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Is It OK to Yell at Children

Do You Yell? The Great Debate Over Whether It Hurts or Helps

Today, as I was getting ready to write my weekly column, I looked at the community to see readers' comments about How to Teach Kids to Learn From Their Mistakes, an article I'd written a while ago.

Your comments really reflected the full range of opinions on the subject of yelling. So instead of responding to each comment, I thought it would be more beneficial to continue the conversation here so everyone reading can weigh in, too.  

(So this does not become a vehicle to just disagree and judge others, i.e. yelling on paper, I removed the names and, for the most part, used only bits of the comments. It's not my intention to misrepresent anyone. If you want to read the comments in their entirety, go to the community.)

Also, because I believe my job is to inspire and expand the way people think about parenting topics, here are some questions to think about before you add a comment.  

  • How do you define yelling?
  • Can screaming be considered yelling?
  • Can shouting be considered yelling?
  • Is yelling always loud?
  • Can a firm voice be considered yelling?
  • Is it possible to yell without being angry?
  • Is yelling always motivated by irritation and frustration?
  • Can a parent yell and still be in control?
  • Do you believe children change their behavior, never to repeat it again, when a parent yells?

If you've read any of my articles you know how I feel about parenting. Here are three more things I believe, too. 

  1. I believe that moms and dads have the right to parent the way they see fit, as long as there's no emotional or physical abuse happening.
  2. Parenting advice and comments should be made with the intention of inspiring thought, not telling another parent what to do. I believe you know your child best.
  3. I believe that each child is different. What works for one child may or may not work for another child. Even in the same family.

"She Said, She Said"

Do you remember the movie He Said, She Said? Well, for the purposes of this article, I'm using, "She Said, She Said."

The following is a compilation of your comments from the community. After reading, please add your comments and wisdom in the comment section below. Your opinion is valuable; I think we can all learn a great deal from this.

She said: "I got yelled at, but when it happened I knew it was [be]cause I was bold. I got a slap when needed, and I had the best parents…"

She said: "Your children shouldn't fear you, they should fear the consequences."

She said: "Yes, there is physical and emotional abuse. A spank on the butt and raising of the voice is neither. I am sick of seeing the parents of kids my children's age who are afraid to parent!"

She said: "If you yell all the time they will tune you out. Then if they are doing something dangerous it will take them longer to respond because they will be used to it."

She said: "I know what is the best for my kid. She needs to be yelled at if she acts badly. She should know the [difference between] right and wrong. There is no gray area when she is kid."

She said: "If your boss or significant other yelled at you a lot, would you respect them more? I think not. If they took the time to calmly explain to you why they are upset, then yes you probably would respect them more. Why should if be any different with children?"

She said: "There are things much worse than yelling... My parents would yell only when necessary! Yes, my brother and I got our butt whipped when necessary. This didn't happen often, as we learned quickly. My parents didn't create a fear of them, more of a fear that we knew our boundaries and limitations, period. It was because of that discipline, that there were many things we didn't get in trouble for, because we knew better! I don't yell to yell, only if absolutely necessary for a dangerous situation, otherwise raising your voice gets the point across."

She said: "…I've been yelled at but was never taught the 'why' part of something being regarded as bad. I now take a different approach, I tell my baby the 'why' to her level of understanding."

She said: "I also agree with many of you. Fear does not = respect. Fear instills a lack of trust and a lack of faith. Do you really want your children not to trust in you?"

Do you agree or disagree? Or do you have a completely different point of view? Let us hear your thoughts!

