is shouting the new spanking?


This morning in the NY Times, an article by Hilary Stout on the new parenting taboo: yelling at your kids. Sure, we all know better than to hit our kids. But how many of us mothers yell at them? Often? And might that not be nearly as bad?

I was interviewed for this article, after the reporter read my own confessions of having Lost It right here on this blog: after one particularly yell-y Martin Luther King Day weekend, and again last spring, when I attempted to give up yelling at my kids for Lent. I yelled less. I cannot say that I yelled none, and I hope the good Lord forgave me those few transgressions.

I am a yeller. Rare is the morning that I can get my three kids and me out the door by 8:00 a.m. without yelling at one of them, for having ignored me the first eighteen times I told him to put his shoes on. Or something like that. It feels great in the moment. Effective? Kind of. Especially after you’ve asked nicely eighteen times. But then I look at the clock, and think, oh great, I only made it until 7:21 today, and give myself another demerit on my internal mommy report card.

What I have found to be most useful (and acceptable) is to, when necessary, raise my voice WITHOUT anger. Like I’m talking to a cartoon granny with one of those old-fashioned ear horns. After saying “What do you want for breakfast, Seamus?” six or seven times without getting a reply, I might say very loudly, “SEAMUS, WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR BREAKFAST?” If I do it without blame or anger, just volume, he looks up and calmly says “Mighty Bites” and we can all move on. (That’s when things are hectic and I don’t have time to keep being ignored, or to spend the next fifteen minutes continuing to ask the same question in modulated tones.)

Anyway, it’s an interesting article, and raises some pertinent issues: what other disciplinary techniques do we have? Should we be troubled by our own yelling? Are there costs to our children for it?

There’s only one expert opinion that made me roll my eyes: according to Dr. Ronald P. Rohner, director of the Ronald and Nancy Rohner Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut, yelling “is a risk factor for families.” A risk for what, Dr. Rohner does not say, but I am fairly certain that the MALE Dr. Rohner never stayed home with three children under five. And so I would like to conclude by quoting me, Amy Wilson, director of the Amy Wilson Center for the Study of Whiny Children and Overtaxed Mothering at the University of My Apartment:

Do the best you can. If you yell at your kids, tell them you’re sorry and give them a hug. Then, try to do the best you can.

(photo taken from NYT article: Jamie Grill, Getty Images)