An honest take on life and parenthood

Thou Shalt Not Yell

on May 21, 2014

We all wish our monkeys came with manuals.

We make it up on the fly, test the wind with a finger, send up a prayer, and hope that our latest childrearing technique works. Discipline in particular is a tough one – we have to teach our kids appropriate behavior and limits, but what is the best and most effective way to do it?

Fortunately, we are moving away from corporal punishment as a technique, which relieves me, but this still leaves us with verbal discipline.


This past year, I’ve seen various online conversations and articles about yelling. Parents yelling at their kids and justifying it, yell-free year challenges, parenting experts advising against yelling, and some even calling it “the new spanking.”

It made me think.

Tiny people gradually learn self-control over time, and do so by pushing the envelope on behaviors that adults find maddening. Eventually, parents lose it, and they yell.

I am no different.

I try not to yell. I remember how it stressed me to be on the receiving end as a child and adolescent, and I work actively to curb it. But I am both human and fallible.

Sometimes, I hit my limit, so sometimes, I yell.

Certain kids, who are more obedient and docile, will stop a behavior when asked.

The more spirited ones will look you right in the eye, and continue jumping on the bed or barking like a doggie as you tell them to cease and desist, first nicely, then with more emphasis. They only stop once you’ve completely had it and begin to yell.

The Pooh falls into the second category of child, due to both nature and nurture: she is feisty and strong willed, and does not fear me. And, in spite of the fact that she often seems older than her years, she occasionally acts like a four year old because she IS a four year old.

She is usually well-behaved, but when something sparks her impish streak, or if she is tired, sick, or bored, she will start to work my nerves with a behavior she finds fun, and I find crazy-making.

For example, I ask her to stop running in circles, or unspooling the toilet paper roll, or poking at my squishy belly. If she is enjoying herself, she ignores me. Eventually, I crack, and yell at her.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens enough.

The other night, she was taking her bath, where she loves to play and splash. I don’t mind the splashing, as long as she keeps the water inside the tub.

She asked me if she could dump a cup of water onto the bath rug outside of the tub. I told her no. I turned my back for a minute, and heard water pouring with a muffled sound into its furry destination.

I whirled around and reprimanded her for flagrantly disobeying me.  I cut her bath short and made her get out of the tub. She wailed at the injustice of it, but she needed to learn the consequences of her actions, so I held firm.

I dried her off, helped her into her pajamas, and she brushed her teeth.

Later, we snuggled in bed together, and read a bedtime story. She interrupted me in the middle of a sentence.

“Mommy? Are you still mad at me?”

Surprised by her question, I paused. “No, honey. I’m not mad at you anymore. Were you worried?”

“Yes. When you yell at me, I feel bad. It makes me feel sad.”

Scrambling to appreciate this conversation, and not screw it up, I took a breath to think.

“Sweetie, I am not mad at you anymore. But why did you pour the water onto the rug outside the tub, after I told you not to do it?”

“I just couldn’t resist. It was so much fun. But I don’t like it when you yell.” Big, sad eyes.

I thought for a minute, letting this conversation sink in.

“If you are being naughty and not listening, how do I get you to stop? For example, what if you are jumping on the bed, and I ask you to stop several times but you keep jumping?”

She looked at me, and said, “Just talk.”

“Talk?” I looked at her skeptically. “What if that doesn’t work?”

“Hug me.”

Totally floored, but anxious to keep the conversation going, I said, “So if you are being naughty and not listening, I am supposed to get you to stop by talking to you, and then hugging you.”

“Yes!” she said with a huge smile.

“Ok. We’ll try it.” I said. Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself, Yeah, right, kid.

After making sure there was nothing else she wanted to tell me, I thanked her for talking to me so honestly. We gave each other a cuddle and a kiss, and finished the bedtime story. She fell asleep.

Back in my own bed, I thought over our conversation.

First, I couldn’t believe that she had the courage to ask me if I was still angry. How many of us are able to do that when we upset someone? Gutsy move on her part. I was proud of her.

I was also happy as a mom. I have worked for a long time to give her a safe space to express her feelings, no matter what they were, and to also keep the communication lines open. The conversation felt like an emotional slot machine payoff.

She spoke to me without fear, and proposed her own creative solution to a problem that vexed both of us.

However, in spite of the mental kudos I gave her for all of this, I had serious misgivings about her approach. Talk to her and then hug her when she was misbehaving? Really?

That said, my current approach was not getting optimal results, so I was willing to try hers to see what happened.

A couple of days after our bedtime conversation, we went to the mall. I wanted to shop for shoes, and she began to misbehave in DSW. I asked her to stop. She continued to giggle and play hide and seek in the aisles. I lowered my voice and asked her to stop. Finally, I dropped to my knees, pulled her to me, and hugged her.