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.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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amandarobertson28793 amandarobertson28793 4 years
I explain calmly what I expect or why something is unacceptable, then if done again, I raise my voice if needed(if it is a long time since the first warning), then if I have to I yell and send to time out. I don't want to do what my dad did and spank and send to room, but also don't want to be as soft as my mom, whom I know I kinda took advantage of as she was always soft and sweet unless REALLY mad, I mean REALLY mad then she just yelled. I love my folks, and thought a middle of their road approach may be better, not sure I will know until my girls are older. I hate yelling, it always makes me feel guilty, but sometimes what is a mom to do? Especially when the kid knows better. I try so hard NEVER to spank, I do on occasion, but not often. so I guess I may use yelling as the more used spanking in my house.
YoliRector YoliRector 4 years
I really dont like to Yell or shout at my kid, but they both respond to it! They dont like me yelling at them and I understand but when I am talking with them in normal tone (and I have a louc deep voice) they sometimes dont even look at me in the face while I speak but if I up the tone, I have their attention. Its a useful metid in out household but we usually tell them we are sorry about doing it and for them to just simply regard us when we call their names! Well its their choice now as they are big and msart enough to understand the consequences of not responding to just a name call...it is getting yelled at, urgh!
MelissaJulieLincicome MelissaJulieLincicome 4 years
I don't know that yelling causes severe damage in all cases, but I do think it is ineffective and a reaction instead of a response. If you have control of your child, generally, I think you will have less of an urge to yell. In moments where something is dangerous and you need the child's attention but are too far away to reach them, I think yelling can be a way to do that. I think speaking sternly with a very serious voice and face when a child is in trouble to show congruence is appropriate when a child has broken the boundaries. You have to show that the situation is serious and you need your child's attention and respect. Your child needs to believe you are serious. I would find it totally unacceptable for my child to talk back, much less yell at me. If he did he would be in serious trouble, and I think spanking would be in order for that situation. Spanking is very different from hitting and other forms of physical abuse. Appropriate spanking should get the child's attention, it should not be pleasant, but never injure or mark the child. It should be followed up with a conversation about what happened and how it can be avoided, along with kindness and comfort. If you can use it appropriately, I think most children will respect you and begin to feel comfortable within their own boundaries. You can use time outs this way, but I think without spanking as a last resort option, for some kids time outs can lose their effectiveness. I think that for some kids spanking probably isn't even needed and time outs are enough. You have to consider each child on an individual basis. I used to take a strong stance against spanking because the research for years said it was so harmful. But when time out's just weren't cutting it, I actually READ the research. As a professional and a Mom, I have done an exhaustive review of the spanking literature and research and concluded that most of the studies that said spanking was harmful were biased and did not differentiate between children who were spanked and those who were being seriously abused. Researchers had placed all of those children in the same group and only separated out those who where never spanked or swatted. Obviously they were going to get results that showed spanking to be harmful. I understand though, that for some, there is a fine line between spanking and abuse and without very good boundaries and emotion regulation skills, it might not be possible for some parents to spank without going too far. In that case, what they are doing probably isn't working and neither will spanking. I think emotional health and congruence are key in the discipline of children. You can try any technique you want and it won't work if your "insides" don't match your "outsides." When we socially "outlawed" spanking as an effective way to discipline, I think a whole generation was left having no idea what to do instead. Now we have a gap to fill. On the positive side, I think we reduced physical abuse, but on the negative side, I think we lost confidence in parenting and became fearful of judgement. I see a lot of parents who seem intimidated by their kids. If you are not in control, then the child feels out of control and insecure too. I feel like even teachers are sometimes scared to take control and be authoritative. We have over-empathized with children who are facing the consequences of their actions. Take control and use whatever techniques you feel comfortable with in a confident way. When your kid respects you and other authority, they can relax and just be a kid!
