handling our toddlers better that are actually working.
I really hope they help you too!
Why Are Toddlers So Crazy?
It’s pretty simple, but completely impossible for most adults to comprehend.
Toddlers simply don’t have the same neural connections as adults yet, so they literally don’t have much “common sense.”
I once heard toddlers referred to as perfect scientists, and the thought has stuck with me.
Instead of worrying about negative consequences for their behavior, they are testing and re-testing hypotheses all day long.
“What will happen if I…” <insert dangerous or incredibly seemingly stupid action here>
This is easiest to see in small babies that play with the same toy or household product for extended periods of time.
They really just want to see if they achieve the same outcome each time they perform the same action.
Your toddler is basically doing this same thing, only on steroids.
Let’s go through these strategies together – but first, let’s get one thing out of the way.
Related: How to Stop Toddler Tantrums
Strategy #1: Forgive Yourself, and Move On
Before we can make any progress, I need you to first forgive yourself for all of the times you weren’t a perfect parent.
This is so important that I’m considering it a strategy for future behavior.
Because if you paint yourself with this brush as a parent who yells, you will always be the parent who yells.
Instead, starting today, I want you to be the parent who used to yell but now keeps their calm and is the adult in the situation.
Strategy #2 – Realize When You Yell and Plan Accordingly
I thought I knew when I was tempted to yell at my kids – whether I followed through on it or not.
Pretty much all the damn time.
There was always someone doing something or thinking about doing something that seemed to warrant yelling (still is).
I would pride myself on all of those times that I chose the “better parent” approach and removed them from the situation or played hostage negotiator and talked them off the ledge with a normal tone of voice.
What was causing me so much shame was that I WANTED to yell all – the – time. Even though I could usually control that urge, I didn’t understand why that was my go-to for parenting.
I started to really track when I had this urge to yell.
For me, it was usually when I was trying to accomplish something difficult when I was alone with the kids.
These “difficult” tasks might include calling to schedule a doctor’s appointment, calling someone to figure out why a bill was significantly higher this month, or even just talk on the phone to a friend who is struggling with something.
Are you seeing a pattern?
Basically, phone calls around my kids are an absolute source of tension and I quickly learned to not bother even trying unless I wanted to lose my temper.
The other thing that really stresses me to the point of yelling is when the kids do things that could cause each other physical harm.
When our boys run around and chase each other, my heart is SO happy until my oldest shoves my youngest and tears ensue.
In that moment, it’s almost impossible for me to understand that our 4 year old is just playing and not intentionally trying to hurt his little brother.
For us, we had to make an actual plan to handle these moments before they happen so we weren’t tempted to yell when these issues inevitably come up.
Now, when my 4 year old shoves his 3 year old brother, I make him come sit by me for a few minutes.
He immediately starts apologizing and says he didn’t mean to – because he wants to get right back to playing.
Seeing his remorse actually makes me feel better, and I quickly tell him while we’re sitting together that he’s taking a quick time out because it scares me that he’ll accidentally hurt his little brother when he’s not careful.
Whether he hears the message or not, it makes me (and my husband) feel better and the urge to yell is instantly negated.
As far as making phone calls, I plan further ahead than just telling my kids “mommy is going to be on the phone, I need you to be quiet.”
I do still prepare them, but I give them dedicated time first and explain that in a few minutes I have to make a quick phone call.
Sometimes I bribe them, like any decent parent, with something I know they’ll really want but will only get if they’re actually quiet when I’m on the phone.
Listen, I’m still learning just like everyone else, but I still live with toddlers.
We’re all making sacrifices. 😉
Strategy #3: Know Your “Why”
For us, this was that we didn’t want our kids to remember us constantly yelling at them or even correcting them.
Our guilt wasn’t always about yelling loud at our young kids.
We felt just as guilty about making the snap judgement to discipline them by putting them in time out or taking a toy away.
We wanted our kids to remember us as fun, fair parents who loved them.
Plus, they started to act afraid of us knowing their actions.
They were afraid to tell us what they did wrong because they didn’t want to lose that toy or sit in timeout to pay for whatever it was they’d done.
This made me the most nervous because I want to create an environment of honesty for our kids.
Of course all kids will lie, but our reactions were definitely upping the anty for them to learn to lie way more often.
Why tell the truth when you know it’s going to get you scolded?
