Better Listening

The Real Reason Why Parents Yell at Their Kids

Inside: The number one reason why parents yell. Plus, the 2-minute strategy that can help you stop yelling and squash the angry mom inside you.

My kids could not stop giggling. I honestly didn’t understand it, but they were making “monster faces” and this was, apparently, the funniest thing they ever did see. The kids hopped out of the car, and together we locked hands, grabbed our bags and started walking towards our apartment building.

Everything in that moment felt right.

Then I heard it. The yelling.

The number one reason why parents yell. Plus, the 2-minute strategy that can help you stop yelling immediately.

My eyes shifted left to right, scanning for where it was coming from. I spotted it: mom, minivan, kids.

She stood outside the rear sliding door looking inward, kids peppered the inside of the van, and the roaring words that followed are ones I’ll never forget.

In a single instant, everything turned to slow-motion as I watched her arms charge up and down into the air. Her voice accelerated with each passing second, and verbal bullets shot into the ears before her.

The kids and I continued walking inside, but my heart raced.

My cheeks flushed hot.

My throat felt tight.

My stomach tied double and triple knots.

But not for the reason you’d think.

I looked at the mom outside the minivan, and the first image that popped into my head was…myself.

Because man, I’ve been there.

I’ve. so. been. there. 

A huge part of me wanted to drop all my bags, let go of the little hands locked into my own, race toward the minivan and leap into her arms for the biggest hug ever.

I wanted to look her in the eye and tell her that this parenting gig is…hard.

That I…understood. 

That she was…not alone.

The real reason why parents yell at their kids.

No one becomes a parent and thinks, “I’m going to be angry and yell at my kids all the time.”

No one plans on being an angry mom.

Instead, you probably think a lot more along the lines of this:

  • I love my kids and I would do anything for them.
  • I want to do this parenting thing “right.” 
  • I desire to be a calm and patient parent.

The number one reason why parents yell. Plus, the 2-minute strategy that can help you stop yelling immediately.

The forgotten factor.

I’ve battled my parenting anger for years and I still haven’t found a magic fix, but I made a huge breakthrough when I learned the REAL reason I was yelling.

Anger and yelling always comes from a feeling of powerlessness. 

Powerlessness that you can’t control your kids behavior.

Powerlessness that you can’t get all the little people out the door on time.

Powerlessness that you can’t take a shower without a fight breaking out between the kids.

Powerlessness that you can’t get your kids to (for the love of all things chocolate and coffee) go to sleep at night.

Powerlessness that some days you feel like you’re failing at parenting, and you genuinely want to fix it, but you don’t know how.

You give and give and give, and quite honestly, little seems to move in the direction you want.

So you yell.

When your parenting frustration hits level 15 on a scale that only goes to level 10, you feel powerless.

And one easy way to feel power quickly is to…yell.

It’s the same reason kids fall into rapid-fire sequences of back talk and disrespect. They feel powerless, too.

Yelling always comes down to this: The overwhelming desire to meet your healthy need for power as fast as possible.

(Yes, power is a healthy need. We all have the need for power. It’s only a matter of meeting that healthy need in a healthy way.)

A 2-step quick fix for yelling.

If you find your power tank dangerously low and you are about to yell at your kids, give this a try:

1. Name 5 things you can control in the moment.

Think: I can tap my right foot fast 10 times. I can passionately say, “I’m so frustrated.” I can add 2+7+9 in my head. I can do 5 jumping jacks. I can close the car door and sit on the ground.

This simple exercise allows you step out of your emotional brain and back into your logical brain. You’ll slowly move from a feeling of powerlessness to a feeling of control.

2. Be sure to say them aloud.

This is an important step because if you say it inside your head, the emotional brain will continue to overpower your logical brain.

This is also the perfect exercise to help a crying kid calm down. After doing this quick exercise, it’s easier to see a clearer solution to the problem.

The number one reason why parents yell. Plus, the 2-minute strategy that can help you stop yelling immediately.

Before you go, a story.

When I saw the mom at the door of her minivan, I wanted to leap into her arms for and tell her that she was a good mom and that she wasn’t alone.

I wanted to help her, but I didn’t.

Instead, I froze and walked inside pretending to see nothing.

I felt a lot of guilt over that.

For days upon days, I thought about this mom and how I wished she knew that she wasn’t alone.

Then I saw her again.

There she was in the elevator with her hands lovingly locked with her littles. Despite the chaos of the kids around her, she was calm and relaxed.

I looked over to her, and in the midst of our combined 5 kids making the loudest and most rambunctious noises, I said…

“I saw you before in the parking lot.”

Her face instantly flashed white like she’d been found out.

Nervous to speak, I continued. “I wanted you to know that I’ve been there. I understand. You’re not alone, and you can call me anytime.”

I paused.


The doors opened.

I looked to my kids who were eager to get off and said, “This isn’t our floor yet. Stay here.”

I extended my arm to her with a piece of paper.

My heart raced.

(I feared rejection after saying anything at all.)

Then she stepped off the elevator, grabbed the paper with my number on it — and with tears in her eyes — she mouthed two words: Thank you.

The number one reason why parents yell. Plus, the 2-minute strategy that can help you stop yelling immediately.

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The number one reason why parents yell. Plus, the 2-minute strategy that can help you stop yelling immediately.

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  1. I do not cry easily, but this put me to tears. I have really been struggling with my 3 and 2 year old lately. They are constantly screaming at each other over toys. I feel myself get so angry and then I yell, sending both of them to their rooms. I feel like when I try to calmly get them to pick up their toys I’m talking to the wall, I get no response, which leads to raising my voice again. I hate ever being angry, especially at my kids, I love them so much.
    For a few days now, I have stopped whatever I’m doing to help resolve the problem before it escalates to me screaming. It has really worked, I feel more in control and I just hope I can keep it up.
    Thank you for writing this. It made me feel not so alone.