LeahHearle LeahHearle 4 years
I do yell, and i hate it..But it seems like thats the only way my son will listen to me!
CoMMember13610302719221 CoMMember13610302719221 4 years
The point is, when I yell at my child I feel emotionally tired and drained myself...it is doing no one any good...it is important to try and take a moment for myself to figure out why i get so mad at what my child is doing..and then explain it to them. Actually verbalizing out loud why i am upset makes the whole "lesson" a lot clearer for me and my child...it is a learning process for everyone. But yes...I yell and it is really hard not too sometimes:)
JoycePreslar JoycePreslar 4 years
My "child" is now 35, and tells me the most helpful thing I was fond of saying to him after he made an obvious mistake was "Well, what did we learn?" He does not hesitate to say it to me when I make the inevitable mistakes, especially when they are obvious!
ReneeStJohn18303 ReneeStJohn18303 4 years
Nice article--gives me many thoughts to ponder. I have 3 kids-each about 7 years apart. I feel horrid after having yelled at any of them. Sometimes (actually MOST times) I feel like that's the only way I'm getting their attention :( When I try talking and being 'nice' it really seems like they ignore me....totally.
Deniseriddle Deniseriddle 4 years
Well I have a son who is four. He is mildly autistic. He can just be so out of hand when he is having an episode. I do not know what to do. It is really hard to explain. Sometimes , I yell and I have to admit I have smacked him but usually he is attacking me , jumping on me. I really do not think either is the right thing. I love my son but sometimes he is difficult to handle.
ChristyCooper ChristyCooper 4 years
I do yell on occasion when my almost 4 yr old son seems to be off in his own little world and I have repeated myself at least three times. I'm not proud of it, but it generally stops him, gets his attention, and he finally does what I have been asking for the past 5 minutes. I was yelled at repeatedly for any slight as a child and do not deal well with it now. All someone has to do is raise his or her voice a bit and in a firm way and I cave. I don't want my child/ren to react like this when they are older. I find it def. hinders me in some work related situations, thus I yell sparingly. In most cases I just have to get down at eye level, explain what I want and why and he will do it. He also knows that if he doesn't, he will get time out (which helps). I always follow through on that.
noreenomahony noreenomahony 4 years
i do yell and sometimes its works . but they do need to know when there doing wrong . i really wud,nt want my kids to turn out like Ned flanders on the simpsons .Lol. i dont think it does them any harm its corrections for the child too . so ya i reckon yell till yours heatrs content. :)
ChristinaMonasmith ChristinaMonasmith 4 years
I have yelled more times than I can count and I hate myself for it. Most of the reason why I yell is because after repeating myself over and over and over again, I get so frustrated and I'm sick of saying the same thing over and over. The only problem is that now my 3 yr old thinks it's perfectly fine to yell back at us. Esp. if you tell him no. I've tried explaining the "why" part of it and that doesn't work, I've tried so many different things my head spins thinking about it.
KerryAnnHamilton KerryAnnHamilton 4 years
I believe that when we yell it's a stress reliever for ourselves. It has nothing to do with educating our kids. I can yell at my daughter all day and the next day she'll be doing the exact same thing I yelled at her for...... in my opinion it doesn't work when trying to make a change and discipline your children. BUT I've also taken the time out and take away approach and that hasn't worked either. I've read and enforced 123 Magic and it didn't work!! Parenting is a mixture of everything. You can't expect for something to work all the time or else you'd be a robot and so would your kids. I've had good days where I'm like Supernanny; especially if I've had exceptional sex the night before. There are other days I had a bad day at work, my boyfriend annoyed me, and the kids were acting like wild banchees and I was less tolerant..Or they may not have acted liked wild banchees but I was less tolerant. You have to be able to admit that you were in the wrong that day and just get over it. Your kids will love you no matter what. It can be unfortunate or amazing; it all depends on the kind of parent you are. My daughter is 7 1/2 years old and she'll ask why am I being so miserable and once I stop and think about it...I don't know and I change my attitude. There are also days when she's being downright annoying and rude and I will ignore her attitude and be the most loving made for TV mother there is. Yes sometimes I yell, yes sometimes I spank, sometimes I'm exhausted and let her get away with things, and other times I just don't care but to me it's life. It's growth. It's human. None of us are perfect and we never will be and there seems to be this facade that was you have a baby that all changes. I'm here to tell you it doesn't. You are who you are and hopefully you love your kids. As long as we genuinely love our kids, do what's best for them, accept responsibility for our mistakes and are willing to accept them.... we are wonderful parents. If our children don't know that now...they will know it later. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves because we are all queens in my book. If you would never hurt your child purposely you're an amazing mother. ♥
