At some point or another, most of us have yelled at our kids (and yes – we all know it doesn’t help!). As Steven Marche from the New York Times points out bluntly, “Yelling may be the most widespread parental stupidity around today.”
It feels awful. The guilt is real. After our anger has erupted, what comes next? How do we recover, and conduct ourselves afterward?I asked 8 parents, children’s authors and renowned, deep thinkers in the realm of parenting: after you yell at your kid and you're feeling awful, what should you do next?
I hope their responses and stories will inspire you, and bring you hope and greater self-compassion!
Nanny Robina, parenting expert and sleep coach:
I think there are some parents that may feel apologizing to their children is a show of weakness. It's actually a show of strength. If you’re having a bad day and have screamed at your children, the first thing to do is apologize.
Apologizing reminds your kids that you are human and sometimes emotions lead you to speak out in ways you’re not proud of.
Next, take yourself off for a timeout. Grab a cup of tea and take time to relax.
Talk about emotions to your children and just be honest. If you had a bad night’s sleep, explain you’re a grumpy head this morning, and you’re sorry you yelled. Address bad behaviour calmly, and explain that there are consequences.
Yelling never solves the problem, you just end up with kids that yell and are very loud! Yelling at your kids is aggressive and intimidating. You frighten your kids by yelling, and you never want your children to be afraid of you, now do you?
Samantha Kemp-Jackson, parenting writer and blogger:
Collect your thoughts.
Think about why you yelled and what's behind the frustration.
Then, when you're feeling more calm, talk to your child and apologize for losing your temper. Make them understand that while you may still be upset about what caused you to shout, reacting in that manner doesn't help the situation. Talk calmly and with a measured tone and let your child understand that you're human and make mistakes too. Including yelling.
Ann Douglas, parenting columnist and author:
I think you should actually do four things. Here’s what I suggest:
Hit the pause button. Recognize that you’re not handling the situation in a way that leaves you feeling good about your parenting and resolve to do things differently, starting right now. Instead of making things worse by continuing along this unhelpful path, do a pivot and head out in a different direction.
Calm yourself. Take a few seconds to calm yourself. Once you arrive at that place of calm, you’ll find it easier to make more conscious and deliberate choices about your parenting as opposed to merely parenting on autopilot. In terms of what can help you to get to that place of calm, it might mean taking a few slow, deep breaths. It might mean reaching out for support from another person who can offer support and encouragement, even if that support is coming from across the miles. (Hint: Text message buddies can be an amazing resource.) It could mean repeating a calming message in your head—one that encourages you to respond in a way that you can feel good about; perhaps something simple as, “Just remember to be kind.”
Calm your child. As you start to calm down, allow your calming presence to calm your child. It's contagious. In fact, it’s your parenting superpower. Once the two of you are feeling calmer, you’re ready to do some relationship repair. Let your child know that you recognize that you didn’t handle the situation very well and promise to do better next time. You’ll be teaching your child some important lessons about relationships: all of us mess up and it’s possible to do the work of getting a relationship back on track.
Forgive yourself for messing up and challenge yourself to learn from the experience. The good news is that parents don’t have to be perfect. We can learn and grow alongside our kids. We can also make an effort to figure out what’s actually triggering our stress (spoiler alert: it often has nothing to do with our kids) and we can learn how to respond differently—in ways we can actually feel good about. This is something I write about at length in my new book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, which is all about getting to a happier, healthier place alongside our kids.
Rebeka Tabobondung, founder of Muskrat Magazine, filmmaker, poet and researcher:
I rarely, if ever, scream at my kid. He’s 13 and I’ve now lost the 'cool' mom factor.
On what was supposed to be a vacation fun day with just me and him, he snatched my phone out of my hand while I was using it, complaining I was taking too long and demanding we set out in a city we both didn’t know without checking google maps.
I felt very disrespected, since I was excited about going shopping together in a new city (something we don’t often do). I felt he was ruining the day and acting spoiled. I no longer felt excited. Angrily, I said, "Don’t be such an idiot…" and felt incredibly awful afterwards and could tell he was hurt. We took a break from each other, and I apologized to him for name calling.
I never want to degrade him that way again. Next time I feel that angry, I'll take a break and keep my mouth shut, and come back when I’m in a calmer place.