  2. Thank you for this. Am sure my two-year old will appreciate that I got your advice. Yes, in hindsight it is always ridiculous that I yell at a two year old. But I find myself doing it, often. Thank you.

  3. Not sure how I stumbled upon your website, but it is amazing. Tears in my eyes as I read this post (and other ones) because it is my life and it is really nice to know I am not the only mom who can’t always control her anger…even though it comes from a place of love. My husband doesn’t always understand, so thank you for writing this!!

  4. I needed to read this today… actually cried out to God to help me stop yelling 🙁 … Your blog – answered prayers one day at a time

  5. Loved the advice on five things to think about before you yell to feel power. That was something new and I cant wait to try it. My child and I are extremely passive so when I do yell its like “Okay Wow, who are you right now!?” lol and I always feel bad, frustrated with myself, and a little silly. But yelling still happens and of course everyone wants to be at zero with yelling. You are so brave to approach that mom, it sounds like it was just what she needed to hear.

  6. This is great advice, and I will try it soon, like tomorrow, since I often need to calm down. I am loving your down to earth writing style combined with scientific research. So many great articles that I can’t wait to read!!!

  7. Hi everyone. I know I might not be the typical reader here, I’m a 24 year old man without children. However, I am getting married soon and Me and my fiancée dearly want children. We have both agreed that we want to raise our children peacefully and positively with as much connection as possible.

    I thought I would write something, even though many might find what I have to say controversial. Most parents are on here to find ways of improvement which is a good thing and is clearly not an indictment of any one here. I am very close to going no contact and estranging myself from my parents due to the fact that they were constantly yelling at me.

    Both of my parents yelled at me until I was 21. I remember being six and my dad yelling at me for getting in trouble at school when I made some craft thing rather than doing whatever assignment I was supposed to do. At 9 he yelled at the top of his lungs because I hadn’t brought home a paper from school saying we would not have school later on that week.

    Other than that there was frequent long chewing outs about things which seemed nonsensical. Once he told me to do three different things while working on something and I asked for clarification. He gave me a long lecture about how I was lazy and inconsiderate because I didn’t do what he asked.

    At 20 when I couldn’t fit into my boyscout uniform from 16 he made fun of me and called me fat.

    My mom would yell st and haragne me for things which weren’t my fault. At 16 I was supposed to perform at the graduation for the high school. I was late because one of my friends I was driving was feeling sick. After telling me that I had no regard and didn’t care about people I told them that my friend was sick. They both went silent and acted angry the rest of the day, apologizing to my friend who pleaded with my mom to forgive me. However, I was never apologized to.

    When I was 9 mom yelled at and hit my for pressing the alarm button on an elevator. I was trying to press the open door button because the door was closing and my dad couldn’t get on in time. She said I was being bad because I was pressing the button for fun.

    Any friends I brought over we’re accused of some form of wrong doing frequently. I had my best friend over once and we played a Star Wars game on the Wii that I owned at the time. Over the next few days I had a boil on my earlobe. My mom yelled at me due to the fact that my friend had tried to pierce my ear, which did not happen at all.

    At 23 my mom called me lazy in front of my fiancée then girlfriend. I snapped and yelled at her saying that’s i don’t want to visit her because of the way she mocks and belittles me. She tried to get me to make a high pitched sound that I ended up making whenever I was in high pitched emotions. I became even angrier due to the fact that she was trying to invalidate my feelings. Instead of apologizing for calling me lazy she acted hurt and said she would leave the house.

    The feeling that my desires or needs were subservient to that of my parents made me feel deep shame. The fact that I didn’t want to spend time with my parents or didn’t feel loving towards them only escalated things worse. I felt a great sense of worthlessness due to the fact that I would make my parents very angry by simply forgetting a paper. A good child would remember every paper and they would be loved.

    I now hate my parents and want nothing more to do with them. I genuinely believe they had other priorities than to make me a healthy productive adult. I know many here will argue otherwise. If they did have that as a major priority and people want to just say they didn’t have the skills or knowledge then they were neglectful in not acquiring those while I was still young. They are either evil or stupid to be blunt and frankly I’m not sure which is worse.

    To summarize my point here I want to say that I think it’s wonderful so many moms want to amend their behaviors. I understand parenting is hard, but so is open heart surgery. We hold open heart surgeons accountable whenever they are neglectful or malicious.

    If you do not want to be in the situation where my parents are in where I am on the brink of total estrangement from them, then for your sake and the children’s, STOP YELLING.

    Go to therapy, go to classes, go to support groups, you have the time and money now because you sure as sunshine will not get any more later. Investing your time and mental energies now will save massive heartache later. I know my parents must feel horrible and anguished, but such is the consequences of their actions. Intentions be damned.

    No one is a bad parent for losing their temper, but bad people are made by the bricks of bad decisions. Start right now building a foundation of peace and goodness as parents. Please don’t end up like my parents as there are enough broken people walking around that we do not need more.

    Thank you for reading this and I hope it offers some help and insight.

  8. This is such a great post! My little one is almost 3 and I also have a 9 month old so things are starting to get A LOT harder! My toddler just started a phase of not wanting to sleep, either for naps or at night and my husband and I are so sleep deprived. We both get so frustrated sometimes when we struggle with our little guy and he’s bouncing off the walls at 1 in the morning. I’ve noticed us start to yell a lot more during these times and we hate it! I love the suggestions of just saying out loud how you’re feeling or stomping your foot. It’s a great example to our little as well of how to express yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. They learn from watching you as a parent, so it’s important to us to teach or kids how to express their frustrations in a positive way. Thank you again for the encouragement!

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