When shouting at your kids isn't a bad thing

Parenting Time Out ... Paul Chai shares his daddy don'ts.

Parenting Time Out ... Paul Chai shares his daddy don'ts.

If my household were assigned just one verb to summarise its character, it would almost certainly be “to shout”. He shouts, she shouts, they shout, we all SHOUT. Rarer than a yeti is the morning where the volume doesn’t threaten to shake the place off its foundations.

But then, exceptional is the morning when my older son doesn’t drift off for a pee at the precise second his father declares: “We’re leaving NOW!” This is the point at which boy number two decides that he can’t leave the house without the superhero figures that are prohibited by school rules. My husband stands by the open door, bellowing with the incoherent rage of the studiously ignored, while his face turns puce. Then the 10-year-old yells “I’m just coming”, from behind the bathroom door, although it’s clear he’s smuggled in the iPad and is busy constructing a volcano in Minecraft.

His little brother, meanwhile, has flung himself to the ground outside our front door and is wailing: “I hate school, I hate rules, I HATE YOU.” This is when I dust off my inner UN peace negotiator and tell everyone to “CALM DOWN!” Everyone takes not a jot of notice. And since she who shouts last shouts loudest, and looks most like a raving lunatic, I attract the darkest stares from passers-by.

So I can’t help wondering if the London School of Economics hasn’t put the cart before the horse when it reported on Tuesday that shouting at children makes their behaviour worse. It seems to me that children who behave badly goad their parents into shouting loudly. Every day starts with a resolution to communicate in the musical tones of Julie Andrews at her most Poppinsesque – then the blighters shove you over the edge.

The LSE says “reasoning with children” is the most effective way to improve the situation. But I find it’s the quickest way to tip you into madness. Take the exchange I had this weekend with my older son, who had been unrepentant about dropping litter, despite numerous lectures. I told him I was removing the iPad for two days, at which he said: “Then I won’t do anything you say, until you give it back.” So I said: “Then I’ll take it away for the whole month.” So he said, smirking: “How are you going to work in the holidays, if you can’t use the iPad to keep us quiet?”

That’s where reasoning gets you: to a place where you’re quickly outfoxed. To a place where you want to shout and froth at the mouth. No wonder I have long remembered an older friend’s advice that there are times when the only language children understand is their mother bawling: “If you don’t do what I say now, mummy is going to stab a fork through her eye!”

That’s not to say that I don’t respect parents who maintain an iron rule over their children with dulcet tones. But I presume they’ve learnt mind control from Derren Brown and the art of threats from Cruella de Vil. I also remember visiting non-shouty houses in the Kent stockbroker belt when I was young, and finding them repressed to the point of peculiarity. Where was all the seething emotion and vitality? Was it absorbed by the wall-to-wall carpets?

My father, who had fought in the war, bellowed at his five children like a sergeant-major on parade, throwing in the endearment “fathead” for good measure. Even so, we flourished. Like our Airedale terrier, his bark barely concealed the fact that he had no bite. My mother was the quiet disciplinarian, while Dad buckled at the first request for crisps or a 50p piece.

Which is pretty much how the land lies in my adult home. My sons know their deafening father is the softer of the species, and that selective deafness lightens any rant. It’s fair to say neither boy needs lessons in voice projection. But I’d far rather have loud sons than ones versed in the silent treatment.

 

 

27 comments

  • It is entirely possible to be neither a shouter or a silent treatment parent.
    My parents are shouters and I am deeply grateful to my husband for teaching me to live another way. He doesn't shout, he doesn't do silent treatment. We rarely if ever punish our kids - no time out, naughty corner, grounding, confiscation. They know if we are angry with them by the tone in our voices, but we don't yell. They are almost all adults now and none of them has ever done anything seriously wrong so it doesn't appear to have sent them off the rails.
    Look around you. If other people manage to raise decent kids without shouting or smacking, it's clearly possible. You just have to learn how.

    Commenter
    Jess
    Date and time
    April 14, 2014, 8:04AM
    • +1 Jess.
      There are so many ways to teach and discipline children that don't involve emotional manipulation, shouting, smacking, time-outs or shaming.
      Many people say that they were smacked/shouted at/borderline abused but they "turned out alright". Interesting how they remember those incidents so vividly.

      Commenter
      Ames
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:30AM
    • +1, with one comment: I've seen people raise great kids without raising a voice or using the silent treatment (but using the ocassional smack on the bum). My parents did, as did my wife's parents. Plus I have friends here in Singapore that do the same - no shouting, no silent treatment, just firm words and, if necessary, a quick slap on the bum of a naughty toddler.

      Commenter
      FD
      Location
      Singapore
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:37AM
    • That being said, there is no single perfect way to raise children. Just because some families don't shout or feel the need to punish their children doesn't mean that those methods will work for everyone. Those children will not necessarily be better off than the children of parents who shout when frustrated or who have to spend time grounded or with their nose in the naughty corner. Parenting is mostly a system of trial and error anyway.

      Commenter
      Mads
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 9:48AM
    • +1 @Mads, well said - took the words out of my mouth.

      Commenter
      FD
      Location
      Singapore
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 10:32AM
    • Wow Jess you're a truly amazing parent. And just look at the results of your amazingness!!!

      Commenter
      Laki
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 10:54AM
    • Jess it's great that your children know that you are angry just by the tone of your voice. But not all children would though. And there are plenty more that would know full well that you are angry, and could not care less so long as it was not impeding them from doing what they wanted.

      The reason there are so many ways of teaching and disciplining children is because there is not one single method out there that works on every child.

      Commenter
      Markus
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 11:02AM
    • @Laki, my kids are nice. As are 95% of teenagers I meet. They've all been raised different ways and they all really decent, impressive young people. They were treated nicely by their parents and they are nice others in return.
      And I would stake my life that one or both of your parents were nasty and sarcastic to you. But it never did you any harm, did it........

      Commenter
      Jess
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 2:07PM
    • @ Jess A big congratulations on raising well adjusted & well behaved kids. Unfortunately I'm not sure your method will work for every child, although you luckily seem to have hit the jackpot, and 'luck' is I suspect all it is. In my case my darling daughter did not really care what tone of voice I used, she would busily continue happily on with her own very important agenda from the age of 12 months. Conversely my son would fall into line very quickly with just a look. Your broadbased generalisations are not helpful.

      Commenter
      Charlotte Vale
      Date and time
      April 14, 2014, 2:07PM
  • @Jess. Look around you. Clearly, for some it is not possible. In complicated matters smug doesn't help.

    Commenter
    Barry
    Date and time
    April 14, 2014, 9:36AM

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