A year ago, The New York Times wrote an article called "For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking." Fifteen years ago, this column covered yelling in a series of articles. Since then, research has shown that yelling is emotionally damaging to children. The new school year brings the usual increase in stress and schedule on the family unit, so I'm revisiting the topic on the ever-growing problem of voice management.
Q: I don't believe in spanking my children, but I do find that I yell at them a lot when I get frustrated. The result is that now my children yell, too: at me, at each other, at the dog. I don't like this pattern, but I don't know how to stop it. Any suggestions?
A: When you discipline your children, do you sound like the kind of person you really want to be?
Yelling is a bad habit, and like any habit, it's not going to disappear overnight. With diligent effort, however, your household can be calmer and quieter.
Tips from parents include whispering, humor and relaxation techniques. To put an end to this loud cycle, you'll also need to come up with a new discipline plan and resolve to follow it.
A special-education teacher said her experiences with students with emotional and behavioral problems have taught her not to yell.
"The children just shut off, and then they begin to yell," she says. "Instead of yelling, I whisper. It commands much more attention, because they really have to listen."
Another mother tries to instill the idea that everyone is working together on the problem by using a family signal. "I have the children remind me when I am yelling, and I remind them," she says. "Just cover your mouth and say, 'Shhh,' when anyone is yelling."
Another mom said when she feels like losing her temper, she pretends that another adult is in the room observing.
"I try to behave as I would if one of my neighbors was watching," she said. "It tends to keep the lid on my response."
Lots of parents found a simple joke can do wonders. "When my daughter gets me going, I stop, take a deep breath and use a little humor," said one mom. "It takes the edge off. I find my daughter uses the humor back with me, and it defuses the situation."
Another approach: Parents acknowledge that when they yell, it's actually their problem.
"I find when I lose my temper, it's after a long day," said one single mom. "I first recognize that my resources are low, and the boys aren't being any worse than usual. As soon as I calm down, I say I'm sorry and let them know it's not their fault."
In a similar vein, another mom says it helps to know what triggers her frustration.
"I've learned to intercede earlier, before my blow-up point," she says. "Also, none of my yell-control techniques work when we're walking out the door late. So now I do more planning to make sure we're not late so it doesn't happen."
Another strategy that may help is a new way of looking at your relationship with your children.
"Parents need to realize they have a choice in how they behave," said E. Perry Good, author of "Helping Kids Help Themselves." (Originally, when interviewed in 1995, Good was training teachers, social workers and parents in then-new techniques called Reality Therapy.
"If your long-term goal is to have self-disciplined kids, yelling is not going to get you there," said Good.
Before starting anything new, lots of parents suggest calling a family meeting to talk it over.
"Pick a calm time and ask your children if they like it when you yell," Good said. "Ask them if they want to have a happy family, and then talk about what a happy family would look like."
Families need a basic agreement in place about the way people should be treated before a problem occurs.
Can you help?
Q. "My 15-month-old son has recently become very willful, and I am afraid I'm losing control of him. I struggle with two main areas. First, when I stop him from doing something he ought not, he frequently displays temper, yelling at me, throwing what might be in his hand or hitting me. I'm afraid as he gets older this will get worse. How do I resolve this with him in an age-appropriate way?
The second area is mealtime. He is a highly picky eater. I offer him a variety of foods but he settles on a favorite and often throws from his tray what he doesn't want. I want to make certain he is eating enough variety. How do I maintain control of mealtime at this age and going forward without depriving him of the food he needs?" -- a mother in Buffalo, N.Y.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and teaches preschool. Reach her at email@example.com.