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When yelling becomes a regular feature of our parenting style it carries more downside than upside.

Aaron Cooper, Ph.D.
• November 17, 2021

It’s hard to find a parent who has never yelled. Yelling seems a kind of natural impulse, perhaps originally an evolutionary survival instinct when we’re faced with a serious threat or danger. Consider the moment when a loud shout is necessary to stop a toddler racing toward a busy street or about to overturn a pot of hot soup simmering on the stovetop. Moments like these tend to be rare. It’s when yelling becomes a regular feature of our parenting style that it carries more downside than upside. 

What is yelling, really, but a release of our own emotions, a way we discharge anger or upset or fear. Suppose we’ve told the kids repeatedly to stop their bickering but they keep at it throughout the afternoon. Our accumulated irritation might lead us to yell at them. Suppose our son, despite many corrections, keeps riding his bicycle across the newly planted lawn.  We might yell. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our yelling is less a well-thought-out strategy for shaping better behavior than an indication that we don’t know what else to do. 

The tricky thing about yelling is how it creates the illusion that we’re delivering parenting — maybe not first-class parenting but parenting nonetheless. By yelling, we assure ourselves that we’re involved, paying attention, not letting unacceptable behavior go unnoticed or unaddressed. It’s true we’re not necessarily absent at the moment we yell although we may not be paying real attention. But it’s also true that if we’re aiming for improved behavior, there are smarter strategies we could employ — more effective strategies for long-term behavior change. We just don’t know what they are, and sometimes even when we do, we may be too tired, or distracted, to make the effort. In that way, yelling can be a shortcut when we’re not prepared — or don’t have the desire — to handle the situation differently. 

The bottom line is that effective parenting is rarely easy. Flying by the seat of our pants works some of the time but not all of the time, and rarely when our kids challenge us the most. If we’ve taught ourselves an approach to effective child management, we’ll have something to turn to when we need it (see Fifty Years of Dreikurs). Something that feels better for everyone than simply yelling.  


Aaron Cooper, Ph.D.

During Dr. Cooper’s forty plus years as a psychotherapist, he has been exposed to a great many therapeutic approaches and schools of thought and has assembled his own eclectic framework. How he approaches couples counseling differs in some ways from how he approaches family and individual therapy, but all his work is informed by the belief that our emotions tell us a lot about ourselves and our relationships — and so are critically important to understand.