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The Harm of Yelling

March 6, 2014

by Candice Watters

The Wall Street Journal’s parenting advice is a mix of tips and canny insights. Though their bias typically runs toward hurrying moms back to the marketplace and away from home and hearth, I’m drawn to the articles for a glimpse of what business elites are thinking about childrearing. The recent “Talking to Your Child After You Yell” caught my eye.

The article’s working assumption is that parents yell at their children out of frustration and in an attempt to correct their bad behavior. The point of the story is how parents mitigate the damage when they do, inevitably, yell. What I didn’t expect, though, was the straightforward admission that yelling is up, because spanking is down:

Researchers suspect parents are yelling more. Parents have been conditioned to avoid spanking, so they vent their anger and frustration by shouting instead.

The study is right in one regard: yelling is symptomatic of pent up anger and frustration. I’ve spanked and I’ve yelled. And what I’ve noticed is that when I find myself yelling, it’s because I’ve neglected to give appropriate correction before reaching the point of anger and frustration. The problem isn’t volume. I “yell” when I’m in the basement, far removed from the rest of the family and needing to get someone’s attention to help me with something. This isn’t what the article’s talking about. It’s referring to the sort of out-of-control loud and insulting words that arise when we, as parents, neglect to train and correct our children day-in and day-out with the patience and love we’ve been shown in Christ. Yelling is evidence that we’ve let things go without attending to them; that we’ve assumed the untended garden would produce good fruit. And then when the weeds start to grow, we tend to freak out.

We’re not immune from this sort of yelling. But we must fight the temptation to do it because yelling does all sorts of harm. According to the research, “Many parents lose control because they take children’s misbehavior or rebellion personally … They feel attacked or think the child’s actions reflect poorly on them.”

We shouldn’t be surprised by this study’s findings. Scripture warns us: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

According to God’s word, we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Nowhere should we restrain our tongues more than with the people dearest to us–our own children.

Taking a child’s disobedience personally is easy to do. Christian parents know intellectually that we’re fallen creatures, that we’re born with a sin nature. And so we really shouldn’t be surprised when our children misbehave, mouth off, and disobey. But responding to their disobedience by shouting things like, “Why did you do that?!” “You should know better!” and “I can’t believe you just [fill in the blank]!” reveals the truth: we don’t really believe they’re sinners in need of rescue. If we did, we wouldn’t be shocked or offended by their sin. When we find ourselves reacting to their bad behavior because we’re embarrassed, or inconvenienced by it, rather than responding to it with loving discipline, we’re revealing that we’re sinners, equally in need of rescue.

I’ve seen parents yell at their kids in the grocery store; felt the sick feeling creeping from my gut to my throat as I watched a small child wilt in the line of fire coming from her mother’s mouth over her insolence and disobedience. Are children disobedient? Yes! Do they need correction? Certainly. But yelling is not an effective way to instill good behavior. And it’s powerless to cause any change of heart. If anything, it leads to broken relationships and fuels more rebellion.

The Bible commands us, as believers in Christ, to instruct and discipline our children out of the overflow of love that we’ve been shown (Ephesians 5:1-2, 6:4). Further, it gives us hope that when we faithfully do so, they will be trained by it, and will reap a harvest of righteousness.

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11

May we hold firm to God’s design for faithfully rearing the children He entrusts to us, and thank Him when He uses the unlikely means of the Wall Street Journal to remind us of it.

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