My Journey to Stop Yelling at My Kids

Mom with KidsSeven months ago, I overheard my son say something quite profound to my mother, whom he calls Nino. “Nino, I’ve never heard you yell.”

I had a sinking feeling upon hearing his simple observation of his grandmother. I was guilty of yelling at my kids. There were times when I felt like my children were dawdling, or challenging me at every turn, or disrespecting me and their father, friends, and grandparents for the sole purpose of getting under my skin.

I thought their behavior was a reflection of me and my parenting skills and felt it was my duty to “keep them in line,” by asserting my authority over them, by yelling at them.

That all changed on March 29, 2013. That was the day I met The Orange Rhino.

The Orange Rhino is, in fact, not a rhino at all. She’s simply a stressed-out, stay-at-home mom to four boys under the age of 5, and a popular blogger. She started The Orange Rhino blog last year after getting caught yelling at her kids by a handyman doing some remodeling in her home. She was mortified she’d been caught in a rageful moment by a stranger, someone from whom she desired respect. She realized she wanted to display more respectful behavior toward her handyman than her progeny. And, right then, she stopped yelling, started blogging about it, and now helps others formulate a plan to stop yelling.

And so I took the challenge. For six months, I’ve kept my pact to not yell at my children as a form of discipline or punishment. I hope to go a full year. In the beginning, it was very difficult and I found myself shedding tears of frustration as I worked to fill my parenting toolbox with tools to parent my children respectfully.

On one warm evening last May, only two months into my challenge, my 3-year-old daughter tested the limits of my patience. Between 6:30 p.m. and bedtime, she managed to do the following:

• Snatch and spill a wildberry smoothie (mine) all over herself and the couch

• Poop in the tub (still baffled by that one—act of defiance or urgency? I was watching her and all of a sudden a turd floated by)

• Dump my favorite essential oil (lemongrass) on her naked body post-tub (after promising to “just sniff it”)

• Find my mascara in my purse and paint her face mostly black with it (she wanted to hold mommy’s purse during a car ride to the store)

• Drop an entire ice cream twist cone on her lap

After I put my daughter to bed that night, I cried about these things, but I did not yell at her once for the three-ness she exhibited. She had helped me clean up and apologized for some of her actions. I’m learning, and at the same time, gaining moments with these little ones that might have been overshadowed by yells.

My no-yelling transformation was illuminated again in September. My husband and I were on a date at Costco (sometimes grocery shopping without children is a date), and we witnessed a mother yelling at her son. The boy looked about 7 or 8, tired, and distracted. He was walking while looking at a display when his foot caught the side of the shopping cart his mother was pushing and he fell. He grabbed his ankle and started to cry as a slew of customers bottlenecked behind him. This is how the mother chose to handle the situation:

“Get up! GET UP!” she yelled down to him on the floor. “Stop crying! This is your fault! If you had been looking where you were going, this wouldn’t have happened!” The boy hung his head and continued to cry. He looked embarrassed and broken.

Tears sprung to my eyes. I was shaken. I’d gone nearly six months without raising my voice to my children and this public display of shaming shocked my sensibilities and made me want to run and protect the boy. I looked over at my husband and said, “She’s me. She’s the yelling mom I used to be.” I knew she must have felt anxious and stressed and pressured to deal with the situation in the moment. I just wish I could have shown her that she could take the challenge, too, and learn to yell less and love more in those moments.

Let’s get one thing straight. I have yelled exactly twice since the challenge began. The first yell happened when my new bike-riding son, sans training wheels, came to a screeching halt in front of my bike on a busy trail. I was startled and didn’t want to run over him with my bike. He was so surprised by my raised voice that he immediately started crying and told me that I broke my challenge and was now going to be a yelling mom again. I explained that I needed to protect him from harm and used my voice as a tool to alert him of imminent danger.

The second yell came when I had fallen asleep next to my daughter on her lower bunk. My son dropped the book he was reading off the upper bunk and its jagged edge poked me in the ribs. In my half-sleep state I yelled, “Ouch! Did you just throw your book at me?” He assured me it was an accident.

So you, dear readers, can be the judge as to whether I’ve broken my challenge or not!

Kid Banging PotYelling at Young Children

Wendy Troop Gordon, associate professor in the psychology department at North Dakota State University, says there are consequences to yelling at your children.

“Some forms of yelling are more harmful than others,” says Troop Gordon. “If a parent is belittling, demeaning, or making the child feel fearful or guilty, this is harmful to the child’s confidence. It is a form of bullying.”

Troop Gordon encourages parents who are angry with their children’s behavior to calm themselves before reacting to a child. She says it’s important to model self-control and teach children to express themselves in healthy ways.

“Small children simply cannot understand the greater world around them,” she explains. “They are not at that cognitive level yet and sometimes may not even know what they did wrong or why their parent is so upset with them.”

Troop Gordon suggests parents try to see things from their child’s point of view and reinforce positive behaviors. And last of all, she says that parents need to forgive themselves for past bouts of yelling.

“No parent is perfect,” says Troop Gordon. “All parents have bad days, so don’t beat yourself up if you yell at your kids once in a while. Just correct your behavior and model emotional control.”