She stopped instantly. I held her for about 10-15 seconds, and calmed her. We then left the store without incident. And also without shoes, I might add. But it worked, and I did not have to yell at her.


A week later, I was mending a hole in the knee of her leggings. She grabbed a spare spool of thread, and ran around the house, unwinding it as she ran and laughed. I told her to give me the thread, and she refused.

I yelled, “Give it to me!”

She yelped as if I had slapped her (note: never have, never will).

“Mommy, you said you wouldn’t yell!” she cried in emotional pain.

I checked myself, lowered my voice, and hugged her.

“I’m sorry for yelling and for hurting your feelings with the way I yelled. I promise to try not to do it again. Will you forgive me?”

She nestled into my neck, her tears wetting my sweater, and nodded. I held her on my lap and we both cooled off, arms around each other.

After a few minutes, she broke away.

Since then, I’ve had more opportunities to test this new technique of discipline by hugging.

Guess what? It works better than my technique of losing my cool and yelling.

Is the Pooh’s approach foolproof? No.

It is not foolproof, because I am a slow learner. Old habits die hard.

I slip up occasionally, and the Pooh reminds me of my promise. Day by day, I improve, but this ship is slow to turn. It is turning, though.

As parents, we are conceited enough to think that we are molding future adults. But if we are honest with ourselves, our children mold us as well.


15 responses to “Thou Shalt Not Yell

  1. This is the best post ever. Literally. I am pinning this. I am sharing this. I am going to try this. Yelling breaks my heart, but I find the toddler days so trying. I will share my successes… let us hope it is a success!


  2. Thanks, Chelley. It is so hard to reprogram ourselves, no? Here’s to trying and here’s to learning from our little ones.


  3. jgroeber says:

    Aha! Love this one. I’m such a yeller sometimes. But it’s so hard, and in my defense I’m just too outnumbered. We also use 1-2-3 Magic, which gives the kids a chance to self-correct before time outs. Separating the naughty naysayer from the herd is really necessary sometimes. Yet it works on some but not all. But hugging. I’ve got one that hugging might just work wonders on. Who would have thunk it? My Moo-Bear just might be your Pooh-Bear’s soulmate!


  4. I yell more than I should, especially when hubs is off flying. I think I may try this and see how it goes. Thanks for the post.


    • Try it. If it doesn’t work and your child is old enough, ask if s/he has their own technique to propose to get them to stop misbehaving and listen to you. I think this talking/hugging solution has worked because it came from her own little brain and not mine.


  5. Jen, I hear you. I barely keep it together with one kid, no idea how I would do it with four monkeys. Let me know if the Pooh Bear’s technique works on the Moo-Bear!


  6. Yu, Maria says:

    Wendy – I LOVED this post! You are such a talented writer! I am so proud of you! I learn something each time I read one of your posts. You truly have a gift and I hope you realize it and continue to use it.


  7. Thanks, m’dear! It is a learning journey, for sure.


  8. Jackie says:

    I admire this discipline technique. Although it might not work in every situation, I like it…and it inspires me to try something calmer when things get out of hand. Thanks for sharing, Wendy!


    • Hey Jackie – I would not claim that this is some magic bullet (they don’t exist) but perhaps if it helps some kids and parents, it is a good thing. Let me know if you try it and if it works…may not work with certain personalities, but so far, so good with my Pooh.


  9. mkelarsen says:

    Love love love this!! Hugging vs yelling – sounds like what us mommies need as well. Thank you – and I am going to file this away as well.


  10. Thanks, Mary. Let me know if you have any success with it! What works for the Pooh may not work for others, but it is worth a try for us mommies.


  11. Kerry says:

    Thanks for sharing this. My almost-5-yr-old son is also “feisty” and “strong-willed.” I haven’t yet tried hugging when he’s disobeying, but his preschool teacher recommended hugging when he’s having a big tantrum, saying that during a tantrum he feels out of control (he’s not trying to be disobedient, or obnoxious, or however it comes across in the moment) and that a hug can help make him feel secure. I started trying that (I actually ask him if he needs a hug; 90% of the time he says “yes” and the other 10% of the time he needs to keep yelling/stomping/etc. a little longer), and it’s worked wonders. He calms down almost immediately, and it diffuses my anger and frustration as well.


    • Kerry – your story is so interesting. It sounds like you are tuned into him. I do think that sometimes they just need to get the bad feelings out by yelling, stomping, etc., which I allow too. Thank you for sharing this.


  12. Joy Adamonis says:

    You know 1-2-3 Magic with kids? Well- It works for adults- 1-2-3 step away before you say it….LOL


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