Yelling at children as harmful as hitting, new study finds

A new study has found that yelling at children is just as harmful as hitting them. Photo: Paul Cross

SILVER SPRING, Md, September 28, 2013 ― Spanking has become taboo in many communities, and the favored method of discipline for unruly children across the country has become the time out. However, when children, especially those troublesome toddlers in the “terrible twos” start disobeying, many parents first result to yelling to communicate their displeasure. A new study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and published in the journal Child Development finds that yelling at children may be as harmful as hitting.

While this may come as a shock to parents, the study finds that children who were frequently yelled at, called names like “lazy,” or cursed at suffered even if the rest of the parent-child relationship was warm and stable. The effects of the negative language were not as visible as physical abuse to the average person, but rather the problems were more emotional and behavioral.

Children whose parents reported using harsh language with their children experienced higher behavioral problems in the following year than children who parents did not yell. These children showed increases in the following year in fighting with peers as well as with their parents, doing poorly in school, lying and showing signs of depression. Surprisingly, these effects were the same as with children whose parents used spanking or pushing as a physical discipline approach.

The wrong kind of discipline can have negative effects to a child’s developing self-esteem. Photo by Evan-Amos via Wikimedia.

While the study group was composed of adolescents ages 13-14, the principles can still be applied to young children. The study said that yelling had such a negative impact because of the developing self-image, and it makes them feel incapable and hurts their self-image.

Young children also are developing an important sense of self during the trouble time of toddler-hood and pre-school when they are trying to exert their independence and explore the world around them in new ways. If yelling has such negative consequences on older children who are developing into young adults, think what it can do to the self-esteem and confidence of a young child. The potential is for it to set up a negative cycle of failure and discipline problem for years to come.

Children learn to correct negative behavior through having negative and punitive consequences imposed on their incorrect behavior, like the time out or having a favorite toy taken away. Although, experts warn that the punishment should be imposed without harsh language when explaining the disciplinary action.

Part of the reason parents resort to yelling is frustration at the incorrect behavior, especially if the behavior is recurrent. The best way to reduce your impulse to yell is to have a pre-established punishment plan in place. Having a time out routine in place can help you remain calm and consistent in your enforcement of discipline.

For other, more severe infractions of the household rules of conduct, try to determine appropriate punishments ahead of time so that you and the child know what to expect and how to react when the situation arises. Is there a problem with not sharing? Then maybe the toy that is not being shared is taken away from the child for a period of time so he cannot play with it either. A child not picking up his toys when asked? Then maybe he cannot play with anything new until the old toys are put away.

Remain calm when disciplining your children and explain why they are in trouble and what they have to do to remedy the situation. Photo by dadblunders via Flickr.

Get creative, but remember to limit the yelling. Calmly impose the punishment and explain to the child why you are taking the action you are and what he has to do to restore the norm.

There are going to be times when every parent loses his or her temper, but the important factor is the frequency. Next time you turn around to find that your child has unloaded the entire laundry basket of clean clothes onto the floor or has used his spaghetti-o’s to finger paint the table and his face, take a deep breath and resist the urge to yell.


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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret

 

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