jocelyngabales jocelyngabales 4 years
it's okay to yell at your child but you have to explain to them why you have to yell at them for them to better understand why you do that
LindseyWalton LindseyWalton 4 years
Yelling is at best comical, and at worst hurtful, and never effective in changing behavior--not with employees, spouses, or kids. That being said, I have been known to flip my lid at my kids on many occasions. I don't think this makes me a bad parent, just human. It is important to me, however, that my kids get an apology and an honest effort for improvment and problem solving. Disrespect is never appropriate.
KarenDeyo KarenDeyo 4 years
I find myself in a tough spot. I do not believe in violence and anger. I do not like to yell at my child. However I have found myself doing so out of sheer frustration when I have asked her to clean up her toys multiple times and it still doesnt happen. My stress trickles down to her and I see the sadness in her eyes when it does. It breaks my heart to think that my yelling at her could cause any emotional damage and therefore try to avoid it.
JillSwanson JillSwanson 4 years
I usually only raise my voice to quiet a room full of kids that have gotten too loud. :) But the other day I found a wonderful, powerful not-to-be-used-to-often tool: The Voice of Doom. It's very low-pitched, booming, and serious. (I'm a Shakespearean actor, and it's a voice I've only ever used onstage.) My son and I were arguing and I had to step outside for some reason and he shut and locked the front door behind me. The Voice of Doom let him know in no uncertain terms that that can never. happen. again. As it didn't require explanation (he's 6, he got it) I didn't have to talk to him about it further. The look on his face showed he got it. Now I'm saving The Voice of Doom so it doesn't lose its effect. :)
BeateBrooks BeateBrooks 4 years
Shouting, yelling and screaming at children is not working at all, when it comes to teach them right from wrong. We are role models to our children and if you want them to be calm, understanding and reasonable, that is what you have to show them. If they misbehave, it depends on the age of the child how you should react. The most important is to be consistent. Don't punish them for a behaviour today, and let them do it tomorrow, because you are to tired to react for example. From the age of three, you can explain to your child why you don't want them to do something. Under the age of three, you are wasting your time as the child has not yet reached the development stage of understanding that.A quick "no,no" and then remove the child from the situation and take his/her mind off it. The best way to get a child to behave well is to praise it everytime he/she is behaving well, to explain (after age of three) why that behaviour is not desired, and have a consequence if the behaviour is consistent. Consequences can be time out, no telly, no playing out etc. But again, the consequense has always got to follow the behaviour consistently, if it has to work. And what is most important, children need lots of praise, love and cuddles when they are good
MariyahSerratos MariyahSerratos 4 years
To Catherine: "This is a household agreement set by all members of our family." Genius. Inspiration is taking over. Instead of 'laying down the law' I am going to try to create the rules (and the consequences) together with our 6 year old triplets. I hate yelling and I am already a loud, energetic spaz as it is!! Thank you for your thoughtful insight.
NeulaMartinez32846 NeulaMartinez32846 4 years
We just started the 1-2-3 Magic program and so far it has been a lifesaver! You would think our kids are going to get a beating by the way they react when we get to '2'. I say it has been a lifesaver because one year ago I started having really bad, debilitating panic attacks because of the stress in my home. There was a whole lot of yelling at the kids going on and I couldn't deal with it. From my experience yelling, or screaming at a child gets no result. I do agree that if it is a dangerous or serious situation that you should raise your voice, but day to day yelling as a form of discipline just did not work here. Same thing with spankings. I can't believe how much better both of our kids are responding to getting 'counted'. (Not the 'I'm going to count to 3 system). I have become more relaxed in this last week and am actually starting to enjoy being around my kids again (I am a full time stay at home mom). :)
PatriciaTomlinson PatriciaTomlinson 4 years
