Does Yelling Motivate?

Tonight my three-year-old and I had a little stand-off.  He wanted to wear his brother’s roller skates (instead of his own), and he thought that kicking, screaming, hitting, and biting would do the trick.  Dinner was on the stove, my husband was delayed getting home from work, I’d just had a full afternoon of unproductive errands (where I drive around from store to store, but never find quite what I’m looking for), my eyelids were drooping from lack of sleep, and my daughters were begging me to join them in the front yard while they practiced their new photography hobby. 

It’s moments like this when I want to yell.

For the past month, we’ve been working on Patience at The Power of Moms, and I’ve been amazed at how the thoughts and ideas I’ve been reading on the website have helped me keep a better perspective when I encounter situations like the one above (which is replicated in some form or another at least three times a day).

When we visualized motherhood, way back when we “knew everything,” it’s unlikely that any of us pictured ourselves consistently flying off the handle.  I think that’s why Linda Eyre’s book, I Didn’t Plan to Be a Witch resonated so well with mothers.

One of our new Power of Moms Authors, Aubrey Degn, recently wrote a post called “Becoming Snow White.”  Her four-year-old son had watched that classic movie, and he wanted his mom to act the part:

One morning, we were pretend playing and I was saying things like, “Oh Grumpy, come put your pants on,” or “Please pass me that train,” in my Snow White voice. Suddenly Luke misbehaved, and I said something like, “Hey, Luke, no, don’t do that!” I stopped. I had talked in my normal voice, and compared to Snow White, I sounded like an ogre. Did I sound like that all the time? No wonder my kids didn’t listen to me!I started to notice during my stint as Snow White that I actually got some quicker, happier results from my children. Was it Snow White or was it my tone? Friedrich Nietzsche said, “We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.”

This article got me thinking about the way I try to motivate my children.  A good friend of mine taught me early on,  “If your children don’t listen to you, it’s because you’re talking too much or too loud.” Wise, wise words.  I’m pretty good about keeping my voice even, but I’m sure the word “ogre” could be used to describe me from time to time.

If someone yells at me (even through an unkind email or comment), it might motivate me to address the issue that’s upset this person so terribly, but the relationship I have (or might have had) with that person is forever altered.  It’s like squeezing all the toothpaste out of a tube and then trying to put it back in.  Once it’s out, it’s out.  We can clean up the mess, but we can’t make that experience disappear.

I was raised with a “Snow White” mom, and a “Prince Charming” dad, and one of the main reasons I wanted to behave well and create a meaningful life was because I knew how much my parents loved and supported me.  Contrast that with the book I’m currently reading, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where Amy Chua’s hours and hours of music practice with her daughter Lulu are described as “bloodbath practice sessions” where they “fought like jungle beasts,” and you get an entirely different picture.  (In defense of the author, I must say she has done a beautiful job with her book–it’s a “must read” in order to get the whole story.)

Perhaps some would consider my life a failure because I never played an instrument in Carnegie Hall, but the love and adoration I have for my parents is something I would never trade.  Each time I call my mom on the phone, it goes like this:

MOM (In the gentlest, kindest voice you’ve ever heard):  Hello?

ME (in an excited voice–like we haven’t spoken in years): MOTHER!!!!

MOM (in an equally excited voice): APRIL!!!!

I love that.  I love it that I mean so much to her–and that she shows me through the way she speaks.  In a parenting class I took back in college, my professor drilled this idea into our heads:  “Every child in the world deserves to have at least one person who is absolutely crazy about them.”  Living that is my goal.

How did the roller-skate-dinnertime fiasco turn out? I took a deep breath, gently strapped my little boy into his stroller, and let him sit next to me in the kitchen while he completed his tantrum.  In my “Snow White” voice, I reminded him that he could get out as soon as he said, “I’m sorry, mommy.  I will be nice.”  Within five minutes (which felt like 30), he calmed down, and our evening proceeded beautifully.

Whether it’s a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum, an 11-year-old repeatedly breaking a family rule, or an adult child making choices that cause mom and dad to cringe, we, as parents, get to choose whether we motivate by yelling or by love.  Sometimes I want to yell, sometimes I think yelling will yield quicker results, but still . . . I vote love.

QUESTION: Have you ever been motivated by yelling? What do you do to control your temper?

CHALLENGE: Decide now that you’re going to handle the next catastrophe in your home with patience and love.


