For many parents, the idea of hitting their children for discipline has gone the way of the dodo. It may have been done in the past, but just as many other societal norms evolve and change, physical discipline is on the way out. And if that’s the case, raising their voices remains one of the few options left in the arsenal of discipline and authority. However, one expert, interviewed by the parenting website Fatherly, claims that even that option should be reevaluated.
Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, highlights some of the harmful and ineffective aspects of yelling at your kids, although she acknowledges how difficult it can be to cease the practice. In stressful lives, yelling is often our most accessible tool and release.
According to Markham, yelling at children doesn’t produce positive effects due to their brains’ levels of development. Instead, yelling often produces a chemical response that is counterproductive to learning and growing. “The kid releases biochemicals that say fight, flight, or freeze. They may hit you. They may run away. Or they freeze and look like a deer in headlights. None of those are good for brain formation,” Markham says. She also points out that parents simply who yell teach their kids that screaming in rage is a legitimate or normal form of communication, much as using physical violence does, since a response can be passed down from adults to growing children.
Beyond one expert’s opinion, there have been many studies over the years looking at the effects of yelling at children. In fact, research from 2013 published in the journal Child Development found that yelling at your children — defined as “shouting, cursing, or insult-hurling” — could be just as harmful as physical punishment.
As the website Healthline summarizes the problem: “If yelling at children is not a good thing, yelling that comes with verbal putdowns and insults can be qualified as emotional abuse. It’s been shown to have long-term effects, like anxiety, low self-esteem, and increased aggression. It also makes children more susceptible to bullying, since their understanding of healthy boundaries and self-respect are skewed.”
Markham recommends humor as an alternative tool for disciplining and teaching children as they make mistakes, act out, and misbehave — as children inevitably do. “If the parent responds with a sense of humor,” says Markham, you still maintain your authority and keep them connected to you.” Other resources recommend things like giving yourself a time out to cool off, talking openly about emotions to encourage emotional intelligence across the whole family, and being firm in delivering consequences rather than focusing on the threats.
While the discipline of children is probably one the most argued-about and controversial topics in parenthood, what isn’t up for debate is that adults can make a choice about how to raise their children. Children themselves don’t have that option, so whatever method is chosen should be for their benefit.
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