Yelling is a disciplinary method employed by most American parents.1
Almost all of us have experienced being yelled at by our parents at some point during our childhood.
Most of us turn out fine.
However, this does not necessarily mean that yelling is harmless for all children.
Types of Yelling
Not all yellings are equal. Some are more damaging than others.
There are generally four types of parental yelling.
This is an impulsive response to a child’s action, usually caused by surprise, shock, fear, or immediate anger.
Parents often yell reflexively in these situations without thinking through their response.
Nearly every parent has done this.
When your inquisitive toddler is on the verge of poking their fork into an electrical outlet, your preschooler empties a jar of spaghetti sauce into your handbag, or your impulsive child is attempting to flush a slipper down the toilet, yelling is a natural response.
In many of these situations, it’s justified.
Raising your voice is understandable when action must be halted immediately or when you’re caught off guard.
This type of reaction occurs in nearly every family and is unlikely to cause lasting psychological harm to the child, given that it is not followed by other parental aggression.
When parents are physically or emotionally drained, their patience and ability to cope with challenging situations diminish.
As a result, when they feel stressed, overwhelmed, or irritated, or when their children ignore them, they raise their voices to express their frustration and regain control.
This form of yelling can be mitigated by becoming more aware of your emotional and physical state.
You can name it when you recognize you are about to lose your temper.
“If I have to repeat this, I’m afraid I’ll lose it and yell. I don’t like yelling, and I’m sure neither do you.
Could you please do this now?”
This form of yelling often involves derogatory remarks, humiliation, and verbal aggression.
Some parents may be pushed to a state of intense rage, prompting them to direct verbal attacks toward others, including their children.
However, some may already possess a mean-spirited disposition.
Such parents may not treat their children kindly, possibly harboring resentment due to unplanned parenthood, job loss, or a general dislike for their children’s presence.
Aggressive yelling is verbal abuse. It indicates that the angry parent may be experiencing emotional issues and expressing their feelings through anger.
Often, the underlying issues causing the expression of anger are unrelated to the child, highlighting the need for the parent to seek help in anger management to foster a healthier family environment.
When yelling takes root due to parents frequently raising their voices for reasons not connected to immediate concerns, they may develop a habit of yelling, leading to a shorter fuse.
Therefore, they may become easily triggered by similar situations in their interactions with children, causing them to yell impulsively.
Frequent yelling may also encompass other types of yelling, such as exhaustion and aggressive yelling.
Children can suffer significant psychological damage if habitual yelling becomes regular verbal abuse.
There are ten categories of “never acceptable” verbal abuse.2
Rejection or withdrawal of love -“Nobody loves you.”
- Verbal put-downs – “You’re such an idiot.”
- Perfectionism – “You’re such a failure. You only came in second.”
- Negative prediction – “You’re never going to amount to anything.”
- Negative comparison – “You’ll never be like your cousin.”
- Scapegoating – “You’re the reason we are separating.”
- Shaming – “Look at yourself. You’re so fat.”
- Cursing or swearing – “Go to hell.”
- Threats – “I’m going to kill you if you do that.”
- Guilt trip – “After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me?”
Psychological effects of being yelled at
In the form of verbal abuse, yelling constitutes psychological aggression intended to inflict emotional pain on the child.
Verbal abuse is emotional abuse and one of the most challenging and prevalent forms.3
It can have severe long-term psychological effects on the child.
Research shows that the adverse effects of aggressive yelling appear comparable to other types of abuse.4
Those negative effects of yelling can result even when abuse is relatively mild.5
Parental verbal aggression can change the brain over time.
Diffusion tensor imaging offers a more comprehensive view of the brain’s fiber tracts than standard MRI scans.
Through this advanced imaging technique, researchers discovered that even mild verbal abuse is closely linked to decreased white matter integrity within three distinct brain regions.
One of these regions plays a crucial role in verbal IQ, comprehension, and language development.6
Frequent yelling can weaken the attachment bond between a parent and child, leading to attachment issues.
Insecure attachment can have a significant impact on adult relationships later in life.
The adult child may have a difficult time establishing and maintaining close relationships, or they may repeatedly enter into unhealthy relationships.7
Constant yelling and rejection can be highly damaging to self-esteem in children.
In some cases, this type of maltreatment may have more detrimental long-term effects on a child’s self-worth than physical abuse, as it directly threatens the child’s developing sense of self and emotional well-being.
