Childhood: Short & Long-Term Psychological Effects of Being Yelled At

Updated November 29, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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If you suddenly lost your cool and yelled at a child, it probably took you by surprise and you may have even felt remorse afterward. Most likely, you had a lot on your mind. You may have been feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. While you may be able to understand what set you off, it doesn’t change the psychological effects on the child that you yelled at. 

Many children will quiet down when they’ve been yelled at, but underlying feelings of hurt and sorrow may linger on.  For some children, the aftereffects of being yelled at can last a lifetime. Children don’t always talk about how hurt they’re feeling, so you might not recognize the hurt you’ve caused.

By having a better understanding of the short and long-term psychological effects of yelling at a child, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to change your communication and interactions with children in ways that reward both of you. It’s common for parents to use the same parenting techniques as their parents used. Today, research has guided our understanding of how to build and maintain better relationships. If you’ve decided to stop yelling at your kids and you’re having trouble breaking the pattern, you might consider asking a licensed professional for help.

The Importance Of Modeling Healthy Communication

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), children can learn violent behavior early in life. It’s just as easy for them to learn how to be compassionate and kind. Their life experiences, along with the interactions they have with their parents and others, help them to learn how to solve problems, deal with disagreements, and control their anger. Young children who develop important life skills successfully learn how to prevent violence, which will prove useful to them for the rest of their lives. The APA notes that good life skills are the key to children avoiding violence as adults and they’re less likely to experience violence.

What Are The Short-Term Psychological Effects Of Yelling At A Child?

There’s a good chance you’ll notice some of the short-term psychological effects of yelling at a child right after you’ve done it. The short-term effects of yelling include aggression, anxiety, and withdrawal.

In a study on children ages 8-12 from various countries, the results showed that children became more aggressive when they had mothers who used corporal punishment, expressed disappointment in their children, and yelled at their children. The study also indicated that children experienced higher anxiety symptoms when they were spanked and had time-outs and their mothers expressed disappointment and shamed them.

In a separate study of African American children, the results showed that verbal abuse more often manifested in behavioral problems than corporal punishment. The study also showed some important differences in how boys and girls process verbal abuse. Boys that had parents who were verbally abusive had low self-control. For girls who experienced verbal abuse, they were more likely to react with anger or frustration.

Children often mirror the behavior of their parents. If you yell at them, they’re likely to yell back at you. From their perspective, they believe that you’re teaching them how you want them to communicate.

Depending on the child’s personality, you may not see an increase in aggression or in talking back, but you may see signs of your child withdrawing from you. Instead, they may look to their peers, teachers, or other adults that they trust rather than relying on you.

The research of these and other studies produced clear results. Adults that stopped yelling at kids resulted in kids that behaved better than kids who got yelled at on a regular basis.

What Are The Long-term Psychological Effects Of Yelling At A Child?

The short-term psychological effects might prompt you to think about how you can respond better to your children when you’re angry or frustrated with them. Verbal abuse toward children can have lasting effects long after an incident. According to this study, the long-term psychological effects of yelling at a child can cause one or more of the following symptoms:

Anxiety

Low self-esteem

A negative view of self

Social problems

Behavioral problems

Aggression

Depression

Bullying behavior

The results of the study indicate that children are inclined to treat other people the same way they’re treated. Unless there has been an intervention, the habits and tendencies children develop as a result of their childhood relationships will follow them into adulthood. Adults that refuse to stop yelling at children can cause them to bully other children because they tend to have a distorted perspective of what healthy boundaries should look like. This study and others confirm that yelling is particularly harmful to children when it’s accompanied by threats and insults.

If you think about your own relationships that you’ve developed as an adult, you probably tend to avoid people that yell, belittle others, or are abusive. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that children might react exactly the same way. This explains why one of the long-term psychological effects of yelling at children makes them view themselves poorly and have difficulty in social situations.

Strategies To Help You Stop Yelling At Your Kids

 Try not to be too hard on yourself if you occasionally yell. Consider going to the child shortly after you yell and explain what upset you and apologize. If you work at stopping yelling, there will likely be fewer of these types of situations in the future and that means that you’ll have less to apologize for. The added benefit to apologizing is that it gives you the chance to model behavior that demonstrates how the child can take steps to repair a relationship in their own lives.

Do You Find Yourself Losing Your Cool With Your Kids?

