Are you a yeller?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

During the summer, it's not just temperatures that are on the rise. Tempers can heat up too.

While yelling is a natural response when you're frustrated, parenting experts say it's not a good strategy for dealing with children because kids often can't concentrate on your words. It also sets a bad example of how to deal with frustration.

"We are all human," said Daniel Davis, a Columbus psychologist and author of Your Angry Child: A Guide for Parents. "If you do yell at your children, forgive yourself and talk to your children about how everyone makes mistakes."

Columbus Parent Magazine consulted with Davis and other parenting experts for tips to help you keep your cool when children start whining, arguing or complaining.

Give kids guidelines

Start by providing your children with clear expectations, said Heather Yardley, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Make sure kids know what the rules are in certain situations." It's a good idea to have a discussion with children before you leave the house about how you want them to behave while you're out, she said. It's also important to give them guidelines that they can meet, she added. It's not realistic to tell a 3-year-old that he or she must have perfect manners and talk quietly during dinner at a fancy restaurant. "Don't set them up for failure," she said.

If a child starts misbehaving, address him or her in clear, concise language, said Dr. Dan Schulteis of Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Keep it short and simple," he said. This helps children hear what you are saying and understand what you want them to do, he explained.

Avoid the word 'don't'

When you're disciplining children, Schulteis also recommends telling them what to do - rather than what not to do. For example, instead of telling a child not to hit his sister, ask him to keep his hands to himself. If a child seems to be ignoring your instructions, try saying his or her name before you ask him or her to do something, he said. It's also helpful to get down to their level and look them in the eye.

When you feel like you're losing your temper, it's a good idea to take a couple of deep breaths or even walk away from the situation, Davis said. "Don't get involved in a power struggle with the child. Find a sideways, face-saving way out of it." Later, go back and talk to the child about the situation. It's helpful to explain what the child did wrong and why it upset you, Yardley said.

Say you're sorry

If you lost your temper with a child, apologize for it, Yardley said. "It's hard for some parents. It's tricky to do. You don't want to excuse the behavior you were upset about." But you do need to let the child know that your response was wrong and that his or her behavior also was wrong, she said.

Bexley mother Kate O'Hara always tries to have a conversation with her two daughters if she has lost her temper with them. "I go back and explain why I yelled," she said. O'Hara also has asked her children to let her know if they sense that she is losing her temper.

That's a good strategy, Yardley said. She often encourages families to come up with a code word that they can use to end a heated discussion. If someone uses the word, everyone in the family knows it's time to walk away, cool down and postpone the conversation.

Identify temper triggers

It's important to identify what triggers your anger, the experts said. Parents who have overscheduled themselves or their children may find that a hectic schedule causes problems. Parents are more likely to "start snapping" if they are stuck in traffic, running late to an appointment or feeling rushed, Yardley said.

Don't take your frustrations with work or your spouse out on your child, Schulteis said. If you've had a bad day at work, you need to deal with that before you go home. "Deal with issues where they occur," he said.

Pay attention to what upsets your child as well, Schulteis added. If a child gets angry when he's asked to clean up his room before bed, try asking him or her to do it at another time. "Change the routine," he said. "Be creative with your schedule."

Michelle Levin knows that when her 10-year-old son, Jacob, is tired he's more likely to disagree with her. The Bexley mom had a conversation with her son about how to change their evening routine to make it easier on him. She even consulted with him about what the consequences would be if he didn't follow their agreement. Giving him ownership in the decision-making process has made him more agreeable at bedtime, she said. "So far it's worked."

Melissa Kossler Dutton has worked as a reporter for more than a decade. She's a frequent contributor to a variety of Ohio publications. She lives in Bexley with her husband and two sons.

Tips from the experts

  1. If you and your child have started yelling at each other, start whispering. This often jars the child enough that he will stop yelling.
  2. Catch children being good. Rewarding good behavior encourages children to behave well.
  3. Don't discipline a child when you are angry.
  4. Avoid getting into power struggles with children.
  5. Kneel down and talk to children on their level to make conversations less adversarial.
  6. For every one negative thing you tell a child, tell them three positive things.