When we raise our voices, we put our children’s nervous systems on high alert. Naturally. Automatically. We are big and powerful, and they are not.
When frazzled, do you resort to shouting?
Research into abusive anger—the kind that stings and lingers and leaves the other person feeling stunned—shows that it takes up to a year to recover. A year—for each incident!
If we stack angry outbursts on top of one another, some kids live in a perpetual state of recovery from anger.
It can be hard to tell when we cross the line into harmful anger. I know for me, it helped when I would start to go down that path and then instead of yelling AT them, I’d yell TO them “Oh no! I’m freaking out over all the shoes in the hallway! I feel like yelling!”
After someone yells, sometimes they feel so much better in the moment that they can hardly remember the content of what they yelled or that they yelled at all. You remind them of the hurtful things they shouted and you get responses like:
- I didn’t say that.
- You know what I meant.
- You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
- I wasn’t yelling.
Sometimes the yeller will feel badly and they try to quickly reset the relationship by apologizing or explaining. They might say:
- I’m sorry I got mad.
- I was just stressed. Sorry I took it out on you.
- I didn’t mean it.
- Hey, it’s over now. Everything’s okay!
- I promise I won’t yell again.
What to do instead.
Honor the child’s interpretation of what they experienced.
Resist trying to “get back to normal” as soon as possible. It can be hard to witness a loved one’s distress but remember, the yeller literally can’t feel as badly as the one yelled at.
Also, the yeller should not expect understanding for having yelled. Don’t seek comfort from the victim!
Apologies alone don’t work. Sitting with the person who was harmed is the place to start.
- Tell me as much about how it felt to be you when I yelled, as long as you need to.
- I can’t promise I won’t yell again. I do empower you to walk out of the room and refuse to listen when I do.
- You didn’t deserve that. I’m going to get help for my anger.
Shouting about LEGO you stepped on or an occasional exasperated outburst can usually be repaired swiftly with an apology. Sustained attacks, routine outbursts, name-calling…nope.
Love to all my yellers and yellees. This is a hard share.