Behavior Management 101: Why Yelling doesn't Work

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If you have a child with ADHD or related special needs I can guarantee that at some point during your parenting you have felt so frustrated that you wanted to yell at your child.   Perhaps you have done so.   Don't worry I am not here to judge.   I have been in the same boat.   Behaviors such as not listening, non-compliance, and open defiance can send the most patient of parents over the proverbial edge.   But the fact is that yelling is not an effective behavior management strategy and quite often backfires.   I will explain why and then give you some strategies which do work to increase the odds that your child will listen to you.

Hypothetical Parenting Situation:

Little Joey is throwing a ball inside the house.   Mom yells, "Stop throwing that ball in the house"   Joey keeps throwing the ball against the living room wall.   Mom yells again but louder, "Didn't you hear me?   I said stop throwing that ball!"   Joey keeps throwing the ball and it breaks a lamp.   Mom is exasperated and "Now see what you have done?   Why don't you listen to me when I am talking to you?"

The problem is mom was never talking, she was yelling.   And with each time she gave Joey a directive she became louder.   Joey understood that mom was all "bark and no bite."   He knew that the only thing that would happen would be that his mother would just get louder.   So Joey has learned to tune out his mother.   By yelling all the time she was inadvertently teaching Joey to ignore her. He became desensitized to it because she did it so often.   I am sure that is not what she was meaning to do but this is what happens nonetheless.

The other danger in using yelling as your primary mode of discipline is that when there really is a dangerous circumstance your child may ignore you.   Use a loud tone of voice for when it really counts as in "Watch out for the car coming!" or "FIRE!"   If everything is an emergency then your child won't know when something is really serious or life threatening.

Another way that yelling backfires for parents is that the child learns to yell back.   Pretty soon you have a shouting match going on and nobody is listening to one another.   The true meaning of discipline is to teach.   What does yelling teach?   To ignore you or to yell back.   Not very effective is it?

So let's rewind our hypothetical parenting situation with Joey.

An Alternative to Yelling:

Joey throws his ball against the living room wall.   Mom walks over to Joey and tells him, "You can throw the ball but not inside.   You can go outside to throw the ball.   If you throw the ball in the house I will have to give the ball a time out."   Joey decides to test mom's resolve and throws the ball again at the wall.   Mom doesn't say a word but catches the ball and takes it away.

Now every situation has different dynamics and I am not trying to say that this technique will work for every circumstance or child.   But it does offer much better odds at changing behavior than yelling does.

Here is the alternative in slow motion:

1. Your child misbehaves.

2. You tell your child what behavior you do expect and a consequence for continuing to misbehave. So in essence you are telling them a positive action to take to replace the behavior you don't want. You are also giving them a warning and a clear idea of what will happen if they do it again.

3. Your child repeats the behavior you don't want to see.

4. You follow through with the stated consequence and no words are necessary.

The more you yell or even plead with your child, the more your child will ignore you.   Words do not matter as much as action when it comes to changing behavior.   If you follow through with a consequence your child will respect that when you say something the first time, you mean it.   And you won't have to yell.

Parenting, in my opinion, is the hardest job in the world.   Despite all the "expert" opinions in the world, remember that you are your child's best teacher and advocate.   You know your child best.   Always do what is best for you and your child.