Raise your hand if you never yell!

Part 1 of a two-part poll I conduct with my audiences: “Raise your hand if you were reared by a mother who never yelled, yet you consistently obeyed her. To clarify, your mother may have raised her voice emphatically on occasion, but never broke the sound barrier with it.”

In a recent audience of slightly more than 500 people in Albuquerque, I estimated that some 150 hands went up. My “average” audience member is 30-something. He/she was probably born in the mid-’60s, as the transition from values-based to self-esteem-based parenting was taking place. My impression is that most of those upraised hands belong, however, to the older people in the crowd, those reared – in all likelihood – by parents who were guided by tradition rather than the “book.”

Part 2: “Now, raise your hand if you are a woman with children still living at home and you can honestly say your children obey you as well as you obeyed your mother, and you have never yelled.”

Immediately, there is general laughter, as if the very idea of a calm, in control mother is absurd. It’s rare, of course, for even one hand to go up. The contrast proves that the periodic emotional meltdowns which are all-too-typical of today’s mothers have nothing to do with motherhood per se. Rather, these guilt-inducing meltdowns are a sign of the times. Why are today’s moms, compared with yesterday’s, much more likely to yell at their children? In answer, I propose:

First, yesterday’s typical mom wasn’t trying to be all things her children. She expected them to be independent, to stay out from “underfoot,” to fight their own battles, to lie in the beds they made, to stew in their own juices, etc. Today’s typical mom, by contrast, has entered into a co-dependent relationship with her children. She fights her children’s battles, lies in the beds they make, and stews in their juices. This alone puts her under considerably more stress than, in all likelihood, her mother ever experienced in the context of rearing children.

Second, yesterday’s typical mom wasn’t trying to be a friend to her kids. She didn’t much care, if she cared at all, what they thought about her decisions. Today’s typical mom is trying to have a “wonderful relationship” with her children. She wants to be liked, if not to be their very best friend. Ergo, she worries about what they think of her. Ergo, she is afraid to make them upset. Ergo, she minces her words and flinches when it comes to consequences. Ergo, she has more discipline problems with her children than her mother even thought possible. Ergo, she is more frustrated. Ergo, she yells.

Third, today’s mom believes the most committed mom is the most frenetic mom. She races her children from one after-school activity to another, arranges their social calendar, helps with their homework, and so on, ad infinitum. She has virtually no life of her own outside of her preoccupation with the never-ending (in her own mind) chores of child rearing. If she works outside the home, she’s attempting to perform these child-rearing “necessities” in one-fourth the time she would otherwise have available to perform them. (Not that they should be performed under any circumstances, mind you.) As will be the case whenever someone over-focuses on any one thing/task, today’s mom tends to be tense rather than relaxed. A stress attack is never more than a hitch away.

No, yelling and being a mother do not go hand in hand. Yelling at one’s children is the predictable consequence of trying to conform to a nouveau standard of “good mothering” that is, was, and will forever be bogus and self-defeating. The problem is not one of gender, but of choices. The good news, then, is that any time she so chooses, a mother who yells can transform herself into a mother who does not yell. All it takes is letting go.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.

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  1. Christine says:

    What about the consequences of letting go? Everything seems to fall apart and we are late for everything.

    • When we let go we have to make sure that expectations are clear for our children and that expectation includes the children taking on the responsibilities that Mom had been shouldering….for the kids’ behavior, lateness, etc., etc.
      I f we say we are leaving at 8:00 then by all means, leave at 8:00. If the child/children are not ready – they get in the car “as is”. If that means going to school in their pj’s one day – I can almost guarantee that it won’t happen twice.

      • Okay… I do this. I firmly believe in natural consequences. However, I have a very strong willed 6 year old girl who will scream, cry or whine and pitch a fit all the way to the car… sometimes I’m dragging her by the arm (calmly and indifferently, by the way). Yes, she eventually calms down and sulks because she is without socks, or still in pjs, or her hair is not brushed, etc… and she apologizes usually on her own… but then I have to get her out of the car again to go into the place we needed to go. And it starts all over again… this time in a public place.

        So, I have struggles with this scenario:

        1. I have a hard time not seeing these outbursts as “disrespect”, because she usually escalates to something that is disrespectful of me as a parent. Then I have to discipline that. Now the situation has digressed in another direction.

        2. She doesn’t seem to learn from these “natural consequences” of not getting ready. If our consistency IS working… MAN would we be in a heep of trouble if we weren’t consistent with these consequences!