Yelling at Adolescents 

A University of Pittsburgh study conducted by Ming-Te Wang released in September in the journal, Child Development, finds that shouting, cursing, or using insults may adversely affect the long-term well-being of the adolescent.

Wang, an assistant professor with the department of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, and his researchers conducted the study in 10 public middle schools in eastern Pennsylvania with 976 two-parent families and their children. Respondents completed surveys over a period of two years on topics related to their mental health, child-rearing practices, the quality of the parent-child relationship, and general demographics.

The study concluded that instead of minimizing bad behavior in teens by parents using yelling as a form of discipline, the behavior is in fact aggravated, and teens in the study exhibited signs of depression and antisocial and aggressive behavior.

“Most parents who yell at their adolescent children wouldn’t dream of physically punishing their teens,” says Wang. “Yet their use of harsh verbal discipline—defined as shouting, cursing, or using insults—is just as detrimental to the long-term well-being of adolescents.”

“Importantly, we also found that ‘parental warmth’ did not lessen the effects of the verbal discipline,” Wang says. “The sense that parents are yelling at the child ‘out of love’ or ‘for their own good’ does not mitigate the damage inflicted. Neither does the strength of the parent-child bond. Even if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad,” he points out.

Sticking with the Challenge

As I’ve moved through the last six months without yelling, I’ve witnessed beautiful moments. Instead of yelling at my kids to hurry up from another room in the house, I walk to where they are, to talk to them face to face. And when I get to them I often find beautiful things. These little creatures are lost deep in imagination while playing dominoes or with the dollhouse. Now instead of accusing them of dawdling and being disrespectful toward Mommy, I realize they often have no hidden agenda or are not trying to intentionally bother me. They are just being kids.

My greatest takeaway has been a more peaceful house, and better and more loving exchanges with all my family members. And I intend to keep it that way. My son asked recently, “Mom, when your no-yelling challenge is over, are you going back to being a yelling mom?” I don’t want my child to look back at his childhood and conjure up images of a stressed-out, red-faced, emotions-out-of-control mother. I want him to think of me as he does his grandmother—remembering that he’s never heard her yell.

So the answer is, “No, my dear son. I’m not returning to my yelling ways.”

Janelle Brandon is a wife to Lukas, mom to Dylan (6) and Julia (3), writer, doula, and marketer living in Moorhead. To learn more, visit

10 Things to Do Instead of Yelling

As parents, it can be way too easy to slip into a pattern of yelling more than we’d like to. Not only does this create a scary, toxic environment for everybody, but it’s not even effective.

Here are 10 things to try instead. They might not always work, but neither does yelling, and you just might find you need to use these suggestions less after a while.

1. Take a deep breath. If you’re going to react, breathe first and think of what you’re going to do or say. Nine times out of 10, just that breath will help you react in a better way.

2. Put on your granny glasses. Pretend you’re many years older, looking back at the scene from years in the future. Will any part of you miss the mayhem? Will this scene not seem so catastrophic? Would you regret yelling or acting ugly in this moment later?

3. Play Grandma for real. Take it a step further and think of how you’d react if these were your grandchildren instead of your children. What would a good grandma do? Chances are, you’d use a mix of wisdom, understanding, love, and humor (and let a little more slide).

4. Walk away. If it’s something that really doesn’t matter (the couch cushions are all on the floor after you’ve just straightened them the fifth time today), let it go. Fix it later and let a little low-level trouble go for now.

5. Laugh or smile (even inside). Kids are really good at making us crazy and they’re often really creative, too. We can get so caught up in how much work they make for us that we can lose sight of the fact that sometimes their actions are really pretty funny when we stop to think about them. If you’re likely to look back and laugh at it years later, why not start now?

6. Tell them what to do instead. You don’t need to yell to get good behavior. Kids often listen better when they’re spoken to purposefully, slowly, respectfully, and with eye contact (sometimes with physical contact too, such as a hand on the shoulder). Instead of yelling for five minutes, try simply stating what is going on and what you want done about it.

7. Be silly. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try a little goofiness. Cluck like a chicken, threaten to carry the kids upside down if they don’t stop what they’re doing, or suddenly grab your throat and cough, gasping out, “I can’t breathe from all the bickering! Save me! Save me! Please be nice to each other before I’m a goner! Gasp, cough, sputter…”

8. Hand them a note. Write down what you’d like them to do, walk in wordlessly, and hand it to them. Walk out again, and see what happens.

9. Think back to your childhood. Before you holler, take a minute to remember yourself at that age. Think about what troublesome things you did and how your parents acted. Also think back to times you were troublesome and were treated kindly anyway (by parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, anybody) and how that felt.

10. Give them a hug. Yes, they may be acting rotten right now. They may be making you crazy. Yes, they should know better. Yes, they should act better. Yes to all of it. But at the end of the day, these are the small things in life. They are healthy and in your life. They are good little people at the heart of things. Besides, hugs make everything seem better—for the donor and the recipient!

Remember the old adage: The days are long but the years are short. Parenting is hard, but so is being a child. Try responding in some new ways and see if the days get a little easier for everybody. Be sure to be gentle and loving to yourself, too!

—Alicia Bayer

This article originally appeared on at You can find more of Alicia’s articles at

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