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How to Get Your Kids to Listen Without Yelling

Get Better Behavior Without Yelling


Holly H. is frustrated with her husband's parenting: "It seems that every time he has to deal with the kids he ends up getting into power struggles/arguments with them. One of the specific things that I hear him doing is telling the kids, 'If you don't . . . then you won't.' Instead of the more positive 'After you . . . then you can . . .' They react negatively to this and are much more likely to refuse to do whatever he's telling them to do than if he would say it the second way."

Holly's husband is reacting in a very normal way. Every parent has days when they've yelled so much they're at the end of their rope. Those are the days when you want to run away, and we've all been there. But before you pack your bags, let me share one possible reason why you're being forced to yell, and suggest a way to change things.

Young children tend to gravitate to where they experience the most energy. When a parent yells, he or she exudes a great deal of energy and attention. Think about it from a child's point of view. What do you do when you yell? You stop what you're doing, you turn around, you lock eyes with your child, and you focus all of your words on him. That's a bunch of attention! Children gobble that up and then use childlike reasoning and decide that misbehavior is a good way to get my parent's focused attention — even though they're yelling. No, I'm not going to suggest that you ignore a child's bid for attention; I think that's mean.

I know it's hard to believe that children think they're getting attention when a parent yells, but that's immature reasoning in action. Children don't see the whole picture yet, so they don't really know that behaving well is a better option, unless you show them, repeatedly.

Keep reading.

Refocus on Getting a Better Result

The best way to change your child's mind about where to get fully focused attention from you is to shift where you put the majority of your attention. Try shifting your focus, attention, and words to the end result, what you would rather your child be doing — rather than focusing on what he's done. That simple switch will cause a huge increase in listening and cooperation and reduce your yelling tremendously.

Here's an example:

Old way: "Why can't you get dressed on time so I don't have to yell at you?"
New way: "Thanks for getting dressed before we left."

Notice that the parent used a subtle form of applauding. Try to refrain from negative comments or yelling even if it takes your child an hour to get dressed. If it does take that long, skip over it for the moment. Applaud the end result only. And don't use any "hurry up" comments.

For each step of the getting-dressed process, make one positive comment versus making any negative ones.
An example would be:

Old way: "Are you kidding me, you only have one sock on!"
New way: "One sock down, one to go!"

Make It Easy on Yourself

Make sure you do this on a day when you're prepared. Make sure you have no plans to be anywhere. Get a good magazine or book to read while you wait. Make sure you're in the mood to withstand any whining or crying your child may do to draw you back to yelling.

Remember, he's used to being fed attention through your yelling. That's normal for him. In order for him to change, he needs to experience a new normal. A normal where most comments are about things you want him to be doing.

In order for him to make the switch from being fed by yelling to being fed by cooperating and applause, you need to hang in there. One time won't do it. He needs to really experience this, repeatedly. Also, make sure you sound like yourself when you do this. Don't go overboard with the feedback or you'll sound inauthentic.

Soon, he'll understand the new way to get your attention and begin to produce better behavior more consistently. This really does work.

Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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SabrinaList SabrinaList 4 years
This is helpful. I have noticed thjis behavior and it totally makes sense. I do not want my son to hate me when he is older. I am going to tone down the yelling. It is hard sometimes, but after reading this article and some of her other articles it makes sense. Thank you Sharon. I get a better understanding of my son now.
MaryFrampton MaryFrampton 4 years
Wait until a day you're prepared? I think if parents did that nothing would ever change... I've tried the positive talk vs. yelling thing, and in all honesty, it's really a crap shoot if one works better than the other. I start with the positive/polite method first. But about 50% of the time it will eventually lead to more forceful instructions and yelling. I find it really just depends on what mood the kids are in. Some days they're just more cooperative than others. Strangely enough I find reasoning with my kids to be the most effective. When they understand, even in their little kid way, why something has to happen a certain way, they're more likely to comply. "You need to get dressed quickly now because we are running late and we don't want to get in trouble by your teacher for being late to school" goes a lot further than "Great job getting dressed". The former gets them moving towards the goal, the latter can't be done until the task is even partly completed. After the explanation and the task completed, a "Thank You for Listening/Following instructions" goes further than "Thank you for getting dressed", in my family it does anyway.
otilluaspry otilluaspry 5 years
so are yawll saying when my 5 yr old is on my 3 yr old punching him biting him etc i shouldnt yell at him to get off my son doesnt listen to a word i say how else am i to handle him
TinaBaker60958 TinaBaker60958 5 years
I hope this works cause my son hates to cooperate. Its hard to control me in the morning when I'm pressed for time and he's dawdling. And at bedtime its a fight cause he naps at daycare. But well see.
LetLetBusa LetLetBusa 5 years
Eye opener for me and my husband... I will try it to my son... I hope it works... Thanks for the advice...
LisaHossler LisaHossler 5 years
Thank you!! I so needed to ready this article today, it hit home with me completely and although I try to "positive" approach, I learned that I am not consistently using it. Great article!!
RobinCasarez RobinCasarez 5 years
We had a terrible time with my son (age 7 now) from the time he was born literally! We had seen a therapist when he was 4 years old and he was all about the positive reinforcement. He recommended the book "Transforming the Difficult Child". It was THE most helpful thing in helping our son to act better. It gives examples, suggestions, a reward system where they can "buy" priveledges with points they have earned by doing what they are supposed to. It is very time consuming on the parents and you really have to stick to it but IT WORKS! Now we don't do the whole program, but cont w positive comments. You can really tell a difference when you slip up and gripe or yell because you start seeing a backslide in behavior. Then you just have to buckle down and keep up the positive.
Rachael45461 Rachael45461 5 years
thanks for the reminder. every situation is unique, I know, but I want to follow-up about the correspondence on how to handle the hitting. I have 5.5 yr old bbg triplets. one of my sons is extremely sensitive and has a temper. i find it difficult to take the time to SIT with one for a situation like you describe - sitting with them to support them when they are upset (eg he hit me b/c I won't play wtih him) - when I have two other kids vying for my attention at the same time. We set up boundaries of time often - when they each get me for 15 or 20 minutes and then it's the next one's turn, but my one son doesn't respect this. It's easier to give a timeout in these cases, so I can continue wtih my time with the other child.
ShannonGasparetto ShannonGasparetto 5 years
I have 3 kids, ages 10, 8 and 2. Me and my husband try so hard to use positive reinforcement, we agree that kids will gravitate to negative attention because its just that.."attention" however we struggle with this approach, our kids dont listen when we give positive reinforcements and it seems that they run with this. An example would be for them to clean up their rooms: US: can you guys please clean up your rooms, and after you have finished we will play a family game. KIDS: we dont want to US: if you want to play a family game we have to do it before bed time so you should get started KIDS: whining - go to bedroom and dont clean after several reminders to clean up their mess, it still isnt done and it is bed time, we dont end up playing a game and the kids are told to get ready for bed, crying, whining and raised voices ensues from our children, as a parent its very very hard to not yell and say ; STOP IT, what advice do you have when you try so hard to enforce positives but are still getting negative feedback from your kids???
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