What we’re doing instead:
Now, we try to create open lines of communication where the kids don’t get punished for telling us the truth.
The new punishment IS telling us the truth.
Because it is a better alternative to them than losing their toys, PLUS it lets them feel the regret of the action.
When our oldest son has to admit to pushing his brother and causing him to fall and get hurt, he’s actually sad that he caused his brother pain.
He’s sad that we seem disappointed in him and in the moment, he is determined to do better.
It’s also important to remember that he’s just being a kid!
We don’t try to make him feel shame.
Instead, we let him see the consequences of his own actions instead of yelling or disciplining him to the moon and back for something that is just regular toddler behavior.
This fits right into our “why.”
We want our kids to love us and love each other – and of course sometimes we’re still going to raise our voices, threaten unrealistic consequences, or just generally lose our tempers.
We’re only human.
But keeping our ultimate “why” in mind keeps us on track more often than not and lets us feel like better parents at the end of the day.
Strategy #4: Evaluate How Well It’s Working
If you yell at your toddler or young kids, I want you to take a minute and evaluate if it’s actually working for you.
Do they listen right away? Or do you have to yell again but louder?
Do they stop doing the thing you’re yelling about long-term? Or do they go right back to whatever it is they were doing?
How about time outs?
Do they actually solve anything?
Without stepping way outside my lane, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that none of the strategies you’re currently using are working.
Worse, when you need your kids attention, it’s far harder to get it because they’re starting to learn to tune you out.
Our kids would either try to sneak out of time out, or just get angry that we put them there and stay until we let them out…
Only to continue the same behavior a few minutes later.
What works instead?
I pull them over to me for a “time in.”
I read about this a couple of years ago and was skeptical at first.
Wouldn’t it just make them do bad things for some one on one time?
It turns out they’d rather be off being mischievous than sitting with me for some alone time.
How it Works
Instead of insisting they go sit on some naughty spot or something, I have them come sit with me and we usually sit in silence.
I’ll tell them we’re going to sit here for a few minutes to let them think about how to make better decisions.
If they were doing something really…dumb? I’ll use this time to scold them about the possible consequences of their actions.
Like a normal nagging parent.
Strategy #5 – Guilt Anyone?
Let’s have some real talk for a second.
All of us parents are constantly feeling guilt about everything.
How we parent, not being the perfect “Pinterest parent”, not doing enough things with our kids, yelling a little too much, being annoyed a little too frequently…
The list goes on and on of new ways to feel extreme guilt.
I decided to try to use this guilt to my advantage when we were going through this yelling issue.
Because I knew that I’d probably feel guilty no matter what anyway.
I might as well use it to be productive and accomplish something as a parent that was making me feel so desperate.
Now, when I feel tempted to yell, I remind myself of these 3 guilt-inducing things and I almost immediately get a different perspective.
- They’re growing so fast and they’ll be out of this cute, ornery stage before we know it. Do I really want to spend what few moments I have left yelling at them?
- They are starting to imprint real memories now – especially the 4 year old. Do I want him to remember his mom yelling at him for stupid things?
- 940. That’s how many Saturdays you get between birth and graduation. This horrible article I read reminded me that 260 of them are gone by the time they turn 5. Am I really making the most of my time with them if I’m standing here figuring out the best way to discipline them?
Nothing like a little dose of reality to get your mind back on track and help you feel a little less annoyed with your kids.
Strategy #6: Pick Your Battles and Say Yes More
I’ve covered a little bit of this one already but it bears repeating.
Your kids are probably just being kids, but sometimes kids are annoying and that’s what makes us yell.
Let’s just call it like it is here, we’re among friends.
While our kids are sources of endless happiness and joy in our lives, they can also be irritating and irrational.
Plus we love them unconditionally.
Love plus irritation equals yelling.
Just ask anyone who’s been married more than 5 minutes.
The next time you’re tempted to yell at your kids, ask yourself if they’re actually just being kids and if you’re just reacting to your own short fuse.
The real goal?
Say YES more often!
Don’t be so quick to say no to every single thing they ask you to do.
Give a little more on a regular basis and you really will start to see a change in your kids.
For us, this looked like saying yes to water balloons when we typically say no because it’s a little bit of a pain in the butt. These ones have saved my sanity so far this summer!
Taking them to a playground every single day, even when we don’t feel like it.
And saying yes to going and getting slushies more often when the kids ask.
