You’re Lying To Yourself If You Think This Works

Your son failed a test. He hit his brother. Your daughter forgot to do her homework. She scratched your car and lied about it. They are acting insane and you need it to stop. You just desperately want them to grasp the stakes of what’s happening.

So you yell. You threaten timeout. You threaten to ground them. You don’t hold back. But it doesn’t work. Of course, it doesn’t work.

The sports psychologist Jonathan Fader tells a story about his four-year-old daughter. She came up with a way to tease her older sister: kissing her. Over and over and over again. The older daughter asked Fader to say something to her little sister to get her to stop, which he did, but minutes later the four-year-old was at it again. And again and again and again. Shocked and annoyed, Fader yelled and lectured his daughter before placing her in timeout.

Later, when everyone had calmed down, Fader tried to talk with his four-year-old, to get her to understand what happened. Now why did I yell? Why did you get in trouble?? he asked. He hoped she could see now, that because she hadn’t listened, there had been consequences. Instead, she looked him straight in the eye and said with perfect earnestness, because you were mad?

Whether you’re a head football coach or a father, nobody learns anything from you when you’re yelling, even when you’re trying to say something good. “YOU HAVE SO MUCH POTENTIAL AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, DON’T YOU EVER DO SOMETHING THIS DANGEROUS EVER AGAIN!”! You think all you’re doing with the verbal CAPS LOCK is putting emphasis on what you’re saying, so they know how much you mean it and how much you care. In fact, all you’re doing is drowning that out. The yelling is undermining your point, not putting an exclamation point on it.

It doesn’t work. It never has. It never will. And the only reason you’re doing it–even though you know better because your parents yelled at you and it didn’t work on you–is because you’re upset and out of control. Get through your anger before you try to get through to them.

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