Why Is Yelling a Parental Hot Button?

BlogHer Original Post

We've seen the harried mother in Wal-Mart, shrieking at her wayward toddler as she streaks through the aisles clutching candy. You've probably also been the exhausted mommy who, at the end of a long day, MUST YELL TO GET THE SELECTIVELY HEARING-IMPAIRED CHILD TO TAKE A BATH.

I myself went along a parenting trajectory. It went like this:

  • New mommy: Cooing and singing, even when my daughter popped me in the nose accidentally while reaching for a toy, hurting me so bad my eyes watered
  • Toddler mommy: Redirection! These tantrums are developmentally appropriate! Ha!
  • Preschooler mommy: I don't understand you when you use that whining voice.
  • Kindergartner mommy: Yell 

I usually don't feel guilty about yelling, because despite what I just wrote, I don't yell first and ask questions later. I'll ask or tell in a normal voice once or twice. If there's a television distracting my daughter, I'll turn it off before I resort to yelling. But sometimes? I know she can hear me. She's daydreaming. She's just not listening. So then I pump up the volume a little.

I also sometimes amp the volume in order to shut down a red herring. Ex: No, we're not going to have Halloween candy for breakfast and PUT YOUR COAT ON NOW. Because *usually* I yell on purpose, I don't feel guilty. I do feel guilty when I just snap and yell rather than use another parenting technique that I know would work better, like removing the distraction or getting down on her level. Because sometimes? I'm tired and I FEEL A LITTLE LIKE YELLING JUST BECAUSE.

Our own Devra Renner was quoted in the New York Times on this subject:

To research their book “Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids,” the three authors, Devra Renner, Aviva Pflock and Julie Bort, commissioned a survey of 1,300 parents across the country to determine sources of parental guilt. Two-thirds of respondents named yelling — not working or spanking or missing a school event — as their biggest guilt inducer.

Francesca of Mommybl*gger writes about watching SuperNanny, which I personally feel is the most guilt-inducing show on television:

Every time they’d show the sad kid shot, I was always on that child’s side. “God that mom is such a bitch,” I’d think. But by 7pm the next day, somehow I would have cast myself as the bitchy mom yelling my head off while and my own kids were the ones crying in their room. Although I think we'll all agree that we feel guilty when we yell, the jury's out on whether or not we should feel guilty.

So, yeah, some moms feel guilty about yelling. But should we? Michelle Cottle writes at The New Republic:

Even the requisite anti-screaming quotes from child development experts don't offer anything more than some vague cautions that yelling can damage a child's self-esteem or "be perceived as a sign of rejection." Indeed, the only damage we are shown proof of is the guilt and feelings of failure from hand-wringing parents who simply don't understand why they can't raise their children with the whole-grain goodness and invariably mild tones preached by all the parenting books.

When I think about my guilt, it really boils down to whether I meant to yell or not. If I meant to yell, I don't feel guilty at all. If I didn't mean to -- if my daughter was just the recipient of my bad day -- I feel guilty as hell. All in all, I'd say I agree most with Mommy Dearest, who writes:

Again I would have to argue that moderation is the issue.  Part of raising a child is that the child learns to feel guilty about doing things which are genuinely wrong.  Losing your cool because of an accident or minor incident is probably something you shouldn’t do (though I doubt it’s damaging if it’s a twice yearly occurence).  However, a controlled use of an angry tone with the intention of making a child feel badly for something that really shouldn’t be done can work, if it’s not used constantly. 

Yelling, like an angry face or pointed finger, is a social cue that you're upset. How weird is it to dole out discipline without looking upset at all? And how, exactly, does that help the child read social cues from other people and learn to back off when the other person is exhibiting anger signals? Without delving too deeply into the science behind it (because I have no idea what I'm talking about), I think if you're kid's acting up, you need to make your displeasure known.

What do you think?


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