|| Constant Yelling Can Be Just As Harmful to Children as Physical Abuse
What does the research show?
Most parents, even the most patient ones, lose their temper and yell at their
children. According to a 2003 study published in The Journal of Marriage
and Family, 88 percent of the 991 families interviewed admitted shouting,
yelling or screaming at their children in the previous year. That percentage
jumped to 98 percent in families with 7-year-old children.
While occasional yelling is common in American families, parents who constantly
yell at their children are subjecting their children to emotional abuse that
researchers say can be as harmful as physical abuse. A 2001 study in the American
Journal of Psychiatry involving 49 people with depersonalization disorder
(a mental disorder in which a person has a feeling of detachment or estrangement
from one’s self) and 26 emotionally healthy people, found that yelling
and other forms of emotional abuse was a more significant predictor of mental
illness than sexual and physical abuse.
Besides being potentially harmful if overused, yelling is often ineffective.
“Children can become immune to being yelled at and start to tune it out,”
according to psychologist Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D., of Drexel University. Dr. Shure’s
research shows that parents whose only way of disciplining their children is
by yelling, demanding or commanding have children that at age four or five are
more likely to display physical or verbal aggression, social withdrawal, and
a lack of positive/prosocial behaviors, such as sharing and empathy. She says
instead of yelling, which makes children feel angry and frustrated, parents
should use a problem-solving approach in which children are taught to think
about their own and others’ feelings. For example, if your children will
not pick up their toys, ask them to think of how you feel when they won’t
pick up the toys. Then ask them to think of something they can do so you won’t
feel that way. This approach can have large and long-lasting effects on children's
behavior (see http://www.psychologymatters.org/shure.html
How do these findings relate to ACT?
The ACT program recommends that the best way for parents to prevent negative
behaviors in their children is to support positive behaviors. Parents may be
less tempted to yell at their children if they talk to their children about
simple rules about behavior, and then put them into action. After setting up
the rules, parents can guide children using some of the following approaches:
- Let children know what you expect, with simple statements. “Please
put away your toys right now.”
- Give warnings and reminders, without threats. “When you put away
your toys, then you can go outside with your friends.”
- Tell a child what to do rather than what not to do. “Please use a
soft voice,” instead of “Stop yelling!”
- Follow through with praise for following instructions or consequences for
It is normal for adults to get angry; but it is important to learn to recognize
angry feelings and to learn and practice positive ways of dealing with them.
For specific anger-management steps, read the ACT handout: "Helping Adults
Manage Their Angry Feelings" (http://www.actagainstviolence.org/materials/handouts/FamilyAM1.pdf).
Simeon, D., Guralnik, O., Schmeidler, J., Sirof, B., & Knutelska, M. (2001).
The role of childhood interpersonal trauma in depersonalization disorder. American
Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 158, pp. 1027-1033.
Straus, M.A., & Field, C.J. (2003). Psychological aggression by American
parents: National data on prevalence, chronicity, and severity. Journal
of Marriage & Family, Vol. 65, pp. 795-808.
Shure, M.B. (2005). Thinking Parent, thinking child. New York: McGraw-Hill.