I try to tell myself they won’t be asking for such simple things in just a few years.
Say yes now while it’s still an option instead of waiting until they’re asking for hard and expensive things that we have no choice but say no to.
I’ve found that saying yes makes them happier, causes me less stress (even though I really thought water balloons on a regular basis would cause me more stress) and makes them slightly more likely to listen to me the first time I ask them for something.
Plus, let’s be realistic.
It gives me a little more ammo when they whine about something I have to say no to.
Now, I can say “but I let you play with water balloons and water guns earlier!”
Like the mature parent that I am.
Strategy #7: Give More Control
It occurred to me that my 4 year old was really acting out and was the source of most of the yell-inducing behavior.
He’s such a sweet kid, extremely bright, and loves his siblings fiercely.
I couldn’t figure out why the heck he was being such a huge turd all of the sudden.
Why do things you KNOW are going to get you into trouble and get you yelled at?
Finally, my best friend asked me if maybe he’s just looking for some control in the situation.
I honestly hadn’t given any thought to there being a real reason behind his new turd-like behavior.
Wasn’t he just doing this to annoy me?
He’s my very best little friend and it was killing me to be at odds with him all the time.
When she said it, I knew instantly she was right.
Then we watched a Daniel Tiger episode about “classroom jobs” and it gave me a great idea.
I decided I’d give my kids some little jobs and responsibility of their own and start finding ways to make them feel more in control.
This became a game for me and it’s the number one thing that I think changed their behavior and mine.
One of my sons is now our designated door opener.
They love to help us at this age, and with our constant travel for my husband’s job, there are always hotel doors that need opened.
My 4 year old holds every door for us now while we roll hotel carts into and back out of rooms.
My 3 year old is the designated elevator button pusher and also the expert bottle carrier for his baby sister.
I take turns letting them pick what toys we’ll play with and ask them for help with specific things when I need to.
This gives them different jobs and creates a sort of competition among them to see who can clean up the fastest – even without me making it a game.
It makes them feel so much more in control of their environment and behavior.
The possibilities here are endless.
When we’re in a new town, I’ll pull up all of the local playgrounds on my phone and one of my sons gets to pick which one we try.
The other will pick where we go for lunch that day.
Even if you don’t end up implementing this one on a massive scale – TRY IT in some way and you’ll be blown away by the results!
When Is It Okay to Yell at Your Kids?
I honestly think it’s unrealistic to expect a parent to never ever yell.
Sometimes it’s downright necessary.
When your kids are in danger or there’s a real emergency, I think it’s okay to yell to get their attention and get immediate action.
The hidden truth here is that when you’re yelling at your kid to stop them from running in front of a moving car, you want it to startle them because they’re not used to hearing you yell.
Not ignore you because they hear you yell so often.
What to Do When You Mess Up
I hope I haven’t given you the impression by now that we have it all figured out.
We clearly don’t.
No parent does.
I feel like we have a much better handle on our tempers and tendency to yell and over-discipline than we ever did before.
The difference is night and day.
Sometimes though, the kids are just out of control, we’ve had long days, and one of us ends up yelling at the kids.
Usually for something ridiculously stupid that we’re sure to feel crazy guilty about later.
When this happens, humble yourself and apologize to your kids.
Don’t take them into another room and apologize, don’t wait until the perfect moment.
Apologize the second you realize you were wrong, in front of everyone.
Chances are, you didn’t pull one child aside to yell at them. You likely did it where your other kids and possibly even 3rd parties could hear.
Apologize in the same manner.
Really let your kids know that you were wrong and you’re sorry.
Assure them you’re committed to doing better.
The key here?
Don’t make excuses.
Don’t tell them you’re sorry for yelling but they were being bad.
This defeats the purpose of the apology.
Would you feel your spouse’s apology if they told you they’re sorry but that you were being an ass so they felt like they had to be one in return?
I’ve always said that a “but” cancels out everything in front of it.
“I’m sorry, but…”
No, you’re just sorry.
Be sorry every time you mess up and be the necessary example to your kids that adults make mistakes and are human.
Show them the right way to handle our mistakes and maintain our relationships in the process.
We’re important to each other and at the end of the day – we’re all just figuring out this parenting thing together.
Have you ever lost your temper with your kids? What did it take for you to stop yelling so often? What have you tried so far? Join the conversation on Instagram and let me know!
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