The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth about Yelling at Your Kids

Yelling Mom
Pixabay Image

I promise to tell you the truth about yelling at your kids. But first, in the spirit of going back to school, let’s all take a quick quiz:

  1. Do you yell at your kids?
  2. How often do you yell at your kids?
  3. How do you feel when you yell at your kids?
  4. Have you tried to stop yelling at  your kids?

Here are my answers:

  1. Heck yeah.
  2. Like, a BILLION times a day when they were little. Now that they’re older, I’ve cut back to a BILLION times a week.
  3. Depending on the moment: like a MOM BOSS, like the Hulk, like Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde (I never can remember which one was the bad guy), like the WORST mom on the planet.
  4. See #1 above. And #2. I have gotten better with time, see?

The Good

Have you noticed that yelling totally works? Seriously, the minute I start yelling, my kids DO stuff. They brush their teeth, they find their shoes, they sit down at the dinner table, they take out the recycling. It’s awesome and, I like to think, it makes us downright functional as a family. By this I mean, my children get fed, clothed, schooled, and have managed to avoid tooth decay so far.  Also, we are champion recyclers.

Cruise Ship
Pixabay Image

My voice, at top volume, is what keeps our little family vessel charging forward through the chaotic seas of dinnertime, school, soccer, piano lessons, and social obligations.



The Bad

My raised voice (and, I’ll be honest, my husband’s voice too) are the only things that keep this boat afloat. My kids, I have come to realize, are just along for the ride here. My parents recently took one of those “once in a lifetime” luxury cruises to Alaska, and I can’t help but think my kids are already enjoying their luxury cruise right now. If I didn’t yell at them, they could easily spend their days playing shuffleboard on the deck waiting for their tour director, me, to tell them when it’s time to eat, what’s next for their entertainment, and that they should probably put on their life preservers because DO YOU NOT SEE THAT ICEBERG?!

It’s not that they’re lazy, it’s not that they don’t have chores, or are incapable of looking out for their best interests, it’s just that they don’t think to do things for themselves. I’ve taught them to act only when they hear my voice. And not when they first hear my nice, reasonable mommy voice. Or the second time I tell them something. Or the third. No, I’ve taught them to move only when they hear me YELLING AT THEM TO DO WHAT I ASKED THEM TO DO ALREADY!

And because I like to think about economics with the girls, it’s become clear to me that I am a living example of the law of diminishing returns.

The more I yell, the less productive my girls actually are.

The Ugly

Yelling at your kids makes you ugly. I’m talking not just physically, but emotionally U-G-L-Y. You can’t see it when you’re in it, but trust me, you look like crap when you have totally lost it, and I suspect I’m not the only who feels like crap either in the moment, or later that night when trying to go to sleep.

You remember their little, pinched faces, their panicky rush to do what you want them to do. You can guess how they felt listening to you yell: scared.

And while you may have actually made it to school on time because you yelled, you ask yourself, “Did I have to yell? Is there some other way I could have gotten them to get their ever-loving-shoes on their feet? I’m hurting the people I love most in the world. What is wrong with me?”

Scared Kid
Pixabay Image

Yelling at your kids does damage them.

I was taken aback when I read a few years ago that researchers have found that the yelling at your kids can be as harmful as spanking them. The study by Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh, found that ”negative effects of verbal discipline within the two-year period of their study were comparable to the effects shown over the same period of time in other studies that focused on physical discipline.” Wang shares that “(e)ven if you are supportive of your child, if you fly off the handle it’s still bad.” While my husband and I are committed to not spanking the girls, I can’t say that we’ve ever considered the long-term effects of flying off the handle.


Isn’t the first step to a problem always recognizing that you have a problem? If you’ve read this far, you get that subjecting your kid to Mom Jekyll and Mom Hyde is not the best strategy for raising a fully functional adult. But now what?

Here are some things I’ve tried: 

Going cold turkey.

I read Duct Tape Parenting and, as Tasha describes in her blog post, I tried to “Say Nothing, Do Nothing.” Whenever I wanted to yell, I tried keeping my mouth shut instead.

