There's A Right -- And Wrong -- Way To Yell At Our Kids

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Eugenio Marongiu/Getty

Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m a yeller.

I mean, I’m not an unhinged, screaming nightmare or anything, but I do my fair share of what I’d call enthusiastic shout-based communicating.

I’m just a pretty loud person in general.

I come by it honest. My mom is loud. Her sisters are yellers. My grandmother was definitely prone to shouting a command or twenty to us grand kids. I never met my great-grandmother, but I can confirm via family lore that she, too, was the yelling type. She just did it in Italian.

We are the very epitome of the Italian-American mom stereotype. All of us love/smother our kids just a little too much, and if you encounter any problem or need anything at all, well…we know a guy. Imagine My Big Fat Greek Wedding, minus the lamb, add eggplant parmigiana. That’s us.

And we yell.

It doesn’t necessarily mean we are angry! My brother-in-law once told me I have two volumes: Loud and Off. He isn’t wrong. Loud is just my default setting. No matter how I’m feeling, it’s possible a shout will escape me.

My husband is not a yeller. He’s much quieter than I am, but he loves how intensely I experience and interact with the world. When he sees me get all revved up about something, good or bad, he sometimes just pulls me in for a hug and kisses the top of my head and laughs. Not in that gross, condescending man way. He just thinks my fiery spirit is refreshing and irresistible. I love it.

Somehow, despite a lifetime of living loud, I had all these ideas that I would never shout to or at my children. I was going to be a soft-spoken, gentle mother earth type.

LOL, riiiight.

As it turns out, turning off my tendency to say pretty much all the things loudly and emphatically is not actually all that doable. I’m not convinced it’s even necessary. Instead of fighting against the yelling, I’ve just embraced it. My kids yell, too. We don’t police their volume either. They are half me. It’s bound to happen. The dog barks along. It’s just a loud house.

If I’m being totally honest, the only reason I feel even a little bit bad for yelling at my kids is because people say I ought to. I don’t actually see it affecting them in any negative way. I have lines that I never in a million years would think it’s okay to cross. I’m not mean or demeaning. I’m just…LOUD.

Once in a while, I do yell too loudly, for too long. I have moments I’m not proud of, for sure. I am not pretending to be perfect. But overdoing it is the rare exception. I always address it with my kids and apologize. Every single time.

I do my fair share of what I’d call enthusiastic shout-based communicating.

Since yelling isn’t usually a sign of anger for me, it’s not hard for me to remember what can and can’t be shouted. For me, yelling is an increase in volume. Period. It’s not an excuse to blame my emotions for a lack of self-control.

Turns out, I’m not alone! Some experts agree that the volume of the communication is not as important as the content. Communicating a message with a louder voice does not necessarily make it harsher. Saying something quietly doesn’t mean it’s automatically kind.

According to Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin and a researcher on parental discipline, if you follow these three simple rules, yelling actually isn’t that big of a deal.

1. Don’t critique your child in a loud, frustrated tone of voice.

“The first rule of yelling is to refrain from critique while doing it,” says Gershon. She encourages parents to be mindful of what they say, even if they’re yelling. It can be totally fine to shout a command across the house or express your expectation for something to be done swiftly. But you shouldn’t critique your child’s character or make judgment statements about them while you’re yelling.


Basically, you can be a little bit loud without feeling like a crap parent, but you still can’t be a jerk.

Don’t use this expert advice to excuse verbal abuse. That is never okay. Verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse. No parent has the right to devastate their child with their words any more than they have the right to physically injure their body.

2. Pay attention to how your loud voice affects your specific kid.

Or, as Gershoff says, “The second rule of yelling is to consider one’s audience.”

I’m not one of those moms who thinks intuition trumps everything, but I do think as parents, we know our kids. I know it’s hard to force yourself to speak softly if you’re a loud, demonstrative person like me. But if you have a kid who really can’t tolerate being yelled at, it’s your duty to stop yelling at them. Don’t be a monster.

In my house, I have a neurotypical kid and an autistic kid. Neither of them recoils at a shouted command, and they both shout commands at each other on the daily. Volume doesn’t happen to be a trigger for my autistic dude.

He just isn’t any more likely to comply with a louder request. Whether I ask quietly, shout, or hire a barbershop quartet to sing instructions to him, he is going to do what I ask on his own time. Yelling at him is a waste of time and my perfectly good vocal cords. It took a very short time to figure that out, and we roll with it. It’s fine with me. Expectations: adjusted. Do your thing, baby.

But he still hears, “OMG boys! We need to get in the car right now! Get your shoes on before you make us late to school!” at least twice a week because some things just can’t be said quietly around here.

3. If you want yelling to convey a more emphatic message than speaking, don’t overdo it.

“Lastly, take into consideration the frequency with which you yell,” Gershoff said. Basically, yelling loses its effectiveness if you overuse it. I believe it! According to my friends from quiet homes, it seemed to them like my mom yelled at me a lot when were growing up. When we first started dating as teenagers, my husband always thought my mom and I were arguing because our conversations were so loud. It’s so funny to me. It’s not how I remember it at all. Her loud voice was just part of who she was. It didn’t frighten or intimidate me. Yelling was just loud talking.

If you want your raised voice to invoke a more immediate response in your kids, then you have to use a soft voice most of the time. If that’s working for you, that’s awesome. It’s another way to get this parenting thing right.

Whether you’re a soft-spoken parent, a loudmouth like me, or somewhere in between, I think we are all doing okay. We have to be careful to check ourselves and apologize in the moments when the things we communicate turn toxic, whether they’re shouted or whispered. We need to be intentional about speaking love, encouragement, truth and kindness to our kids. They need and deserve our praise and affection.

But it’s okay if our houses operate on different volumes.

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