  2. Thank you Ellen for this! I have to admit it- I am a yeller:(

    You know what would be a great thing? A support group for reforming parents who are yellers.

    However, life is so much busier these days than 40 years ago, when I was a kid….

    • Susan… I desperately wish there was and that you and I lived nearby each other. I was just thinking about this this very morning. If there was such a thing that I could find, I gladly would.

      • Hi Susan and Sue,

        I’m thinking that perhaps we can have a teleconference to address this issue and share stories of support, like they do in OA and AA. What other ideas would be helpful for you? And which timezones do you live in?



  3. Brian Retter says:

    I do find these articles both interesting to read and a foundation in which to change my current parenting style to best help my children grow. I only wish the opinions were gender neutral because in this day and age both the mother and the father’s roles have changed significantly.

  4. I have to say that I have always had a wonderful relationship with my mother my whole life. She rarely yelled during my childhood, but if I (or my 3 siblings) did anything wrong we understood the consequences. I was put over her knee and smacked. Happened maybe once a year, but it reminded me that there were limits and I always knew the reason (and agreed with the punishment)! I now have a 5 year old (going on 13) and I don’t smack her. Mostly she’s an angel, but there are times when she drives me mad! Would I consider smacking her? Nope, can’t. Just doesn’t feel right. I hope the naughtiness is just her age, and I remind myself how wonderful she is most of the time. Love the article and I absolutely agree with the generation changes. I wish these darn kids came with a manual!

  5. I agree wholeheartedly. As a self employed mother who promotes programs and products to teach children how to behave properly, I am so glad to read about the parental responsibility in this. Too often, parents believe that the only way to solve a problem is to punish, rather than teach children what is expected of them.

  6. I find this article unrealistic. Mothering has evolved with society. The world is a much different place than it was in the 50’s and therefore as mother’s we must adjust, adapt, and evolve. For example, we cannot hit our children like they use to for discipline purposes. That has proven not to work. Also, we cannot just let them “find their way” in the world themselves, as the world has become a much more dangerous, competitive place. Children need more nurturing, help and guidance than they did 50 years ago. This helps them survive a more complex society. I am a teacher and a mother and I see the example of not evolving with the times. Education, for the most part, has not evolved with the times. We educate kids the same way we did 50 years ago. Therefore, we have more and more students who just aren’t successful in school. We all need to loose the archaic ways and conform our parenting, educating and relationships with children so that they can be successful in today’s atmosphere. It is not enough anymore to just make dinner and kiss them goodnight. A parent needs to know what’s going on in a child’s life, help them make appropriate decisions and be good role models of successful citizens in a complex society. Both Moms and Dads. Especially teenagers need guidance and their parents’ attention. If you’re not there, they’ll find someone or something that is, and often what they replace you with isn’t healthy for them. To say that mother’s believe that “the most committed mom is the most frenetic mom, ” just isn’t true. Not of me or anyone I know. That strange idea all depends on personality traits. If you tend to get frantic from spending time with your kids, then maybe you should reevaluate the time you are spending. I find that taking my son to baseball practice and watching his games is a relaxing time for me. I also find that talking to my teenage daughter about her friends and her free time is not “trying to be a friend” but rather being a positive influence in her life. I feel that this article is archaic and rather suits those parents who are trying to justify their “lazy parenting” by not getting involved in their kids lives. There’s more to parenting these days than just putting a roof over their head and food on the table.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with Heidi. On the other hand, I do see mothers that don’t have lives of their own, which is so easy to fall into. If someone is a yelling parent, then that is a symptom of a problem. It could be your they are too involved in their child’s life and have sacrificed their own, or another stressful problem in their life, such as a bad marriage etc.

    • Thanks for your comment Heidi. I think it is necessary to be reminded of balance. If parenting were a balance beam I think it is narrowing over time and takes additional skill and/or skill over time to remain balanced. I appreciate how this article and thoughtful comments like yours help encourage me to reflect on my parenting. I know I can always improve and like getting a nudge to do so.

    • Amen!

  7. I have to say I disagree with this article. The whole idea that “old” or “traditional” values are somehow better is a flawed argument. We would not have moved to a more self-esteem driven model if the old method were working. My mother never yelled, but she did hit and spank. She also had no problem with using shame and humiliation as a means of controlling us. While we were well-behaved children, she devastated our self-esteems without yelling, but with the shame and humiliation.

    As an Educational Therapist who teaches NonViolent Communication-based parenting, I know that there are ways to rear children such that they have healthy self-esteems, which will help them succeed in life. I also know that empowered children are harder to handle, press more for their needs to be met, and can act in ways that are embarrassing for a parent raised in the old model.