  1. says

    With the exception of yesterday (which we’ll pretend didn’t happen), my goals to yell less are really making a positive difference. It really is having a great effect on the overall harmony of our home, when Mom isn’t constantly speaking at the top of her voice. (I just finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on Sunday–parts of it made me cringe, but definitely a recommended read.) Enjoyed reading this article April.

  2. Alisha Gale says

    I think the yelling/Snow White voice is a bit of a false dilemma. I’ve certainly found a stern, sharp voice is appropriate in some situations. The truth is, with some kids, sometimes, sweetness fails. And then you have to pull out the, “I mean business” tone. Am I wrong?

    • April Perry says

      I think that’s a very good point. I certainly speak with a variety of tones–depending on the child and the situation, but I’ve found that when my “regular” voice starts becoming the “sharp/stern” voice, I need to invite Snow White to come play :)

  3. Amy says

    I get the point April is making and I also agree with Alisha. I’ve been struck with the statistics that 57% of our communication is done through body language, 36% through tone and only 7% through words.

    I think a huge part of the dilemma is modeling and schooling our children about emotion. If we look at emotion as “energy in motion” and remember that energy cannot be destroyed, only converted, it seems changing (not stuffing) our emotions is key. I think all of us have experienced the sense of invalidation that comes when we’re working to process emotion and someone suggests we “shouldn’t” feel that way. In the interest of time we can’t always stop to recognize and validate how a child is feeling, but I’ve also found doing so can diffuse a situation and save time. This is a skill and an art (even with ourselves), which is so critical for relationships.

    When I say validate a feeling I mean starting with empathy: Mother to screaming child “I can tell you’re having a hard time…” (after all who of us as mothers haven’t had those times when WE feel like throwing a tantrum!) and then teaching them to move through it and change the feeling (not just the behavior). I’ve noticed even toddlers respond to this approach (I believe it’s the energy behind our words and tone), yet we all experience moments of fatigue/ hunger/ pain etc. that put us in a place of irrationality.

    I think of the words “reprove betimes (meaning in a timely manner) with sharpness (meaning clarity)… afterward showing an increase of love, lest (they) esteem thee to be thine enemy.” (I believe the best scenario for this requires divine help). I think trust is the greatest motivator for anyone. There are many people I love, but the ones who “have my ear” are the ones I love AND trust. Our children will see right through a facade, but I think they will trust us more when we acknowledge feelings and then work to move through them. It goes deeper than the “fake it til you make it” approach. Many of us weren’t taught how to do this and now in the position of teacher hopefully we find that much more motivation to learn it! (The Emotional Intelligence series has helped me a lot with this process)

    I know people who struggle in working through conflict because they didn’t see it modeled by parents who never disagreed. I also know people who are totally well adjusted who grew up with a lot of conflict. There are so many factors in how our children are affected by our parenting that it blows my mind at times. Thank heaven I get my own course to run AND awesome women who are willing to share their own experiences for me to consider!

    • April Perry says

      Great thoughts here! Thanks so much, Amy. There are so many little nuances that go into our relationships with our children. And yes, I do believe we all need divine help. I have two girls who are getting close to their teenage years, and dealing with emotions (with the three of us) has become an hourly occurrence. It is so great to have so many opportunities to learn. Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

  4. Marlene says

    I’m not sure if I would know how to talk like Snow White. I’m an alto. Seriously though I confess to having done my share of yelling when my kids were young. I also cried, bit my tongue, and stared blankly at walls when my kids drove me crazy. Regardless of my many failed attempts at patience I would always do two things – I would tell my kids I was sorry and I would keep trying. They learned that I could admit to being wrong and that I respected them enough to apologize. They also learned that I wanted to do better and wouldn’t stop trying. If the yelling didn’t teach them anything then at least the effort to improve did.

    • April Perry says

      What a wonderful comment, Marlene. I think that’s an essential point to consider. We’re all going to have off-days, and no one can be perfectly patient all the time. However, that process of showing our children that we’re trying to be better each day sets a beautiful example for them. I think you’re wonderful!

    • says

      I’m in your camp, Marlene- I’ve cried, bit my tongue and started at the wall within the last two weeks! I keep apologizing and trying to get back up. I’ve also been reading The Christian Parent’s Anger Workbook and The Power of Positive Parenting to learn to get my temper under control.

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