I don’t think anything meaningful comes from a place of emotional blind anger. We did manage to ‘recover’ the day and we had a good time together. I think he learned some things, too.
Julie Freedman and Gail Bell, founders of Parenting Power:
At Parenting Power we recommend 4 tools for parents to use to learn from mistakes and act in a way that feels better and models more positively for our children:
Breathe. when we are reacting (vs. responding) in the moment our whole body is involved – our heart rate, our ego, etc. One immediate strategy that will help is to just BREATHE – long, slow, deep breathing.
Own It. Take responsibility. We need to admit that while we can’t control our children, we are in full control of ourselves. Nobody makes us yell.
Parent with a Plan. After we’ve ALLOWED ourselves time and space for the emotions to settle, we need to take the time to make a plan that will guide and support us as parents moving forward.
Connect as a Family. We recommend consistent times to connect as a family, or as we call them, family meetings. This is a calm time for families to work together by discussing what is going well and recognizing other areas that need to improve. It is not about punishment, but acknowledging that we will all make mistakes, excuses don’t make us feel better, and that we are all capable of change.
Holman Wang, lawyer, children's author and illustrator:
When I was child growing up in the 70s and 80s, parental anger seemed to be an effective way to manage children. At least it was in my family because I was compliant when my parents were angry! I’ll admit that when my own kids were younger, I thought I could employ anger strategically to manage behaviour. The results were not encouraging. I just wound up modelling hostile behaviour for my children, and then I would see that behaviour reflected back towards me or others.
These days, I try to be more non-reactive. However, when I do lose my cool and I’m aware that my child has not engaged in any seriously unacceptable or dangerous behaviour that warranted my reaction, I apologize. Then I explain what other frustrations might have been going on in my life (work-related, etc.) that triggered my reaction. Hopefully, we can reconcile with a hug, too! I feel bad when I have occasional outbursts, but I also don’t beat myself up over them. I don’t aspire to be the perfect parent — just a reasonably fair and thoughtful one.
Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting:
There's nothing like a good, sincere apology! Children know that they deserve to be treated well. That's why they freeze or cry when we lose our tempers with them. Their sense of justice needs to be validated by a heartfelt apology after we've crossed the line.
Just as important, though, are the steps we take to care for ourselves. We don't want to scream at our children, but when we have too little support and are under stress, we lose control. So while you're feeling terrible, find a listener. Ask them not to give you advice. Ask them to listen while you review what happened, how you feel, and what kinds of support are missing on days like this. Have a good cry, if you can. Crying, especially while supported by someone who cares about you, is an efficient way to offload the stress you're under. And it clears the way for change.
How can you ease up on yourself? On your children? By letting tidiness at home slide for a few weeks? By not folding the laundry? By getting off the PTA committee you signed up for? You may be able to think of novel ways to adjust your load after a good long sob.
Parenting is emotional work. No one talks about what it takes to do emotional work well. The trick to it is to build emotional support for yourself, so when your children are climbing the walls, you have recently had your own tantrum, your own big cry, or some hearty laughs about how crazy things get, with the support of a trusted listener. That's what helps a parent move forward, instead of being overwhelmed by the same troubles, at the same time of day, day in and day out!
Julie Cole, founder of Mabel's Labels:
I’m not really a screamer, they seem more anxious when I say nothing.
But, if I do raise my voice, once the commotion ends I usually sit them down and autopsy what happened. I explain that I don’t like to lose it, but if I do, then there have been a number of things that have lead up to it. I’m very patient, but I do expect to be listened to the FIRST time by my children.
So, after we yell, what's the best way to proceed? Amongst all these answers and personal stories, some consensus and overlap emerges of how to proceed after blowing our top:
Be kind and forgiving toward yourself. We all make mistakes.
Apologize. Most of our experts advocate for sincerely saying “I’m sorry,” and communicating in a respectful way.
Find ways to get calm and care for ourselves, so we can react in a way that is more helpful for us and the beautiful children in our lives.
Andrea Schmidt helps people who are tired of doing everything themselves to grow their business by creating great content and designing communication materials. She lives in London, Ontario where in her “spare time," she bakes bread, plays disc golf, neglects her garden, and makes endless blobs of slime with her 7-year old.