Does Yelling at a Kid Cause Behavior Problems?

Most people who would never think to yell at an adult with whom they are angry often lose that same restraint when angered by a kid. While some might view yelling at a child as a harmless way to gain control over his behavior, it can lead to future behavior problems.

Psychological Aggression

According to a study conducted by Murray A. Straus and Carolyn J. Field from the University of New Hampshire, yelling for the purpose of correcting or controlling another’s behavior is a form of psychological aggression 1. Shouting at a child to deflect him from a dangerous situation may sometimes be necessary, but behavioral experts warn that screaming at a child to punish him for a wrongdoing or to coerce him into complying with a request is an ineffective and potentially harmful parenting strategy. The frequency, tone and content of the yelling behavior all impact the severity of the psychological aggression. Persistent yelling that includes cursing, name-calling and demeaning comments toward a child is considered severe psychological aggression. Regardless of severity, all levels of psychological aggression have been associated with increased rates of delinquency and psychological problems in kids.


Despite not being physically harmful, shouting is a form of aggression. When parents yell at a child, they are essentially modeling aggressive behavior. It should therefore come as no surprise that a kid who is frequently yelled at by his parents is more likely to develop patterns of aggression in response to his own frustrations. Parents can set a more positive example for their child by choosing more constructive ways than shouting to handle frustrations. Rather than yell, for instance, a parent can calmly criticize a child’s misbehavior (being careful to avoid criticizing the child himself) and suggest a more acceptable, alternative behavior. A kid who sees his parents responding to his misbehavior in a calm, nonaggressive manner is more likely to respond to his own frustrations in the same way.

Psychological Problems

A child who is frequently yelled at by his parents is more likely to become angry and frustrated. Yelling at a kid also increases his chances of developing psychological problems like low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, all of which can lead to higher rates of delinquency. Some studies conclude that reducing parental use of psychological aggression like yelling can have a significant impact on preventing mental illness as well.


Yelling is generally an ineffective parenting skill. Besides being potentially harmful to a child’s psychological and emotional development, yelling does not teach a kid anything productive. Even if it does produce the desired behavior from him, a child’s response will be more motivated by fear than by a true understanding of what the right thing to do is. Much like most adults do with each other, a kid quickly learns to tune out when a parent starts screaming at him.