After yelling at the same kids for sometime, I think they tune you out. What I do is , if I am at a distance, I state the reprimand firmly, calling the child's name then start MOVING toward him or her. When I get there I stoop t his/ her level, look him/her in the eyes and repeat it and the consequences after I count to five. Usually the child responds ... running to his or her seat. If theirs no listening then the consequence is enfoced. Luckily I work with preschoolers who soon learn the drill if they do not after a few minutes in a chair-facing corner or in the 'time-out' chair the child usually co-operates. I do not work with the kids per se but with their teachers so if I enter a class and see a situation and calls the chid, he or she knows what will happen next. They usually come to the office as a last resort so many of them know me as the enforcer of discipline! I don't have to yell at my son who is 15 years because he grew up with me in a country where if you don't obey a request its licks next. He was beaten when he was younger for not listening. Now we just discuss the matter and we usually come to an amicable understanding.
ValerieSalla ValerieSalla 4 years
I just saw this article. I yell at my son also and feel awful. He even yells get. I saw the naughty step technique mentioned. Someone please tell me about this technique. I'm interested in trying it.
LaurieHaughton LaurieHaughton 4 years
So, I yell at my kids... when my three year old is racing towards the parking lot without looking to see if a car is coming, when my 20 month old stands on top of slide and wants to jump... they sense my fear and it stops them, but sometimes I yell in frustration, and they hear that in my voice as well and it upsets them, I am not the perfect Mom but I do my best by kids, and I love them to no end. When I have yelled for a 'good' reason then I explain (the car can hurt you, you need to look and see what is coming), but when I yell for a lack of patience then it's my responsibility to teach them the mechanics of the apology. I sit them down, look them in the eye and I say that I am sorry, that I should have lost my temper and I wait for them to look at me before I ask them to forgive me. No one is perfect but we all love our kids.
MargaretHilsheimerStewart MargaretHilsheimerStewart 4 years
I have one son, my youngest, who has always listened and responded positively when I've simply asked him not to do something and explained why he shouldn't. On the other hand, my oldest son is very...strong willed and from about the age of two when I've made a request of him, it's gone something like this: "Honey, please don't do that....honey please stop...will you please stop it?...will you stop doing that?....stop it....STOP IT!!!!!. Then he would finally look at me and say, "OK! Geeeez, you don't have to yell." However, with this particular child, in many instances, I did have to yell. He has a number of learning disabilities so I have been well acquainted with how to make sure my child's attention was on me. I always made sure he was looking directly at me, I never called out instructions from another room or from behind him. He was always in front of me, eyes on my face, not trying to look at the TV because chances were it had been turned off, just before I attempted to gain his attention. I did everything I was supposed to for an attention deficit child, but in many, many instances, it just made no difference. I once asked him to pick up his room and decided that I was NOT going to yell in order to get him to do it. So I asked nicely, promising a reward, $5 ONLY if he'd clean his room without my having to ask over and over. Finally after a week of asking nicely, I walked him to his room, opened the door to what I have affectionately nicknamed "The Abyss" and loudly requested that he" clean this mess up!" He did, without delay. Over the years I've answered, many times, the question, "Mom, why did you yell at me?" with a varying form of this conversation, "How many times did I ask you nicely to do that?"....."Five times, Mom" and then, "And when did you finally do it?"...."When you yelled at me"....and finally, "So you if you don't want to get yelled at....?"....."I should listen to you when you ask nicely". It's taken his entire life to finally get this through to him and at 20 years old, he may only have to be asked twice to do something before it gets done. Not perfect but I can live with it and I hope I've saved his future wife, whomever she may be (God bless her) a lot of frustration and damage to her vocal cords. ;)
daliaalshafie daliaalshafie 4 years
MY KID WON'T RESPOND EXCEPT WHEN WHE IS YELLED AT. EVEN IF UEXPLAIN THE 'WHY' SHE STILL HASTO GO THROUGH THE EXPERIENCE.
DebbieFulthorp DebbieFulthorp 4 years
I do not like to yell at my kids, but I end up reverting back to the way I was brought up as a child. My mom yelled. So it is like a defense mechanism that happens when my kids do something stupid. I have taught my daughter that mommy and daddy sometimes make mistakes too, so if she doesn't understand why I am yelling, she will ask me. 'Do you have to yell?' sometimes I tell her that I feel like I do, and other times if I don't have to yell, I will tone it down. I know you shouldn't allow your kids to rule you, and I don't think she does. I am trying to get her to understand nobody is perfect, and be as honest as I can with her. I think it is working.
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