Why Yelling Isn't Always The Answer

I'm sure plenty of us have had to take care of a child who acts out to the point that we just want to yell at them. Or we've seen a parent screaming at his or her child in the mall, at the grocery store or the playground. But what long-term effects do raising your voice at a misbehaving child really have?

Some parents see it as a necessary part of child-rearing, but repeated screaming at a child has some fairly serious effects. I first stumbled upon this topic on Yahoo, which had published a Good Housekeeping article on the topic. According to the article and a professor from the Wright Institute in Berkley, children whose parents verbally express a lot of anger towards them tend to be more aggressive and less empathetic as they get older. Though the article didn't reference the basis of these conclusions or how this study was conducted, I have to wonder how these variables are measured. Obviously an experiment would be completely unethical in this situation. However, an observational study in the form of a survey also causes me to have doubts about this study. How honest will parents actually be about how often they yell at their child? Also, I wonder how the person/group conducting this study measured levels of aggression and empathy in a child or young adult.
These conclusions were also referenced in a 2004 article published in the New York Times. This article offered much more specific insight into the studies it referenced. In a study of nearly 1,000 families conducted in 2003, 88% of them admitted to shouting, yelling or screaming at their child in the last year. One interesting component that researchers mentioned was the fact that the content and context of the yelling mattered and that the effects of the yelling could be made better or worse by the tone, word use and frequency.
Another study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in July 2001 found that "emotional abuse was the most significant predictor of mental illness, more so than sexual and physical abuse." Yelling can also affect a child's future relationships. These are some pretty interesting conclusions with very serious implications. Luckily, there are simple ways to curb your anger and frustration as a parent or caretaker that can minimize the effects of yelling at a child. But what do you think? Is yelling at a child just another way to "toughen them up"? Are there times when scolding a child is acceptable or are there better ways to handle disciplinary issues?


I found this to be very interesting because when I took a PSYCH class a main part of one of the lessons explained just what you have gone over. I researched this a little after reading your blog and found that ACT (a site that helps enhance parenting skills) and it says that yelling at a child can be just as harmful as physical abuse. Another thing that was surprising to me was that the percentage of adults that yell and scold their children verbally has gone up almost 10% in the past year. Constantly yelling at a child can lead that person to having serious emotional problems. Eventually, this child that was always yelled at will become that kind of parent when they get older.

I think this topic is very interesting. I do not think yelling at a child gets the point across anymore than just a simple conversation with a child. In fact, I think a child will rebel more if they are yelled at. I know if my parents have a normal calm conversation with me this opens up discussion instead of just punishing me. This article is about if yelling at children is considered verbal abuse... http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/article.asp?AID=648565 I think sometimes children do need to be put in their place and yelling a few times isnt too bad, but it should definitely not be a pattern. What do you guys think?

Brooke-In response to your comment about learning about this in a psychology course, it also reminded me of something I learned when I took PSYCH 101. Though I don't remember discussing the effects of verbal abuse on children exactly, I do remember learning about classical and operant conditioning. These theories, developed by Pavlov and Skinner respectively, are two forms of learning. Your commentary made me think about operant conditioning more specifically because it includes either reinforcement or punishment to increase or decrease the frequency of a behavior. In connection to a parent yelling at a child, might this be a form of operant conditioning? So while a parent may yell at a child every time he or she wets the bed for example, will this result in the child ceasing to wet the bed in accordance with Skinner's theory? And if this is in fact the case, will it also hinder the child in other areas of his or her life? Theoretically, the child might be less likely to tell his or her parents when he or she makes a mistake in the future, like failing an exam or getting in trouble with a teacher. I think the connection between operant conditioning and yelling at a child is very interesting so thanks so much for making me think about it!

This may just be the result of growing up in a strict Jamaican household, but I still don't see anything wrong with it. It has always been spare the rod spoil the child in my family and most of my friends families as well. The times I see children, or at least Caribbean children, act up the most is when they are not being disciplined in this way. I really am beginning to think this whole how to discipline children thing is more based on culture than it is on the child. Think of cultures where the mindset is completely different than one in the US. Not only do they suffer from a lot less mental illnesses and disorders than people do here, but they all discipline their children a lot differently too. I mean maybe I've got it wrong and there's absolutely no connection between the two whatsoever but it's something to think about.

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