by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg

It was the well-known parenting expert, Taylor Swift who once said ‘If you’re yelling you’re the one who has lost control of the situation.’ The 27-year old Grammy award winning singer and song writer was only half right as yelling turns out to be bad for the kids as well.

A study[1] in the journal Child Development by Dr Rochelle Hentges and Colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh studied 1,482 students, over a nine-year period, beginning their first year in high school and ending three years after they left school. By the end of the study, 1,060 students remained. In this study, harsh parenting (yelling) was related to dreadful educational outcomes through a set of complex cascading psychological processes.  Harsh parenting was defined by the researchers as yelling, hitting, and engaging in coercive behaviours like verbal or physical threats as a means of punishment.

The researchers looked at youth who were part of the Maryland Adolescent Development in Context Study, which examined the influences of social contexts on adolescents’ academic and psychosocial development. This ongoing longitudinal study in a large county near Washington, D.C., included 1,482 students, who were followed over nine years, beginning in year 7 and ending three years after students’ left school. By the end of the study, 1,060 students remained. Researchers found that students who were parented harshly in year 7 were more likely in year 9 to say their peer group was more important than other responsibilities, including following parents’ rules. This in turn, led them to engage in more risk taking in Year 11, including more frequent early sexual behaviour in girls and greater delinquency (e.g. hitting, stealing) in boys.These behaviours, in turn, led to low educational achievement (as assessed by years of school completed) three years after high school, meaning that students who were parented harshly were more likely to drop out of high school. Parenting influenced educational outcomes even after accounting for socioeconomic status, standardized test scores, grade point average, and educational values.

It might be from the University of the Bleeding Obvious, but what this study showed was that yelling at your kids increases the likelihood that your kids will seek validation from their mates in unhealthy ways, which may lead to increased aggression and delinquency, as well as early sexual behaviour at the expense of long-term goals such as education. The researchers concluded that he impact of being yelled at regularly was as serious as if the children were being hit.

So, if you don’t want to turn your kids into vacuous, violent vandals, then it is time to eliminate yelling from your parenting repertoire. But what to do instead? The Family Peace Foundation offers the following techniques:

 1.  Realize you are the Adult
Unlike your child, your brain is fully developed. They have 100 billion brain cells and a 1000-trillion connections, but they are not all wired up yet and won’t be until their mid 20’s. They are still all neurological accelerator and no brake. You need to model how to manage your own emotions. Have a developmental perspective – while they are growing up – it is normal for them to lose it now and then.

2. When you get angry, take a breath
Don’t take any action or make any decisions. BREATHE deeply. If you’re already yelling, stop in mid-sentence. Turn away and shake out your hands. Don’t do anything until you’re calm.

3.  Disengage strategically
Look them in the eye and say calmly, “we are getting upset now, let’s leave this now and talk later” or ‘I need more time to think about this, why don’t you have the final say”. Let them speak – then walk away and re-engage later on when you have had some time to calm down, seek advice and decide on a strategy.

Remember, at the Family Peace Foundation, we are the first to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect parent and it can be hard to break the yelling habit, especially if you grew up with it. It takes remarkable self-control, and you’ll find yourself relapsing occasionally – but do not stop trying. The more you use this technique, the easier It gets easier it gets, – you are in the process od re-wiring your brain. One day you’ll wake up and realize that it’s been weeks since you yelled at your kids. The good news? Your children will do better at school and are less likely to turn into juvenile delinquents. So next time your kids press your button, as Taylor Swift would say ‘Shake it Off.’ Good luck.