Why Yelling May Be More Detrimental To Kids Than You Think

Dr. Joseph Shrand, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of “Outsmarting Anger: 7 Steps for Defusing our Most Dangerous Emotion,” suggests that people yell primarily as a response to anger. He emphasizes that feeling anger is a normal human emotion, but what truly matters is how we manage and express that anger.

However, not all efforts to modify behavior are equally effective, and recognizing the counterproductive nature of yelling can motivate parents to seek better alternatives.


Now, let’s delve into the reasons why yelling at our children can be detrimental and explore what we can do differently:

  1. Kids Can’t Learn in “Fight-or-Flight Mode”: Yelling is essentially an outlet for anger and is not an effective tool for behavior change, as highlighted by Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting.” When a child is yelled at, they often enter a “fight-or-flight” mode, where their brain prioritizes self-defense over learning. In such a state, our kids are unable to process the lessons we’re trying to teach.
  1. Yelling Can Make Children Feel Devalued: Dr. Shrand points out that a universal human desire is to feel valued, and being yelled at can profoundly undermine this sense of worth. Yelling portrays children as adversaries rather than cherished individuals. This adversarial approach is detrimental to the parent-child relationship and a child’s self-esteem.
  1. Yelling Can Fuel Anxiety, Depression, and Lower Self-Esteem: Numerous studies have demonstrated the link between yelling and negative psychological outcomes in children. Dr. Markham emphasizes that children absorb anxiety from their parents, and being yelled at only exacerbates their anxieties.
  1. Yelling Can Interfere with Bonding: Yelling creates a rift in the parent-child connection, leaving both parties feeling disconnected and defensive. Children perceive yelling as a threat, and instead of fostering empathy, it engenders defiance and a sense of being at odds with their parents.
  1. Long-Term Yelling Can Have Negative Impacts on Children: Multiple studies have documented the harm caused by long-term patterns of yelling. It is associated with poor academic performance, behavioral problems, and delinquency.
  1. Yelling is Not Effective Communication: Parents who habitually yell inadvertently teach their children to respond with similar reactions when faced with frustration. Dr. Shrand explains that yelling activates “mirror neurons” in children, causing them to mimic the behavior. It perpetuates a cycle of anger and aggression.

So, what can we do instead of yelling to manage our anger and foster healthier communication with our children?

First, acknowledge your anger and seeking professional help if necessary. Identifying triggers and patterns is crucial, especially if you come from an environment where yelling was prevalent or if you’ve experienced emotional or physical abuse.

Next, employ techniques to calm yourself in the heat of the moment. These include deep breathing, counting backward, physical activity like, and positive self-talk. Once you’ve regained your composure, address the situation calmly and mindfully. Dr. Markham suggests phrases like “Let’s try a do-over” to reset the interaction.

Breaking the habit of yelling takes time and practice, but it’s easier when you’ve built a strong connection with your child. That’s what we prioritize at A Dad’s Path! 

Want to take the next step to being a better dad? Sign up for our 30 day No-Anger Challenge and get equipped with resources and strategies to become a more patient parent.