Probably most, or all, parents have yelled at one of her children during a heated discussion. Many parents remember how it felt when they were a child, and their parent yelled at them, and they would prefer to minimize any potential damage to their own child. Yelling at children can inflict physiological damage with potential long-term consequences.
When parents yell at their children, this causes their children’s brains to become wired differently from those of children in healthy families, according to Martin Teicher, who is an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Teicher was interviewed by William J. Cromie of the Harvard University Gazette, in the article entitled, "Childhood abuse hurts the brain." Harvard research indicates that when parents yell at or belittle their children that this can alter brain structure in ways that resemble damage similar to children who suffered physical or sexual abuse. Additionally, in abused children, the collection of nerve cells that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain is smaller. In abused children, this adversely affects areas of the brain concerned with emotion and attention. These changes can lead to adult anxiety, depression and personality disorder, risk of suicide and brain activity similar to that of epilepsy, according to Teicher.
Fear and Distrust
Children who are yelled at are generally afraid of their parents. This creates distrust and a fight-or-flight response in the child, according to Dr. Laura Markham, who is a child psychologist. Instead of the child wanting to cooperate to please the parent, the child might not obey because of fear. Some children will resist this yelling, and they may shut down emotionally. As a result, the parent may become angrier. The parent may yell more, and might resort to physical punishment or to other forms of punishment.
After a while, yelling gets old. Children whose parents yell at them regularly learn to tune out this yelling, and to start looking for support in other people – often, from their peers. This can result in negative influences instead of a healthy relationship between parent and the child that supports the child as he grows. The child feels he needs to defend himself, and one way to do that is when seeks validation outside of the family, according to Markham.
Alternatives to Yelling
Specific concrete ways exist for parents to learn how to stop yelling at their kids. Setting limits before you get upset can help prevent some frustration. For example, if your child is playing the music too loudly, ask him to turn it off or to turn down the volume or right away, instead of waiting until you feel angry, according to Markham. There are some action steps a parent can take to stop yelling. Make a list of ways you can handle anger responsibly -- and use these steps. If you feel inclined to yell, and then stop to notice how you feel. Take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that this situation is not an emergency. Lower your voice and ask your child what he wants. Listen quietly to what he is saying. Then, take a few minutes to reflect by yourself.