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Yelling Works...Temporarily

An article from Jonathan McKee at

My daughters were monsters this weekend!

No, not Lady Gaga fans (Gaga calls her fans her “little monsters”), but literal monsters! My daughters we grumpy, mean and at each other’s throats every second.

We tried to intervene but it did no good.

“Ashley, please stop talking to your sister that way.”

“Don’t talk to me, talk with Alyssa, she’s the one being the jerk!”

This, of course, catalyzed a retort from Alyssa. “Who’s the idiot that just borrowed my shirt without asking for the 10th time!”

Nothing was working. They were on a rampage.

The question is always, how to respond. As a guy with an Irish temper, I always have to be careful. The easy route is to simply raise my voice to a painful volume and yell, “That’s it! Shut up right now or you’re both gonna be doing yardwork until midnight!”

It works, mind you. They actually will be quiet when I do that. But yelling is a temporary fix if you think about it. It gets you what you want for the moment. When I yell, my girls know I’ve had enough. They know I’m serious. They don’t want to poke Papa-Bear at this point. But unfortunately, yelling is just a short-term solution. Within a minute several things happen:

  • My girls are both mad at me for yelling at them.

  • I’m feeling guilty.

  • They don’t even see their own inappropriate behavior any more because they are too busy focusing on my angry outburst.

Oh yeah… yelling has one other cancerous result: my wife is now disappointed in me! (Is there anything worse? Not in my house. Disappointment is the ultimate punishment. I’d take “anger” any day.)

Maybe that’s just me. Perhaps no one else is ever tempted to just bark out a fatal, “shut up!!” at times. But for those of you who, like me, struggle with how to respond to hormonal teenage girls on rampage, I’m slowly learning a few truths:

  1. A soft voice can be just as effective as a loud one, if not even more effective.

  2. Think about it for a second. What if I said almost the exact same words, but with a quiet voice. Try this:

    “Listen to me once because I promise that I’m not going to repeat this. The next person to say a mean word to someone in this house today is going to be outside pulling weeds for one hour.”

    Pause for effect, and then with a smile you could even add…

    “Try me.”

    Then leave the room. But you can’t neglect this second principle…

  3. Follow through with your promise.

  4. Yes, simple but true. It’s like this. If you threaten to take away your daughter’s iPhone if she gets a D, and then you don’t take away her iPhone when she gets a D… she’s going to get more Ds. Lots of them! Because she knows that you’re full of it!

    If you tell your kids something, follow through with it. Yes, this means that you can’t threaten to ground them until they’re 30—that might prove difficult to enforce. So think through your punishments carefully (My wife and I like to have a few nice chores on hand. “Oh wow. The 145 pound dog is getting pretty smelly. Next time a kid needs a chore, let’s have them wash Sasquatch!”) and keep your word.

This isn’t easy. If it was easy, then there wouldn’t be so many messed up teenagers. Unfortunately, there are literally millions!

Don’t go for the temporary solution. If your house is full of monsters, don’t bark at them; just give them a promise that you intend to keep. You’ll be amazed how quickly your kids will obey. (And if they don’t, Sasquatch will be clean and your wife won’t hate you! It doesn’t get much better than this!)

Jonathan spends an entire chapter talking about how imperfect parents can discipline effectively in his book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent

Jonathan McKee Jonathan McKee is the author of twenty books including the brand new 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; More Than Just the Talk; Sex Matters; The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, and You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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Comments on this post

   Greg Worley         8/8/2011 11:30:16 AM

Thanks for the partnership in parenting...

   dan manns         7/21/2011 1:15:33 PM

oops forgot to leave a rating...

   dan manns         7/21/2011 1:14:02 PM

so true Jon! this was a great, quick read article. once after yelling at my son for not treating his younger sister kindly he muttered under his breath as i was leaving his room... "well that was inspiring". i couldn't hold it in and we both laughed. yelling just isn't effective parenting. before i start a parental rant, i try to think of the end result - the behavior i want my kids to accomplish. and rarely will i be able to get there by yelling. it just doesn't produce the right response most of the time. calm parenting is smart parenting! thanks Jon!

   Crystal         7/21/2011 1:05:52 PM

Well I am not a parent but I am an aunt of 7 neices and nephews ages 4-14... I am a youth worker for the 2 oldests class and I am constantly choosing my words with them all... My mother was a very vocal parent and she didnt spare the rod either so that is what I know... This article really helped me. Through the years I have taught myself to use sarcasm instead of yelling but it can have the same effects. Im glad Im not alone in this learning process...

   Andrew Dear         7/21/2011 12:13:27 PM

This article was rated but no comment was left

   Jonathan McKee         7/21/2011 11:52:58 AM

I knew I wasn't alone!!!

   Michelle         7/21/2011 9:07:54 AM

Great article! Yep, been there, done that--wait, am there, doing that. My oldest daughter is learning to drive and my patience always starts out very well, but doesn't always stay there. Just this morning, I yelled at her for not listening to me (it was a dangerous situation that could have caused an accident). I made her pull over so I could drive the rest of the way. I did apologize, as did she, but ouch! The damage was done. I too wrestle with the yelling thing. It seems that if I don't raise my voice, they don't take me seriously. I do have the follow-through part down well. Two teenage girls in the house is not always a walk in the park. Thanks for your transparency, Jonathan!

   Patrick Garrett         7/21/2011 8:09:15 AM

Jonathan, you lose it...I had no idea! Thank you for this great and timely article. From the previous blogs regarding your Florida trip, I did not realise you had such beastly daughters last weekend. So often in your blog they are shown in a positive light, [I recently enjoyed Ashley's comments in the video and on the Selena Gomes song] and model family type stuff. Nonetheless, our children are not perfect. Taking the focus off of your daughters for a moment, I would like to echo your sentiments for their usefulness to all parents ~ I mentioned your blog was "timely" and this is true; just yesterday I shouted at my children. Now I could try to justify it, [it was out of heat, frustration and lack of sleep, etc] but your point stands regardless. I had to apologise to them later in the day for the way I dealt with them and they were gracious. Your example is with teens, but it is no different when dealing with young children [as I have ~ all 3 under 7yrs old] and I often need reminders of how yelling really doesn't solve things. Like Justin above me here, I too worry about the way I interact with my children for fear that my interactions and impact with the youth at the church would be comprimsed. Your two excellent suggestions are inline with a respected parenting author Babra Coloroso, whose teaching to "say what you mean, mean what you say and always do what you say you will do" have been a guide for my wife and I as we parent. Thak you again for your article, and I pray for all of us to have many "yell-free" encounters with your children in the future.

   Justin         7/21/2011 5:53:48 AM

I'm a dad of an 8 year old girl and a 2 year old son. Trust me, the temptation to bark out an occasional "SHUT UP" comes up a few times a day. It's something that I struggle with constantly. On top of that, I'm the youth pastor at church so I always have this fear in my mind that when I raise my voice like that to my kids, that will discredit the things I say at youth group and Jr Worship to my kids. I feel ya Johnathan. I'm working on the whole "saying the same thing without raising the voice". Keep me in prayer!


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