Yelling at a child can result in both short-term and long-term psychological effects. In the short term, a child who is on the receiving end of yelling may become aggressive, anxious, and withdrawn. In the long term, as a result of childhood emotional abuse, they may develop anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, and a negative view of themselves. They may experience social and behavioral problems and display bullying behavior and aggression as well. If you’d like to stop yelling at your children, it can be helpful to take a time-out before responding to them, apologize if you slip up, teach them about emotional control, and praise them for healthy communication and good behavior. For more personalized help, you might connect with a therapist online who can teach you effective parenting strategies.
The importance of modeling healthy communication
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), children can learn violent behavior from their parents early in life. Conversely, it can be 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, often help them learn how to solve problems, deal with disagreements, and control their anger. Young children who develop important life skills successfully may learn how to prevent violence, which will likely prove useful to them for the rest of their lives. The APA notes that good life skills can be the key to children avoiding violence as adults, and children who have learned life skills are generally less likely to experience violence.
What are the short-term psychological effects of yelling at a child?
There’s a good chance you may notice some of the short-term psychological effects of yelling at a child right after you’ve done it. The short-term psychological effects of yelling can include elevated stress hormones, aggression, anxiety, and withdrawal.
In a study involving children ages eight to 12 from various countries, the results showed the psychology behind why children usually became more aggressive when they had mothers who used corporal punishment, expressed disappointment in their children, and yelled at their children. The study indicated that children typically experienced higher anxiety symptoms when they were spanked, had time-outs, and experienced their mother’s harsh verbal discipline.
In a separate study of African American children, the results showed that verbal abuse* tended to lead to more behavioral problems than corporal punishment did. The study also showed some important differences in how boys and girls may process verbal abuse. Boys who had parents who were verbally abusive often had low self-control. Girls who experienced verbal abuse were usually more likely to react with anger or frustration.
*If you or a loved one is witnessing or experiencing any type of abuse, please know that help is available. You can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Children often mirror their parents’ behavior. If you yell at them, they may be likely to yell back at you. From their perspective, they may 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 or struggling with their mental health. Children exposed to frequent yelling at home may look to their peers, teachers, or other adults whom they trust rather than relying on you. It can also be a sign that a child is experiencing child abuse if they begin to withdraw from others, especially adults.
The research of these and other studies often produced clear results. Adults who addressed bad behavior calmly and understood their child's behavior instead of yelling resulted in kids with better behavior than those who yelled at their children 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 feeling angry or frustrated with them. Parental verbal abuse is a type of emotional abuse that can often have lasting psychological and mental health effects. The long-term psychological effects of yelling at a child can cause one or more of the following symptoms:
Anxiety stemming from verbal abuse or effects of yelling
Low self-esteem (especially in children)
A negative view of the self which often effects world view
Social problems (especially in children)
Behavioral and psychological problems (especially in children)
Risky sexual activity
Bullying behavior often learned from being yelled at (especially in children)
Children may be inclined to treat other people the same way they’re treated, which may shed light on how the child’s brain develops in response to verbal abuse. Unless there has been an intervention, the habits and tendencies children develop because of their childhood relationships can follow them into adulthood. Adults who refuse to stop yelling at children can lead them to bully other children because they tend to have a distorted perspective of what healthy boundaries should look like. This study and others may confirm that yelling is often particularly harmful to children when it’s accompanied by threats and insults.
In addition, some studies suggest that different types of emotional abuse, including verbal abuse, may have lasting effects on physical health. One study found that there may be a connection between childhood emotional abuse and chronic pain. After considering various factors, the study showed that those who had been emotionally abused as children were more likely to experience chronic pain.
If you think about your own relationships that you’ve developed as an adult, you probably tend to avoid people who yell, belittle others, or are abusive. Perhaps it’s not surprising that children might react similarly. This may explain why one of the long-term psychological effects of yelling at children can be that they view themselves poorly and have difficulty in social situations.
Strategies to help you stop yelling at your kids
It can be best not to be too hard on yourself if you, like many parents, yell occasionally. Consider going to the child shortly after you yell to explain what upset you and apologize to them. If you work to stop yelling, there will likely be fewer of these types of situations in the future, and that can mean you’ll have less for which to apologize. The added benefit to apologizing may be that it can give you a chance to model behavior that demonstrates how the child can repair a relationship in their own life.
There may be lots of things you can do to prevent yourself from yelling at your children. It might be helpful to select one or two strategies and practice them on a regular basis. This can be a good way to develop new habits.
Take a time-out
Knowing that you struggle in this area can give 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, you can have a chance to calm down and respond to the child appropriately.
Teach your children about emotions
Another great idea can be to teach your children about different types of emotions. Young children usually respond well to reading books on the topic of emotions, especially when it gives them quality 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
Speak to children at their level
Eye contact can be a powerful form of interaction between adults and children. Some children are intimidated when adults speak to them from their full height. Some children may respond better if you can bring yourself down to their eye level.
Try to ignore frustrating behavior
When annoying or irritating behaviors surface, such as whining or tantrums, you might choose to ignore it if you can, as long as the behavior isn’t dangerous.
Encourage two-way interactions
Try to remember that children generally don’t like to be shamed or embarrassed any more than adults do. When speaking to them about poor choices they’ve made, it can be helpful to encourage two-way interactions. It may be okay to be direct about the type of mistakes they made, but it can be best to do this in ways that can help them preserve their self-dignity and have a little input.
Praise respectful behavior
You might give your children plenty of praise for respectful dialogue, behavior, and problem-solving. These behaviors can be helpful for them in the short term and the long term.
Remember that children are still learning
It is often helpful to remind yourself that kids are generally still learning about life. They’re bound to test the waters and make mistakes as they learn and grow.
Work with a therapist
If you’re struggling to keep your anger under control around children and you’re open to working with a therapist, an online therapy platform can match you with a therapist who can help you meet your goals and learn effective parenting strategies.
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 can be cognitive behavioral therapy, where you and your therapist may look at unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors and adapt them into healthy, helpful ones. You might use this type of therapy to communicate your anger or frustration in a better way. A recent publication that looked at more than 2,500 studies reported that online CBT is usually just as effective as traditional in-person CBT.
Online therapy can have some great benefits, too. If you’re a parent, you’re likely busy. Online therapy can be more flexible than having to go into an office, and it typically takes any potential travel or commute out of the picture. Instead, you can experience 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.
Yelling at children can have a variety of detrimental psychological effects, such as the development of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and behavioral issues. Children who are yelled at may also display aggression and bullying behavior. If you have a tendency to yell but would like to stop, you might teach your children about emotions and how to handle them, take a time-out from frustrating situations to prevent yourself from lashing out and praise your kids when they communicate and behave respectfully. Working with a licensed therapist online can be an excellent way to get more personalized parenting advice.