Archived Story

Yelling at children only makes family situations worse

Published 6:08am Sunday, June 30, 2013

Column: Families First, by Maryanne Law

Question: How do I stop yelling at my kids when I’m upset with them?

Response: Most parents who yell grew up in homes where their parents yelled in an attempt to control the kids. It is a major change in thinking to realize that our primary job as parents is to control ourselves and teach our kids how to control their own behavior.

Maryanne Law
Maryanne Law

Actually, yelling or emotionally withdrawing only makes difficult family situations worse. Each time you approach your kids, or your children’s other parent, ask yourself, “Do I want to have a conversation or a confrontation?” Instead of standing and getting louder, sit down. Kids are drawn to adults who sit. Sitting says, “I am in control, everything is OK and I want to connect with you.” When we stay calm we can be fully engaged and put our intensity into solving problems instead of creating more of them.

Take care of yourself. Exercise, walk your dog, pray, listen to music; do whatever helps you feel at peace. The most effective way to get respect is to demonstrate self-respect. Do not go on an emotional roller coaster ride with your children. More often than not, if we follow our children’s emotions, we will be left in a more emotionally distressed state than they are in the long run. They will shake off the negative energy, and we’ll be left carrying the negative burden.

As strange as it may seem at first, the most effective way to calm an emotional child is to stay calm. Instead of threatening an upset child, which makes him or her more upset, we need to draw the child into our calm. Kirk Martin, a veteran child psychologist, recommends focusing on coloring with crayons or building Legos if you are a parent of a younger child. With older children he recommends grabbing a ball and inviting your child to play catch or doing push ups with your child. Think about other activities that you could do with your child that changes the negative energy to positive action. How about having jump ropes handy or a game of jacks that you start to play? Remember that the point is that you start the activity first. You start jumping rope, or doing push ups, or coloring or playing jacks and make the emotional space for your child to join you. Later, when your child is calm, you may talk about issues. Maybe you don’t though; maybe it is good enough to have modeled how to get yourself out of emotional turmoil.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out


Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.