    When an empowered child acts in a way that is contrary to our picture of well-behaved children (a picture formed by parenting styles filled with hitting, shaming and humiliating), people get angry and make comments about the parent, who is also dealing with the frustration of helping the child in a way that suits her integrity.

    We need to let go of the picture of the well-behaved child, and help children get their needs met. Then we won’t be spending billions of dollars on a self-help industry geared at helping them get over what we did to them as kids.

  8. I rarely disagree with anything on this site, but i do disagree with this one. It seems a bit dated. I don’t try to be my kids’ best friend, I do stick to consequences (by not threatening something I am not willing to actually go thru with.) I do not yell (we have a no yelling policy in our house) I work full time, each kid has one activity a week, and i look forward to time with them, and they with me.

    I give my kids respect and tell them the truth. (yes, you are going to the doctors, and will get a shot and it will hurt for a minute but then it will be ok. Yes, we are going to the doctor but they only want to look in your eyes, ears, mouth and push on your tummy.”) They believe and respect what I say when I say it because I do not sugar coat anything. I get stern, they know “the look” and before I think things will escalate i say “I feel myself getting really mad and I don’t want to yell…. please (insert task here) now, so we can have a happy night/day.

    I do agree that some parents try to cushion every fall for their kids, and I am against that- but I think we do need to be extra involved these days with internet, predators, etc.

  9. In today’s complex world CONSEQUENCES for our children need to be more ‘tailored’ than in the past. Even in the past, kids whose parents adopted the most appropriate (even creative) consequences for their kids’ inappropriate behavior even BRAGGED about this cleverness on their parents’ part until it became part of family lore! KIDS like to be able to look up to their parents, and parents like to be appreciated by them.

    The Consequences for todays parents, if they fail at any level of parenting, is now more consistently catastrophic than in the past, when the world was not such a dangerous place to live in. There is simply a greater abundance of pitfalls for kids to fall into – and so difficult to extricate them once they are there.

    And, because parenting has become fraught with so many more/different difficulties these days, Family educational classes & accessible counselling should be the NORM, and without stigma.

    It is not easy to raise resiliant, resourceful, respectful children today – esp. if we didn’t have that experience ourselves as children. Indeed, the sins of the father ARE ‘visited’ unto the ___ nth generation’ – without intervention & effort!

  10. hello dara

    do you have any suggestions on how to solve problems with teens by teaching them what to expect instead of punishing them? i agree with this philosophy in theory and can only imagine how wonderful it work, but frankly need more to buy into it.

  11. Dear Shannon & Ange: Re: Children’s outbursts as “disrespect” escalating to something disrespectful – child doesn’t seem to learn from these “natural consequences” of not getting ready … etc.


  12. Try Again – sorry, slip of the finger.

    Dear Shannon / Ange & All of Us: RE: NATURAL CONSEQUENCES /Children’s outbursts & Problem-Solving without Punishing …
    1. The Children FIRST have to ‘BUY IN TO’ the Consequences thing. This is best done TOGETHER, with Parent(s), in DISCUSSION, at a quiet time.
    2. The object is to decide together what the consequences Are / Are Not going to be – AFTER after all Parties have been able to discuss their point of view.
    – Discussion on how ‘Being Late – Unprepared’ has a negative impact on Everyone, Individually & as a Family … Asking for kids to think on how it affects them (schooling, mood for the day, having-not-having Lunch/Right Clothes/Homework done etc,) and Parent saying how it affects them, their feelings & day … helps to identify the PROBLEM;
    3. Parent(s) then Asking Children if they have any Solutions they can offer – and discussing these & offering their solutions also.
    4. Make Notes, the Pro & Con of these Problems / Solutions, Discuss further and come to as much Agreement as Possible … even an imperfect agreement/plan is better than none.
    – Decide on Length of Time to TRY different approaches out … one day, one wk.
    – Reach Agreement on ‘Absolute NO-FLY zones’ such as Tantrums, Screaming, etc. – and Consequences for that kind of behavior.
    5. Try the PLAN out, EXPRESS APPRECIATION for Successes, take Note Of ‘Disappointments’ where further discussion & planning are needed … AND … if sincere attempts by Parents continue to be met with ‘opposition / defiance’ on part of child – get Counselling from Any / All sources possible.
    – So, what can’t be solved with ‘reasonable consideration’ and negotiation, requires outside, professional assistance – THAT’s a good CONSEQUENCE.
    – The less we lose OUR cool, the longer we stay in Some control of the situation, maintaining some dignity as a Parent, and not giving our kids reason to Blame Us for making the situation worse.
    – Part of the Natural Consequences of NO plans / not sticking to an agreed-on plans, is going to be disorganization & chaos – in themselves very unpleasant experiences; to say nothing of disappointment, sadness, anger – missed/late appointments, bad grades, lost opportunities in some cases, on-and-on.
    – Letting our Kids (and ourselves) experience some of those consequences – and NOTICING THEM / POINTING THEM OUT AS consequences … may, in time, lead to change.

