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Cited in Fast Company – In Defense of Yelling

In Defense of Yelling, by Lyz LenzScreen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.15.28 PM

In this terrific post, Lyz Lenz sensitively takes on the thorny topic of yelling, one that comes up often in my work with parents, and is seldom discussed enough. When it comes to parenting, most of us would agree that yelling in general should be avoided when at all possible. And yet, with anger and its expression as a normal part of being human, avoiding yelling isn’t always possible, or even desirable. Anger is of course a normal human emotion, and yelling can be ok, even if it is risky. The key seems to be in using our anger, and the anxiety that fuels it, as a tool rather than a weapon. Leveraging these powerful emotions into productive action can be powerful, as we teach our children consequences and offer them experience in handling difficult powerful emotions. With a keen sense of humor, Lenz identifies some common pitfalls and silver linings of yelling, and deftly begins an important conversation in which I was pleased to participate.

Alicia Clark, a psychologist and professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, notes that many parents are in the same boat. “Parents are human, we experience normal human emotion. And when you combine that emotion with the stresses of parenting, then sometimes parents yell. And if we don’t talk about how to be frustrated as parents, we aren’t prepared for frustration and then, we can be mean. And while yelling can be OK, being mean never is.”

“WHILE YELLING CAN BE OK, BEING MEAN NEVER IS.”

Clark describes anger on a continuum: there is crazy, abusive anger, and there is repressing your emotion. For most parents, their anger falls in between, in that gray area of normal frustration. Clark is quick to point out that if you have a problem with anger and abuse that it’s important to just not go there with anger. She cautions, “If you can’t be moderate, if you are destructive, then, like an alcoholic who has to avoid bars, you need to avoid anger. It’s important to get help.”

But for parents who don’t fall on the extreme end of the continuum and have older children, Clark says that expressing anger positively can actually help children develop the skills they need to be successful. “For children who are in grade school and older, expressing your emotions to them even while yelling can be positive. They learn empathy,” she says. “And it’s an opportunity to teach children to separate what is being said from how it is being said.”

Clark recommends that parents do their best to avoid situations where they might yell–going to the grocery store over nap time, say. But this isn’t always possible. So, if you do feel frustration coming on, do your best to express it in a positive way—like focusing on “I” statements. For example, “I feel angry” instead of an accusation, “You are making me angry!”

Clark notes that apologizing after an angry episode is key to helping a child learn and grow. “A real apology is a powerful example of good behavior. Wouldn’t you rather have a boss who knew how to apologize after making a mistake? Or an employee?” she says. “By modeling that behavior to our kids, we teach them to become the people we want to work with.”

Clark further parsed this out, noting that everyone at some time in their life is going to be yelled at and it’s important to have the skill of empathy–to know that beyond someone’s tone of voice is an emotion. For a person to understand the reason behind the rage and have empathy for the emotion is a big step toward positively handling conflict.

Or as Clark wisely put it: “We have a responsibility to teach our children how their choices affect others and model for them realistic consequences they can expect in the world. While yelling can be alarming, it can be a realistic consequence of hurtful, insensitive, aggressive behavior that needs to stop. Yelling is not in itself abusive, belittling or emotionally controlling. Yelling is in the range of normal emotional expression, can be an effective parenting tool, and should not be off limits to any human, including those of us who parent.”

Click here to read the full post.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

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