The result? Not bad. When the girls didn’t stop their game to come to dinner one night after I calmly asked them to, I simply sat down and ate my dinner myself. Eventually, their empty bellies led them to the table, where they realized they had a plate of cold food to enjoy without the pleasure of my company. We’re not there yet, but recognizing that I have a choice about how I react to my kids’ behavior has definitely helped me to turn the volume down and teaches my kids that they’re part of the crew, that they have to do work in our family, that they have to listen.

Whenever I do find myself yelling, I try to practice what I call, “Mindful Yelling.”

It sounds odd, but once I decided I was yelling too much, I tried to pay attention to when exactly I was yelling. Was it first thing in the morning getting out the door? At dinner time? Bedtime? Once I realized that it was getting out the door that turned me into a screaming freakshow, I tried to figure out what my real triggers were and how to avoid them. Was it their shoes? Socks? Putting on sunblock? Negotiating the too small hallway by the door with too many people? Was I feeling put out because I hadn’t had time to eat my own breakfast? Work out? Or finish a cup of coffee?

Over time, we figured out that I had to get up earlier if I wanted to work out, that I should just plan on eating breakfast when I got to the office, and that my eldest daughter really needed extra time to get her shoes on in the morning. We put a basket of socks in the closet by the front door and put up a kid-level rack to hold their coats, so there was one less thing we had to do for them in the morning. Even the littlest things like the sock basket and the coat rack facilitate their independence and confidence in their own abilities.

Whenever I realize that I’m yelling now, or later that night in bed when guilt is keeping me up, I try to stop and think about just what it is that’s causing me to lose my cool with my kids. I try to remember that I really can’t control their behavior, but there’s bound to be something I can control that will help me avoid or minimize the frustration of living with these two somewhat inept cruise ship passengers.

When I start to yell, I try to sing instead.  

I confess, I only started singing my directions to my children when I was caught yelling at my kid in front of a friend one day. As I recall, I was intent on changing her diaper while she was intent on running around half naked to play (my daughter, not my friend). We had played this “game” five times that day already, and I was at my limit.  I snapped, “LIE DOWN, NELL!” when I caught sight of my friend’s concerned face across the room. Embarrassed, I began to sing, “Lie down, Nell. Lie down, Nell. It’s time to change your diaper! It’s time to change your diaper!” to the tune of Three Blind Mice. Amazingly, Nell giggled and held still while I snapped her up. My friend grinned at my mad mom skills and the day continued  on a little lighter note.  

These days, when we’re trying to organize the kids for bed, you’re as likely to hear me singing a la Bugs Bunny opera, “It’s time to brush your teeth!” as yelling, “IT’S TIME TO BRUSH YOUR TEETH!!” Bizarrely, my kids listen to my off-tune singing voice much more readily than my yelling, and my blood pressure and stress level are lower for it. (NOTE: This strategy may only work for you if you’re a musical theatre fan. Or you like opera. Or you’re a bit of a goofball.)

So there you have it folks: the good, the bad, and the ugly truth about yelling. I’m curious about what makes you yell at your kids? Have you figured out a way to stop or cut back? And am I the only one who sings bad opera to my kids to get them to do something? Let me know in the comments!

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Mary Beth is a Southern transplant to Vermont by way of California, where she taught middle school. These days, you can find Mary Beth still working in education with a local college and as a playwright with the Burlington-based, Complications Company. She likes to write about things that make her laugh, like how her eldest sometimes channels a 50-year-old British man when she speaks; everyday tragedies, like being the only person in the house who seems to know how to change a toilet paper roll; and things that keep her up late at night, like climate change, school shootings, pandemics, and if she remembered to pay her car registration or not. She is a co-founder of Complications Company.


  1. I hear you, Landon! Sometimes we do need to yell if our kids are in an unsafe situation that we immediately need to address. It’s the day to day yelling, I’ve tried to cut out. 😉 Thanks for reading!

  2. Thank you for your honesty, your humor and your tips on (yelling and) avoiding yelling at your kids. I am a recovering yelling mom too 🙂


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