There are lots of things you can do to try to prevent yourself from yelling at kids. It might be helpful to set your sights on one or two of them and practice them on a regular basis. This is a good way to develop new habits.

Knowing that you struggle in this area gives you a good opportunity to get in better touch with your emotions. If you feel your anger or frustration building, consider taking a time-out. By taking a few minutes in another room, it gives you a chance to calm down and respond to the child the way that you want to come across.

Another great idea is to teach your kids about different types of emotions. Young children usually respond well to reading books on the topic of emotions, especially when it gives them time with you.

Here’s a short list of books on emotions for youth:

The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon by Matthew Burgess

Millie Fierce by Jane Manning

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle

Llama, Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdny

When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Reading books together is an enjoyable activity that allows everyone a chance to think what they’re thinking.

Eye contact can be a powerful interaction between adults and children. Some children are intimidated when adults speak to them from so high up. Some children will respond better if you can bring yourself down to their eye level.

When annoying or irritating behaviors surface, such as whining or tantrums, ignore it if you can, as long as the behavior isn’t dangerous.

Try to remember that children don’t like to be shamed or embarrassed any more than adults do. When speaking to them about poor choices they’ve made, it’s helpful to encourage two-way interactions. It’s okay to be direct about the type of mistakes they made but do it in ways that help them preserve some sense of self-dignity and let them have a little input too.

Give them lots of kudos for respectful dialogue, behavior, and problem-solving. These behaviors might just come back to them at a meaningful time in their lives.

Remind yourself that kids are still learning about life. They’re bound to test the waters and make mistakes.

If you’re still struggling to keep your anger under control around children and you’re open to working with a therapist, the staff at BetterHelp can match you with a therapist that can help you meet your goals. It’s never too late to prevent the psychological effects of yelling at a child.

If you’re new to online therapy, you might wonder if it’s as effective as traditional therapy. You’re not alone, and researchers have been looking at this question for quite some time. One of the most common types of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy. That’s where you and your therapist look at unhealthy, unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors and adapt them into healthy, helpful ones. It might be one type of therapy you’d use to communicate your anger or frustration in a better way. CBT is also one of the most well-studied forms of online therapy. A recent publication looked at more than 2,500 studies said that online CBT is just as effective as traditional in-person CBT.

Online therapy has some great benefits too. If you’re a parent, you’re likely busy. Online therapy is more flexible than having to go into an office and takes any potential travel out of the picture. Instead, you can have therapy in the comfort of your own home as long as you have an internet connection. Online therapy is also typically less expensive than traditional therapy.

If you’d like even more information, here are some reviews by recent BetterHelp users of their counselors:

“Valeh has been a tremendous help in ways I never knew to ask for and, frankly, didn’t. I came to BetterHelp to clear my head and be honest about some things, which took some time, but Valeh did it like a watchmaker; she took great care moving all the little bits and pieces around, cleaning some parts, letting some parts stay intact, but cataloguing everything the whole way, so as we began examining and even placing each piece, she knew where it came from and what it went through. It has made me a better person, husband, and father, and yet still I remain a terrible maker of metaphors, as you can see. She is the kind, tough, caring type of helper that I wish more people knew to reach out to.” 

Do You Find Yourself Losing Your Cool With Your Kids?

"I am a 42 year old female, successful entrepreneur in a loving marriage and have a bright and healthy 4 year old boy. I shouldn't have anything to complain about. I am generally happy, motivated and have ample self confidence. So why in the world would I need therapy? Because I need help with constructive ideas to control my negative attitude. I'm generally not a negative person but I'm very self aware that I have vast mood swings of anger and pessimism and I get that from my dad. I chose Douglas because he counsels using cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management - which is the kind of therapy I need. 

Douglas comes up with clear solutions and I appreciate that. I didn't want a therapist to tell me to talk about my day and how does that make me feel and that it's normal to have these feelings. I know it is normal to feel angry sometimes, but I wanted to understand how to recognize it and address it. So if you need constructive conversation with fast results for everyday annoyances and (especially effective child rearing advice!) I think Douglas is your therapist."

Takeaway

Yelling at children can have several negative short and long-term psychological effects. It’s also not one of the most effective ways to encourage positive behavior. There are ways to improve your communication with your children, and it could be rewarding for both of you. If you’re struggling to improve communication tactics, one option is online therapy. Through therapy, you can learn to improve your communication skills and form a better relationship with your children. 

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