In this guide, we will discuss “how to stop a child from yelling” and some tools you can benefit from using behavioral psychology principles.
How to stop a child from yelling?
If you want to know how to stop your child from yelling we need to talk about some basic behavioral psychology concepts that can be very useful. There are two basic ways to change or modify behavior, reinforcement, and punishment. Yes, punishment can sound a little harsh but it is not intended in the traditional sense.
Reinforcement increases behavior and punishment has the contrary effect, meaning, decreasing behavior. Let’s see each concept:
- Positive* reinforcement: here you “add” something in order to increase the desired behavior. For instance, something they like (i.e. reward, treat, sticker).
- Negative* reinforcement: here we need to take away something (they don’t like) in order to increase a behavior.
- Positive* punishment: here we add something they don’t like to decrease behavior.
- Negative* punishment: take away something that they do want, to decrease their behavior.
*Positive (+) and negative (-) will be related to adding and subtracting something.
In addition, consider how your toddler’s behavior has a specific objective, either getting your attention, getting something tangible, or avoiding something. Learning how to read your toddler’s behavior will help you proceed to identify which concept best suits the context. Let’s see some examples.
Example 1: “I want my toy!”
For example, let’s imagine your toddler is yelling at you because they want you to get them a toy that is out of their reach. Yelling here is the behavior you want to decrease and you can also take the opportunity to teach them an alternative behavior to yelling so they can get what they want which is more effective. If they start yelling you can say something like “I can’t hear you when you are screaming, my ears are hurting. ” and avoid making eye contact.
They will either keep yelling or lower their voice and address to you in a different way but with the same intention. If this happens you make eye contact and pay attention to your kid congratulating them for using their calmer tone of voice and then you can reinforce this alternative behavior by giving them the toy they wanted. However, if they keep screaming you can decrease their behavior by removing your attention from the situation, this means not paying attention to them. When they feel they are not in control anymore if you are trying to get this behavior “extinguished” from their repertoire then they will increase their efforts, so try to be consistent in removing your whole attention until they stop.
Managing this kind of situation is difficult because you will be tempted to cave in just so they can stop yelling but try to breathe and stay calm.
Example 2: “I want chocolate”
You are having a phone call with a friend and your child starts whining and saying he/she wants some candy. Here you have two options, you can give them chocolate reinforcing their whining behavior just so you can avoid a tantrum and you can keep talking on the phone or you can stop your call and address your toddler’s needs. Here you can be certain they are whining because they want chocolate but it could also be the result of needing some attention from you so you can stop talking on the phone.
You can start by using a soft tone of voice, recognizing what they want but not necessarily giving in. if you don’t really want to give them the chocolate because it is almost time to have lunch or going to bed then you can try negotiating. They won’t necessarily get chocolate but maybe you can replace it with some cuddles or a bedtime story, it will actually depend on what your child likes.
However, if you have tried negotiating with your child and their behavior escalates from whining to a full-blown tantrum you can try to approach your child and grab their hand, use some reassuring statements such as “you are safe” and also you can try giving them a hug but don’t touch them unless you are invited to. Sometimes what your toddler needs is crying and getting in touch with their feelings.
Example 3: “I don’t want vegetables!”
Let’s imagine you are having lunchtime with your kid and it starts yelling at you because he/she doesn’t want to eat their veggies. It is normal vegetables are not really appealing for children but getting them to eat healthily is a challenge to you. Sometimes you may have found yourself saying “Ok, don’t eat them” and let them go watch TV or play with their toys.
Here their behavior is being increased by the removal of something they don’t like, which is the vegetables, however, they get what they want, which is watching their favorite cartoon or playing with their toys. What you could do in a situation like this is try to divert their attention away from the fact they are eating the vegetables or associate the fact that after eating their vegetables there is a good reward waiting for them which would be in this case their favorite cartoon or their favorite toy. They serve as reinforcers of your desired behavior which is eating their veggies.
Avoid using statements such as “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you don’t get to watch TV”. This is threatening, instead say something like “Mr. Rabbit eats all of the veggies and he is big and strong, don’t you want to be as Mr, Rabbit? Let’s eat this very fast so you can go and watch Mr. Rabbit’s new adventure! Can’t wait to see what happens next!”. It sounds very different and surely more appealing to your child.
Free access to reinforcers
We have talked about behavioral psychology principles and how you can use them to your benefit. However, let’s talk about rewards and how sometimes they don’t seem to work. This is because when they have free access to the things they like they don’t need to put an effort to get them back.
Make a list of the things your toddler uses the most and make sure you restrict the access during the day so you can actually use them to reinforce desired behaviors or punish those which you would like to decrease. For instance, if your kid has free access to their tablet all day then you can’t really use it, later on, to reinforce or punish their behavior if they have had their fair share of using it.
On the contrary, if the tablet is used one or two hours a day, you can use it to your advantage when needed. Be careful, here we are not trying to be threatening but it is important to let them know their behavior clearly has a consequence.
Why is this blog about how to stop a child from yelling important?
This blog about how to stop a child from yelling is important for many parents that already feel frustrated or really don’t know what to do with their child to stop yelling. We have learned here behavioral psychology principles to be used (wisely) to increase the desired behavior or decreased undesired behavior.
In addition, we saw useful examples of how we could implement these tools and how sometimes we seem to make the mistake of resorting to threatening them or yelling back at them to make them stop.
Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to stop a child from yelling
How do I get my child to stop yelling?
Here are five tips you can use to get your child to stop yelling, according to empoweringparents.com:
- Use face-to-face communication. This means looking at your child, making eye contact, and being actually close to them instead of yelling from another room or the kitchen.
- Have positive regard.
- Use a structure.
- Talk to your child about yelling.
- Get out of the argument.
Why does my child scream at me?
Your child may be screaming at you to get your full attention or they need/want something they can have on their own or it has been denied to them. It is usually a behavior that has been reinforced in previous interactions when they have gotten what they want (i.e. your attention, a cookie, or a toy). It is usually the “best” behavior they can find to deal with frustration/anger, but certainly not the one with the most positive effect on parents.
How do I stop my toddler screaming?
If you want your toddler to stop screaming it is recommended to change your approach to it:
- Start by regulating yourself emotionally, try to detach, and ignore the screaming but be consistent. This will remove the power that screaming has on you.
- If your child screams all the time, make sure to check their hearing. They may be having a hearing problem that hasn’t been detected so far (i.e. screaming in pain).
- Try not to react to the screaming itself but paying attention to the situation and your toddler’s frustration teaching new behaviors to replace the screaming instead of falling into a “screaming match”.
- Give them the tools to say what they need to say but in a different tone of voice that has the desired effect.
How do I stop my toddler from screaming when angry?
If you want to stop your toddler from screaming when angry, help them find ways to express their anger or frustration in a different way. For instance, if your child is always screaming because they need something, find ways so they can ask for it without screaming using just one or two words or ask them to point at what they want/need.
How do you fix a relationship with a child after yelling?
If you want to fix your relationship with your child after yelling and especially if you have lost control and raised your voice, it is important you take time out for yourself, to breathe and calm down. After, you can talk to them about emotions and naming them. You can use stories or pictures to help them identify their emotions. You can also use consequences to teach them how actions come with a reaction but without threatening them.
Live On Purpose TV: Dr. Paul Jenkins on How to Get Your Kid To Stop Screaming. Retrieved from Youtube.
The Parenting Junkie: Dr. Laura Markham Handles a Tantrum (role play!). Retrieved from Youtube.