    But having a PLAN and GOALS, gives us something to work toward, instead of helplessly viewing each day/event as a never-ending torment.
    Lord, give us Strength !! Hey?

    It’s worth it, though, in the long run, to fight & eventually ‘win’ THESE battles, cuz bigger ones are always on the horizon. The Understandings & ‘Working Agreements’ / Behaviors developed now, will enable us to face the future more united as a family.

  13. This was an interesting article and although yelling once in while is normal and human, it can be upsetting to the children if it is done on a consistent basis. There are some things that I do that help and may help you too (for the yellers).

    For one, when I say no, I almost always explain the reason to my kids. Almost always, they get it! I explain that the answer is, “NO” for their own good, because I care for them and love them and it’s better for them right now, etc. etc. I even explain the possible consequence that could happen from saying yes and that’s why no is my answer. So, I use this as a teachable moment.

    Another thing I do is let them know when they are pushing me or when I’ve had a stressful day. I will say to them that I’m stressed out right now and since I don’t want to take it out on them, they should know so as not to push me, not to misbehave. I give them warning about where I’m at.

    Also, when I feel like I’m about to yell, I will do one of two things. One is, I will tell them I am counting to 5 and when I get there they better have done this or that (like get to bed) or I will yell or there will be a punishment. So basically, I give them warning.

    Another thing I do is remove myself from the situation and I will tell them that either I have to take a time out or that I can’t discuss this further right now and I will get back to them. These are just some ways I have found work for me and my family where there is very little yelling by me. (That’s not to say I haven’t lost it once in a while, as most people do).

    I hope this helps someone else because children look to their homes as a safe haven. If there is too much yelling and conflict, it can affect them negatively and it will come out as temper tantrums or through bad grades or in other behavioral problems. It’s best to forgive yourself for yelling and just do the best you can from this day forward to not yell as much, to do better. You and your children will be grateful for the more peaceful home environment. Good luck always.

  14. I think Fradine has some great ideas for not yelling. Thanks for the advice.

    I think the statements made in the article are basically true. Why do mothers yell? It’s because we want our children to do the right thing. Why do we want them to do the right thing? So they will be well-rounded children and children who are liked by others. We especially want them to do the right thing when they are in public, such as at school. We don’t want to have to worry about them while they are not with us. We hope that they will remember the things we have taught them at home. We want them to be liked, especially by their teachers because the teacher is basically taking the place of the mom during the day. If a child is a behavior problem, he/she stands the chance of not being liked by the people they spend time with every day. This is not a scenario that is pleasant for most moms to think about. Why would we want our children to be under the care of someone who dislikes them during the day?

    Because we want our children to be liked by others, we stress when they do things they shouldn’t do. We don’t want them to be late for school, we don’t want them to fight with their brothers and sisters because they in turn might fight with children at school. We yell because we are stressed that they might not be accepted by others. If they are not minding us when we ask them to clean up, we’re afraid they might not mind the teacher at school when she asks them to do the same.

    I know that these are not the only reasons parents yell, but I think it’s part of it. We feel the stress of helping our children to be accepted and liked by others. I’m sure there are plenty of you who will disagree with everything I’ve said, but that’s okay. I taught kindergarten for 12 years before I had children of my own and I teach children twice a week at church. As an older mom who has young children, I’ve learned a lot about myself and parenting. I’m far from perfect, but when I make mistakes, I usually know why I’ve made them.

    Thanks for the article.

  15. I have realized that yelling does not discipline achild at all. It only lets the child beleive that we are no more mature than they are. When they find that our parents are just “like us” why do we need to listen to what they say. Its more effective to be as calm as possible throughout a child’s tantrum. When he realizes that his attempt to disturb you has failed he gives it up

  16. Please define “yelling”.

  17. Let’s imagine for a moment that you go into a supermarket with your spouse and he all of a sudden starts to scream and yell and tell you he doesn’t want to go shopping. Is this kind of behavior appropriate? NOOOO! So whether it is with your husband or your children or yourself it doesn’t matter if it is 1950 or 2009 this kind of behavior is inappropriate. Expressing feelings is appropriate at the appropriate time. If your kids are mad because they have to go shopping with mom examine if this little person is tired, hungery or just needs some time to relax then maybe the choice of going shopping, whether it is inconvenient or not, should maybe be reexamined. This doesn’t make the children disrespectful it allows them to allow their feelings to be considered and helps to feel worthy. It is not a task easy for a mother to perform being that time is limited in most families but perhaps we need to stop CRAMMING so much into our days and kick back and take it as it comes.


