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How yelling at your kids can cause long-term damage

In every family, emotions run high at times. Parents blow up at each other. Children act out. Even the dog might have an accident on the brand new rug at the most inopportune time.

Although feuds are normal in all types of families - whether the parents are together, separated or divorced - some behaviors do cross the boundary into foul territory. One in particular is something we almost all do from time to time: yelling at the kids.

Defining the problem

Roughly three-quarters of all parents yell at their kids at least once per month, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. As parents, it's easy to let our emotions get the best of us, especially when life is already stressful.

But what exactly is yelling, and when is it harmful?

The answer isn't all that simple. Raising your voice, by itself, isn't always bad. In fact, sometimes speaking loudly is necessary to get your kids' attention - for example, when your fearless toddler is making a beeline for a busy street. On the other hand, harmful yelling can still occur at moderate volumes. What matters it the tone and content of what's being said.

Fundamentally, yelling involves words that are attacking, belittling, bullying or insulting. It happens when we lose control and let our own frustrations, sensitivities and insecurities take over. Instead of adopting a calm, rational approach, we become "emotionally flooded" and prone to knee-jerk reactions.

The long-term consequences of chronic yelling

Occasional yelling isn't going to land your child in therapy for life. However, a pattern of yelling can cause significant harm over the long term. First and foremost, it damages your relationship with your children. They will no longer see you as a loving and trusted source of support. Instead, they may start to see you as a ticking time-bomb.

Research shows that chronic yelling can also cause children to experience depression, behavior problems, relationship deficits and an impaired ability to regulate their own emotions. In light of these consequences, it turns out that yelling is even worse than spanking, according to at least one study.

Don't develop a pattern

So how can you avoid developing a pattern of harmful yelling? Here are a few ideas:

  • Don't burden your children with unrealistic expectations. If you always expect them to be perfect, they'll always fall short.
  • Practice anger management techniques like deep breathing and calming thoughts.
  • Don't view your kids' misbehavior as a personal attack. Instead, realize that all children make mistakes, and view their slip-ups as valuable learning opportunities rather than acts of rebellion.

Finally, when you do find yourself yelling, own up and apologize. Simply saying you're sorry can go a long way toward repairing wounds and preventing further damage to your relationship.

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