I shout at my kids. It probably doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen on a fairly regular basis.
It happens when my young daughters ignore repeated requests to put their shoes on (or take them off). It happens when they fight. It happens when I’m exhausted from weeks of sleepless nights. It happens too much.
My children have a range of different reactions to my shouting. Sometimes they barely notice; sometimes there’s a defiant “Don’t shout at me Mummy!”; sometimes they cry. That’s the worst, the guilt that comes with knowing I made my children cry.
I know that I’m not alone and that other parents share my feelings of guilt. “I feel terrible when I yell at the kids,” says parenting blogger Kylie Purtell. “I see the looks on their faces and it breaks my heart.”
“I feel so guilty for not being able to control my emotions and I’m worried about what sort of example I’m setting for the girls. I have always had a quick temper and it is not something that has improved simply by having children.”
Given the known links between sleep deprivation and mood, it’s no surprise that both Kylie and I shout more when we’re tired.
“When I’ve had a rough night with my toddler and baby both waking in the night, my patience wears thin and I find I’m snapping more often,” Kylie says.
Ann Hardy* has identified another common trigger: she says she shouts more when she has PMT.
“Every 28 days I find myself shouting at my kids. It's horrible. I scream at the top of my lungs about things that I would normally let slide – the usual triggers are the boys not listening or damaging something,” the mum of two says.
“It makes me feel utterly wretched. It makes me feel like I’m the one negative thing in their lives. No-one else shouts at them the way I do and I hate it.
“I am consumed with guilt when I yell at them."
One of the things we all worry about is the negative impact that shouting might have on our kids. I was particularly concerned by a recent study conducted by the US based Child Development Journal, which revealed that emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse.
But psychology lecturer and families expert Dr Bronwyn Harman says there is a “big difference” between the two.
“Emotional abuse is persistent, consistent and ongoing. Shouting is often infrequent, spontaneous, and usually declines as the children get older,” Dr Harman, who is also a mum of three, explains.
So we shouldn’t berate ourselves too much? That’s exactly right, says Dr Harman.
“Parents aren't perfect because people aren't perfect. Kids will forget the little things like shouting, and remember the big picture stuff like being loved,” she says.
For those who want to stop it, or at least reduce the amount of yelling they do, Dr Harman says you can try to reduce incidents of shouting by thinking more about things that have triggered it.
“Sometimes, you might say ‘Stop it ... stop it ... stop it ... STOP IT!’ Well, why didn't your child stop it the first time? Did you say it offhandedly? Did she not hear you? Did you give a mixed message by smiling while telling her to stop?”
It’s great advice, but how can we resist the urge to shout in the heat of the moment? Dr Harman suggests taking a deep breath and counting to 10, leaving the room to scream into a pillow, or changing the mood by putting some music on.
Reassuringly, Dr Harman admits that she yelled at her kids too. “I was quite ‘shouty’ when my kids were little,” she says.
“But they've grown up to be wonderful, well-adjusted adults who are fabulous contributors to society. Yours will, too.”