Ep 43: How to Stop Yelling at Kids

Bonnie Harris, the bestselling author of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids, reveals why your kids make you so mad sometimes. In this episode, she breaks down her incredible system to stop yelling at kids and start connecting with them instead.

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Full show notes

It’s a normal Saturday night in your house, and you and your teenager are getting along just fine. All of a sudden, they ask if they can go to a party, and seem very insistent You don’t know who’s going to be there, where the party will be, or what people will be doing. Naturally, you say no. Frustrated by this and emotional, your teenager retaliates, knowing just what to say to push your buttons. You get mad and yell, and both of you leave the conversation feeling worse than when you started.

This cycle is hard to break. It’s not easy to figure out how to stop yelling at kids. As a parent, you want to protect your child and make sure they stay on the right path, and sometimes it feels like there’s no other way to ensure their well being other than to yell at them! On the other hand, your teenager wants freedom, and when you won’t yield to their demands they know just how to frustrate you. Even though they know that their tactics will only lead to more fighting, they antagonize you anyway.

Fortunately, our guest today has some answers for you. She’s here to help you learn how to stop yelling at kids and implement more positive solutions. Her name is Bonnie Harris, and she’s the author of When Kids Push your Buttons and What You Can Do About It. On top of being a mother herself, Bonnie has given talks all over the world and is constantly running workshops for parents. These workshops focus on how to become better at diffusing tension between you and your teen and how to stop yelling at kids.

It was in one of these workshops that Bonnie began to notice this destructive cycle of yelling among her clients. She realized that this was a very common problem among teenagers and parents, and started to look at her interactions with her own teenager to try and figure out how to stop yelling at kids.

Teenage Emotions

After examining her teenager’s behavior during arguments, she noticed that her kid was not only miserable by the end of a dispute, but often seemed to go in already feeling upset. Bonnie clarifies that this is because they’re feeling other emotions that they don’t know how to process, which they then channel into this argumentative behavior.

It’s like an iceberg, Bonnie explains. When we see an iceberg above water, we only see about 10%. The other 90% lies under the water, invisible from the surface. The angry words that you hear from your child are just what you see. The rest is below, not expressed.

If you want to know how to stop yelling at kids, you must explore their unexpressed feelings. These often include loneliness, jealousy, or sadness, and this button pushing occurs as a result of these feelings emerging without control. If something about your behavior triggers them, then they are likely to take these emotions out on you. For example, they may blow up when they can’t attend a party because they have been feeling lonely or isolated at school and they feel that this party is going to help them fit in. They’re not just trying to piss you off. They’re trying to solve their own problems, but they don’t know how.

You’re not going to know how to stop yelling at kids if you don’t find out what’s really going on with your teenager. You’ll simply make assumptions and judgements that are not productive. Bonnie explains that when our teenagers piss us off, we assume it’s because they want to make us mad, want to disrespect us, want to ruin our days. We assume that they are making us angry for the sake of making us angry. Then we fall into a cycle of yelling and retaliation when really, you and your child are on the same team. If we put these assumptions aside, we can see that our teens are just trying to blow off steam, but are using an unhealthy outlet.

To figure out how to stop yelling at kids and create a deeper connection between you and your teen (instead of a greater divide), ask them about their behavior. When it comes to a party you know nothing about, ask them why they want to go to this party so badly. Instead of saying no outright, or allowing the discussion to escalate, listen closely and pay attention. Making an effort to actually learn what’s going on with your teenager is the best method for how to stop yelling at kids. If you learn the true root of their behavior, you’ll actually be able to help them feel better instead of hurting them and perpetuating a destructive yelling habit.

Different Agendas

Part of the problem is not that your teenager is out to aggravate you, but instead that you and your teenager have different agendas. When you’re trying to get to work on time and need them to get in the car, they’re trying to make sure their mascara looks just right so they can impress a boy at school. While it may seem like your agenda is much more important, their agenda is important to them too, and that’s something you may need to learn if you want to know how to stop yelling at kids.

In order to help you both meet your agendas, Bonnie stresses the importance of collaborative problem solving. This means applying empathy, understanding, and effective communication to reach an agreement with your teen. Instead of punishment, blames, and threats, which have been heavily researched and found to be ineffective, take the time to listen and work through the issue calmly and fairly.

In the ‘party’ situation, work out a time that your teenager needs to be home. Figure out who they are going to be with, what they’ll be doing, and for how long. Have a calm, receptive conversation with your teenager to understand why they’re behaving as they are and how you can both agree on a solution to your conflict. If you’re wondering how to stop yelling at kids, the true remedy is communication.

Identifying Changing your Perceptions

One solution for how to stop yelling at kids may be changing your perception—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You or your teen may be holding onto preconceived notions that are both causing you to inadvertently experience confusion and pain that’s just not necessary.

For example, Bonnie shares the story of a woman who attended one of her workshops who would constantly get into arguments with her daughter. After these long arguments, her daughter would always be very upset, and call herself “stupid.” The mother was really struggling with this recurring problem, as she believed her daughter to be anything but stupid. Why would her daughter say this when her mother had never once asserted that she had lower intelligence? Bonnie suggested that the mother ask her daughter about what “stupid” means.

It turns out, her daughter thought “stupid” is what you are when someone is mad at you. By examining and challenging this perception, the mother figured out how to stop yelling at kids and help her daughter understand the true meaning of the word. The daughter realized that her mother actually considered her to be very smart, and the two were able to make progress in their relationship.

You also may have perceptions about how you should be treated by your children, perceptions could be holding you back from developing healthy communication with them. If you believe that your status as a parent means that you are always right, you are restricting your own ability to partake in collaborative problem solving. You are adopting a mindset that inhibits you from reaching peaceful agreements with your children.

However, if you can perceive your child as an independent individual with valid goals and desires, you’ll be able to reach them far better. Understanding and valuing their input during a conflict is a much more effective approach than perceiving yourself as the only person with a voice in the discussion.

How to learn more

By challenging our perceptions and making the time and effort for good communication, we can learn how to stop yelling at kids and repair our relationships with our teenagers. We need to view our teenagers as adults and commit ourselves to understanding their motivations, fears, and desires, instead of simply using punitive efforts.

Bonnie shares many more great ideas and parenting techniques in the episode! Her years of experience working with parents and teenagers are so helpful when it comes to providing useful advice on how to stop yelling at teens. We cover:
  • Exercises you can do to help you stop yelling
  • Why kids lie to get what they want
  • The importance of teaching your kid problem solving skills
  • How we can start developing positive communication by the age of 2
Thanks for listening!

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Ep 43: How to Stop Yelling at Kids
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