When a child experiences frequent verbal assault, they may internalize these negative messages, leading to feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and potentially long-lasting emotional scars that can impact their mental health and relationships.8
Mental health issues
Parental verbal aggression is a strong predictor of mental health symptoms.
Effects of yelling include feelings of anxiety, depression, dissociation, irritability, anger, and hostility in young adults.9
Earlier onset of bipolar disorder is another problem associated with aggressive parental yelling.
Teenagers whose parents employ harsh verbal discipline are more likely to have increased conduct problems.10
Furthermore, they are more likely to engage in physical and verbal aggression, run away, and engage in delinquent behavior.11,12
Maladaptive Coping Mechanism
Social support and positive relationships with parents and peers play a crucial role in fostering resilience and effective coping strategies in adolescents.
These resources can help reduce stress, encourage adaptive coping, and prevent the development of maladaptive behaviors.
However, teenagers with verbally abusive parents are more likely to adopt unhealthy coping, such as escapism.
As a result, they may be more prone to internet gaming disorders and other maladaptive coping mechanisms.13
Chronic stress, often referred to as toxic stress, can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on the body.
Toxic stress can trigger the constant release of stress hormones.
Over time, excessive cortisol can suppress the immune system and the body’s inflammatory response, increasing the risk of infection.
Children exposed to toxic stress face a heightened risk of various adverse health outcomes in adulthood, such as heart disease, obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.14
Also See: How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids
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- 1.Straus MA, Field CJ. Psychological Aggression by American Parents: National Data on Prevalence, Chronicity, and Severity. J Marriage and Family. Published online November 2003:795-808. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.00795.x
- 2.Schaefer C. Defining Verbal Abuse of Children: A Survey. Psychol Rep. Published online April 1997:626-626. doi:10.2466/pr0.1918.104.22.1686
- 3.Hibbard R, Barlow J, MacMillan H, et al. Psychological Maltreatment. Pediatrics. Published online August 1, 2012:372-378. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1552
- 4.Spinazzola J, Hodgdon H, Liang LJ, et al. Unseen wounds: The contribution of psychological maltreatment to child and adolescent mental health and risk outcomes. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Published online 2014:S18-S28. doi:10.1037/a0037766
- 5.Belsky J, de Haan M. Annual Research Review: Parenting and children’s brain development: the end of the beginning. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Published online July 7, 2010:409-428. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02281.x
- 6.Choi J, Jeong B, Rohan ML, Polcari AM, Teicher MH. Preliminary Evidence for White Matter Tract Abnormalities in Young Adults Exposed to Parental Verbal Abuse. Biological Psychiatry. Published online February 2009:227-234. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.06.022
- 7.Riggs SA, Kaminski P. Childhood Emotional Abuse, Adult Attachment, and Depression as Predictors of Relational Adjustment and Psychological Aggression. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. Published online January 19, 2010:75-104. doi:10.1080/10926770903475976
- 8.Solomon CR, Serres F. Effects of parental verbal aggression on children’s self-esteem and school marks. Child Abuse & Neglect. Published online April 1999:339-351. doi:10.1016/s0145-2134(99)00006-x
- 9.Teicher MH MD,PhD, Samson JA PhD, Polcari A RN,CS, McGreenery CE. Sticks, Stones, and Hurtful Words: Relative Effects of Various Forms of Childhood Maltreatment. AJP. Published online June 2006:993-1000. doi:10.1176/ajp.2006.163.6.993
- 10.Wang MT, Kenny S. Longitudinal Links Between Fathers’ and Mothers’ Harsh Verbal Discipline and Adolescents’ Conduct Problems and Depressive Symptoms. Child Dev. Published online September 3, 2013:908-923. doi:10.1111/cdev.12143
- 11.Spillane-Grieco E. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal. Published online 2000:411-430. doi:10.1023/a:1026427710320
- 12.Evans SZ, Simons LG, Simons RL. The Effect of Corporal Punishment and Verbal Abuse on Delinquency: Mediating Mechanisms. J Youth Adolescence. Published online March 30, 2012:1095-1110. doi:10.1007/s10964-012-9755-x
- 13.Yang X, Jiang X, Mo PK han, Cai Y, Ma L, Lau JT fai. Prevalence and Interpersonal Correlates of Internet Gaming Disorders among Chinese Adolescents. IJERPH. Published online January 16, 2020:579. doi:10.3390/ijerph17020579
- 14.Hornor G. Childhood Trauma Exposure and Toxic Stress: What the PNP Needs to Know. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. Published online March 2015:191-198. doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2014.09.006