3 reasons it’s so hard to stop yelling
Every single day, I speak to parents who want to stop yelling. They understand that it’s impacting their child negatively. The know that it’s affecting their child’s development and their relationship with them. They want better for their child, and they want to cultivate a healthy, positive, close relationship with them.
And so they make grand statements and promises and vows to never yell again. To do better tomorrow. They imagine they’ll wake up with renewed resolve and simply quit yelling. Just like that.
And many of them do stop yelling as a result of these promises – at least for a little while. They use all the strategies they’ve been taught. They take deep breaths. They use their mantras and affirmations. They complete mindfulness exercises. They practice responding with empathy.
They try, and they try, and they try, to be the parent they want to be. But inevitably, something happens. And then something else. And something else. They try to hold it all in. They try to be patient and calm. But finally, one last thing happens. They feel the rage rising until their head feels like it may just explode. And they lose it.
That’s when the guilt sets in.
The blame and the self criticism. The shame. They feel like they’ve failed. They believe they should’ve tried harder. They berate themselves for their lack of self control. And they question themselves as a parent.
But it’s not about self control. There’s a reason I’ve seen this pattern so many times. There’s a reason it’s so difficult to stop yelling. A few actually. And none of those reasons is related to how much self control you have, how good a parent you are, how your child behaves, or how hard you are trying.
Here are 3 (real) reasons it is so hard to stop yelling at your kids:
1. You’re too stressed
Stress puts your system out of balance. Your brain’s job is to manage that stress and bring your system back into balance. And that’s a task that requires a lot of energy and effort. The more stressed you are, the more energy the brain uses trying to deal with that stress. If the stress keeps building, eventually there is no energy left for anything else.
And then the brain panics. It assumes you are in life threatening danger, and it goes into protection mode.
The prefrontal cortex shuts down. The limbic system takes control. And do you know what the limbic system doesn’t do well? Think.
The limbic system doesn’t plan, organise, reason, problem solve, make decisions, inhibit impulses, or consider the consequences of its actions. It just acts instinctively. That’s its job.
But do you know what you need to stop yourself from yelling? To have self control? Yep, you guessed it. You need to be able to plan, organise, reason, problem solve, make decisions, inhibit impulses and consider the consequences of your actions.
Which means you literally cannot demonstrate self control when you are over stressed. You no longer have control. And you cannot access the strategies you learned to help with your yelling. You can only act instinctively when you are stressed.
And so you do.
2. You have unhealed attachment wounds
Many parents believe that their yelling is caused by a situation or event. They felt frustrated because their child didn’t listen the first time. They were angry because their child hit their sister. They felt disrespected by their tweens rude tone. And so they yelled. But what happened and how it made us feel is only part of the story.
Because when we yell at our kids, we are very rarely responding to the child in front of us. Instead, we are responding to the child inside of us. These situations with our children transport us from the present back to the past. They bring up memories of experiences we had when we were children ourselves.
Sometimes, those memories are not even explicit. We cannot recall them, but our brain and our body remembers them nonetheless. These situations with our children trigger us. They cause us to feel now, the way we did then. We experience the same emotions, the same physical sensations, and the same thoughts, we did when we were small.
Our body remembers that when we were small and we felt like this, our needs were not met. No one heard us. No one validated us. No one comforted us. No one saw us. These are our attachment wounds. These attachment wounds shaped the way we viewed ourselves, the way we viewed others and the way we viewed our world. Our attachment wounds shaped our beliefs about, well…everything.
So if we don’t heal them, we bring those beliefs into parenting with us. Those attachment wounds dictate how we assign meaning to situations. How we interpret them, how we feel about them, and how we react to them. They trigger our insecurities and doubts about our own worth and value and they cause us to make assumptions about the intentions and motives of others too.
These attachment wounds caused us to react in certain ways then. And those same unhealed attachment wounds cause us to react in certain ways now, too.
3. Your brain is trying to keep you safe (and it does a brilliant job!)
Your brain’s most important job is to keep you safe and regulated. To ensure your stress levels remain manageable, to keep your system in balance, and to ensure you always have enough energy and resources available to deal with any danger that may arise. Your brain is always working away in the background, trying to keep you safe.
One way it does this is by constantly scanning the environment for signs of danger. In fact, your brain looks for cues of danger multiple times per second. Yep, that’s how dedicated your brain is to keeping you safe. And when it comes to deciding whether or not a person is safe, your brain will look for changes in tone of voice, facial expression, posture, and movement.
Which means, when your child is having a meltdown, they are going to be sending lots of cues to your brain that scream, “Danger, Danger!”. They might be yelling (unsafe tone), frowning or grimacing (unsafe facial expression), flailing their arms around or clenching their hands into fists (unsafe posture) or pacing, kicking, running, or jumping around (unsafe movement).
So of course your brain interprets this as unsafe. When your child is having a meltdown, they are the threat.
And what does your brain do when it senses a threat? It activates your fight or flight response. Yelling? It’s the fight response.
Your brain is trying to keep you safe.
So does this mean I’ll never be able to stop yelling?
Well yeah. And also no.
I mean, can I guarantee you’ll never yell again? Nope. You’re a human after all – with emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and past experiences. You bring these past experiences to parenting. And your children will trigger you. Sometimes you’ll yell.
But can you yell less? Absolutely. Can you learn to respond more than you react? Yes. Can you cultivate a more positive relationship with your child? Definitely.
But first, you need to let go of your unrealistic expectations. There are very real reasons you’re finding it hard to stop yelling. And none of them have to do with your worth as a human or your ability as a parent. In fact, putting pressure on yourself to NEVER yell, is only causing more stress, and making it even less likely that you’ll meet your goal. You don’t need more stress! What you need is less stress, and more safety and connection.
You’re not failing. And you’re certainly not alone.
Want to know more about how to reduce your stress, create safety and connection and heal your attachment wounds? That’s exactly what we do inside of my mindful parenting membership, The Mindful Little Mama. Doors only open a few times per year, so get yourself on the waitlist ASAP to be the first to know when we welcome new members again.