I know. We have all been there. The building up of frustration. We are late to work, school or events. It is bedtime and your precious child is thirsty, or needs to use the bathroom AGAIN. Monsters under the bed, or they just want to tell you for the 100th time all about their day. It doesn't matter the reason, all parents have been there. And most are still in the routine of yelling. ALL THE TIME.
I hear a lot of parents justifying their yelling as "the only way my kids listen to me", or " They make me yell", or even the classic "they need to know who the boss is".
For me, it was the way I was raised. It was my stress level that I was not yet managing the way I could. It was my dissatisfaction with my life, the constant rushing and lack of personal satisfaction. And on top of it, I had NO IDEA HOW TO STOP YELLING!
Until I started to learn about my own triggers and lack of emotional control, and what chronic, toxic high stress does to your brain and body, specially in children and teens.
Do you know that yelling affects the same area of the brain as being in danger, under threat?
Simply putting, being yelled at increases the activity of the amygdala, a part of the brain that monitors signs of danger and threat. Our fight , flight and freeze response. Studies show that an overactive amygdala - in constant, toxic stress - plays a significant role in developing depression later on in life.
Not only that, exposure to frequent yelling (or any sign of threat and danger) in childhood can cause us to interpret ourselves and the world negatively. The region in our brain that functions as a monitoring area (the amygdala) plays the role of observing the environment and detecting situations of risk, getting activated every time it recognizes a threat.
An environment with yelling, threats, blame, shame and/or contempt automatically puts our brain on high alert, increasing the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Overtime, that constant cortisol induced by chronic/toxic stress, can affect many functions and behaviors, such as: decreased in learning and attention, increased anxiety and aggression, as well as difficulty in socialization and focus.
In reality, yelling says more about our lack of emotional education and understanding of child behavior than about what our children are doing. When adults are faced with stress, lack of proper sleep, among many different causes of nervous system dysregulation (childhood trauma, adverse experiences etc.), the fight/flight/freeze response can get triggered easily, resulting in reactions such as yelling, corporal punishment, threatening, bribing, just to name a few.
According to multiple studies, including one titled "Harsh Verbal Discipline' and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptom" (see study here), yelling not only affects "poor school achievements, behavioral problems...and delinquent behaviors", but has a similar effect on children as physical punishment, even changing the way a child's brain develops (read full study here).
In order to help our children develop their abilities and appropriate emotional intelligence, yelling, threats, and contempt should be the exception in your family, not the rule in parenting.
Easier said than done. I know. As we start to understand brain science, we learn that when in Danger Response (fight/flight/freeze/collapse) our "thinking brain" gets offline - and we lose the ability to learn, control emotions, focus and creative problem solving. In reality, when using punishments, hitting and yelling, parents are creating an environment opposite to learning: survival kicks in and executive skills get disconnected.
The sense of unsafety blocks our ability to feel, think and learn. And when this environment becomes the norm, children tend to become hypervigilant, anxious, lacking focus and concentration. Depending on how high the stress is and how frequent this state is, dissociation/depression/disconnection can become the next response, also manifesting as lack of motivation, inattention.
In addition to that, children also learn by mimicking behaviors: Mirror Neurons, simply put, are activated both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else performing the same action, creating a neural mirroring effect (hence the name), allowing us to mentally simulate the experiences, emotions, and intentions of others: capacity for imitation, social learning, and empathic responses.
"Children have a hard time learning to regulate their own emotions if their parents don't show them how," says Laura Markham, Ph.D., and clinical psychologist. According to Dr. Markham, parents with a tendency to constant yelling end up teaching their children to respond the same way when facing frustrating situations of their own. Anger begets anger, yellers raise yellers.
That is the main reason why we, adults, need to be intentional on how to model our behaviors and connect with our kids. Especially when under emotional distress (anger, sadness, fear etc.). And it is through our internal work that we can create a healthy family environment for our children and future generations.
The work starts with us, the adults. And this is even more important if your children are already entering, or already are in, adolescence.
The best part of all this knowledge, brain science discoveries and neurobiology of trauma, is that THERE IS HOPE.
My personal transformation had a direct impact on my relationship with my daughter. I had to start working on myself. I am not a perfect parent. She is not a perfect teen. Nope. But we are a team now. I am mindful of my own internal landscape. My own emotional experience. At least most of the time. And I see her, who she is, her needs. I listen to her more often. I feel more present in our lives. I try to fix her "problems” less, and be present and silent (sooooo challenging to me and yet so liberating!!) more.
And I became fascinated by tweens and teens. I discovered that, in my path to helping our relationship and supporting her, I was healing and becoming a better version of me.
You have that power too. To be the parent your children deserve today, and the role models they will become for their own children and future generations.
The impact we have in future generations is one of the coolest benefits of all this new step in my parenting mindset - and one big motivation for my new career as a Parent Coach.
Stopping with the constant yelling is now one step closer to you as it was before you read this article. So, what is blocking you from becoming the parent you want to be?
Flavia Nazareth - is a mom of a teen, an art therapy Practitioner, Jai Certified Parent Coach and trauma-informed coach for teens and adults. She is the founder and owner of Little Blank Canvas Art Studio and MAP - Mindful Art Practices/Mindful Art of Parenting.
Flavia lives with her husband, daughter and her adorable dog Sparky in North Carolina. When she is not at the Art Studio or working at MAP, she is traveling, reading, or hanging out with her daughter Olivia.