  18. Michelle says:

    I’m so glad I revisited this site today after a long absence. Thank you all for your comments. My 6-year old daughter is very willful and I haven’t been able to find any consequences that will convince her to follow rules most of the time, or treat family members with respect…until the other night. My husband and I do yell occasionally and have tried to find alternative methods (taking care to match appropriate consequences with the “crime”) – none of which have worked with her. If she doesn’t get ready for school, I drive her in late (making sure she misses quality time with her teacher before the bell rings); if she doesn’t find her sports things for practice in time, she does not go; losing dessert for a week…losing toys…the list goes on; nothing seemed to matter to her except pushing the boundaries. The other night however, she said a mean thing to her a friend. I was so angry I couldn’t even think of anything to say to her. I said Mommy would talk to her later, but that since she doesn’t understand how to treat people she had to stay in her room until dinner (we’ve always had the rule that outbursts are okay, but you have them in your room not in the living area). She was so distraught at the isolation that she has thought of different things she can do to show her friend how much she cares. I have yet to actually see them executed, but it’s a step in the right direction. I followed it up with a discussion about the golden rule and why it’s important…without friends, it’s like spending ALL your time alone in your room, because people don’t want to be near you….I am so excited to see the woman she will become, but I know it’ll a bumpy road getting there.

  19. Jo-Anne Layton says:

    It’s been awhile since I checked this site, these issues, but I’m glad I did.

    It is SO encouraging to see not only SUPER Suggestions, but also
    a) statements of “Where I’m at;
    b) here my Children are at;
    c) our Social Environment is at … etc.

    Why? Because it shows we are THOUGHTFULLY engaging in the ART of Parenting and we are Willing to Learn in an Ongoing Way in an Ever-Changing World!

    And we KNOW we are Not Perfect – so many of us experienced the negative side of being children with Punitive Parents who Always Knew Best – or didn’t care – “Might was Right”.

    I just finished a 3-week stint of clerical work at a Mental Health hospital, and SO many Severely Damaged Individuals are patients there as as result of UN-thinking/caring parents it is absolutely gut-wrenching.

    Bottom Line: Keep seeking Respectful & Logical Solutions for ALL parties concerned; don’t give up, get help if needed – this ‘sharing site’ is one form of that help and contains some excellent insight.

  20. Catherine says:

    Bottom line… I think parenting today IS harder than it was a generation or two ago. We are (rightly, I think) much more concerned about our children’s self-esteem than our parents were. I want my children to be happy, well-adjusted individuals and I think that I (and my husband, but I realize this is about mothers) play a signficant role in that. I think our parents wanted the same things for us, but didn’t necessarily see it as their responisbility. We know more about child development and the importance and impact of positive and negative experiences on our children’s intellectual and emotional development.

    Not only all that… life is busier, faster and more complicated today than it was for our parents and grandparents. We have WAY more on our plates, which adds to stress, which causes us to yell. Our mothers were not expected to do all that we do. We are supposed to raise wonderful children, keep immaculate and stylishly decorated homes, be fit and thin, look fabulous, dress well, earn a lgood iving, manage the finances, get organized, be sexy and good lovers, be smart… the list goes on and on! No wonder were all so stressed and exhuasted

  21. I agree with Sue – yelling is a sign of a problem. For me it means I’m too anxious or tired to be patience, creative and sensitive. Sometimes I just want to get my 2 year old’s teeth brushed, get him on the potty and get out the door now! My yelling is my emotional venting at my children’s expense and a sign to me to step back and reassess priorities and my emotions. Sometimes it’s also a sign that I’m frustrated and overwhelmed because I don’t know how to get the behavior I need at specific times. That’s when I seek out parenting help from books or sites like this. Even if the tips don’t work for our situation, I feel more in control, like I’m parenting instead of reacting. That helps me to stay patient. I really beat myself up when I yell at my kids, especially if it starts to become a daily thing. All it teaches them to do is to fear me or to explode when they’re overwhlemed. Not good.