Do You Have to Yell to Get Your Kids to Listen?

I had a client ask me one day, “Dr. Paul, why do my kids wait until the twelfth time I’ve asked them and I’m upset and angry before they’ll do something?”  The answer was the kids have trained dad to yell before they respond AND dad has trained the kids to ignore him until the twelfth time he asks and resorts to yelling. Notice, it goes both directions. This is important as we manage the dynamic of how to encourage our kids to listen to us without yelling.

From a behavioral psychology standpoint, yelling is a trap because it is not a punishment, it is a reinforcer. Understand the difference between a reinforcer and a punishment. A punishment decreases a behavior, a reinforcer increases the behavior. Yelling is a reinforcer, not a punishment.

Kids ALWAYS have choices. They choose to cooperate or not. Focus your attention on what is within your control. I advised the yelling dad to move the real consequences up in the sequence. The challenge is to get kids to follow the calm, cool, collected voice, not the yelling, out of control dad. Every interaction with our kids invite them to think or fight. We want them to think. Sometimes they want to fight so they train us to yell at them and our interaction turns into a verbal fight. Kids are not being malicious, they just want our attention, they want us to interact with them, even if we are upset. This is why it is so important to use a melodious tone of voice and calm manner when giving kids instructions.

First, we need to be in control of our own emotions. At the beginning of every flight, the crew explains that in the case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop. Then this special instruction is given. If you are flying with a young child, be sure to put your own oxygen mask on first, then help your child strap on their mask. Is it because the adult is more important than the child? No, it is because we can’t help someone else if we don’t have our act together. How much help would we be to a child if we were unconscious? We need to be sure our emotions are in control so we can talk to our child in a calm manner.

Once you have control, try this strategy. Give kids two choices and make sure you are o.k. with either option. For an older child it could be something like, “You can clean your room yourself or hire someone else to do it.” With a younger child, “You can come with me on your own feet or you can come on my feet.” Don’t forget to say it when you are in control and your voice is pleasant, your body manner is non-threatening and you have a smile on your face.

If they try to add a third option, calmly state their options again. If they don’t take either option, you get to give them the consequence. In the case of the young child, you get to pick them up and carry them with you. Don’t argue the point and don’t state the options over and over. Carry out the consequence in a calm manner and then when you give options again, they will learn that they need to respond quickly or the consequence will happen.

The yelling dad was able to turn his words from garbage to gold and so can you. Watch the YouTube episode here

“If you're yelling you're the one who's lost control of the conversation.”

~Taylor Swift