How much yelling is okay for kids to be exposed to?
October 12, 2009 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Being a parent. What's appropriate in terms of displaying emotions? Of course, more inside.

We have a kid. We also both have tempers (with each other, with life). I have a belief that we should not let our tempers get the best of us in front of kid (age 1). My husband doesn't view his temper in the negative way that I do (and never has, even though I've discussed it with him quite a bit). I have asked him to not raise his voice in front of kid. I am worried about the short and long-term effect that this display of "negative emotions" may have on our kid. (Question #1 = is this display of emotion bad for kid? Am I overreacting?) Kid has already begun to react a bit when kid hears arguing, or at least I believe this to be the case.

I grew up in a house with NO showing of emotions, so my own compass on how much "temper expression" is perhaps out-of-whack. How much is okay? (Question #2) (Example: is it okay to yell at other drivers in front of kid? Yell at a football game screw up? What about mommy and daddy disagreeing about something that goes beyond discussion into debate into argument territory?)

If this is in fact a bad thing, any books or other resources that can help us (and especially my husband) understand alternative ways to deal with our emotions (This is question #3)? And question #4, how can I get my husband to understand that it is a bad thing? (When kid is a little older and reacts more strongly to yelling may this do the trick to show my husband that this is a bad thing?) Is therapy a good idea? For the 85% of the time that he is a great dad, it isn't worth DTMFA on something that we can work on. And question #5, if this isn't a bad thing, how can I adjust my reactions to his temper?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Can you two work out a disagreement to a mutually agreeable conclusion without shouting and/or belittling the other? If so, this is a good thing to model for your children. If not, then, yes on therapy. Bottling up all emotion is just as bad in some cases as flying off the handle. It sounds like you and your husband are evenly balanced at the extremes. A therapist can help you come to a more fruitful and happy middle ground.
posted by amanda at 6:02 PM on October 12, 2009

I grew up in a WASP-y household too, in which cold glares, long lectures, or general withholding of affection replaced yelling, except when things became really really bad. As a result, any yelling freaks me out, sends the adrenalin rushing and gets my heart racing, as it indicates to me that everything has gone to hell. It took me a while to understand, and I kind of envy, the way non-WASPs can get things of their chests by yelling without rancor, without it being an indication of DEFCON 1, NUKES INBOUND.
posted by orthogonality at 6:11 PM on October 12, 2009 [7 favorites]

My dad had a bad temper when I was growing up and I turned out just fine. Surely you could point to things that aren't perfect about me and MAYBE draw a tenuous line between the two things, but who can tell.

I think's important to separate what experiences are traumatizing and what experiences simply define a person's upbringing. I can't help you make that determination, but it's food for thought.
posted by milinar at 6:11 PM on October 12, 2009

There aren't any hard and fast rules on how much/what kind of emotion is appropriate for kids. I personally believe that it's okay to cry in front of your children, but there are people out there who vehemently disagree with me.

I grew up with a psychologically abusive father. He yelled. Screamed. RAGED. I never knew the triggers, I never knew when it was going to happen. It took years for me to realize that it wasn't my fault. He was angry about something other than me. I just happened to be there.

I vowed to not be the same way with my kids. I've done pretty okay, except that I do have anger problems sometimes. I have a short fuse. The difference is that I always, always talk to them to let them know it's not their fault, it's not them. I work on this every day and some days are really much better than others. But my kids know I love them and they know they've done nothing wrong. Now, I don't rage at them like my dad did, and we are very close and loving normally. There's a lot of affection and giggles. I never had that.

If the kid is reacting to the yelling, there might be the potential for a problem. However, if he doesn't see this as a problem, there isn't much you can do aside from telling him it's vitally important to you and if you are important to him, he needs to help you.
posted by cooker girl at 6:15 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

In addition to watching how you and your husband expresses anger, frustration, and anxiety, your kid is also watching how you and your husband react to these expressions. If you react to your husband's emotions with anxiety, no matter how relatively "acceptable" those expressions are, you're modeling both the expression and the reaction as "appropriate" for your kid. In other words, what your child sees both of you doing is going to be viewed by the child as normal and appropriate, and it will be a combination of both you and your husband's best and worst emotional habits.

At age one, you may not necessarily see much in your child but a few hints of all of this modeling, but as you move more firmly into toddlerhood, yes, absolutely, you will see mimicked temper as well as a mimicry of your reactions to strong emotions. Then, of course, as the mimicry gets assimilated into your child's emotional toolbox, you will have your husband's expressions of emotion, your expressions of emotion, your child's, and the as yet unpredictable combination of the three of you trying to live together and work out conflict.

Your family's tolerances of how, together, the three of you are able or not able to functionally work things out depends on the kind of family culture and ground rules and daily operations of love and respect you start to consciously or unconsciously develop. Right now, your husband is not receptive to how you are communicating to him about your feelings and you are not receptive to how he expressions his stronger emotions. Meanwhile, your child is starting to understand what he/she sees as normal, whether the two of you think you're functional or not.

It's less about who needs to change more and why, and more about what kind of long term investment you're willing to make as a family. What do you see in the future--when your child's a mimicking, exploring, toddler? A more autonomous and complex child? A teenager? An adult on his/her own? What do you want, together, in that future? Do you need help to get there? It isn't blame that is important to assign here, at all, it's more about how you want the love you feel together as a family expressed in your future relationships with each other.

I likely sound a bit crunchy and sappy, but children, moreso than even compound-interest saving accounts, have a way of exponentially putting out into the world, into their relationships, what their parents put in. You all deserve to agree on what that is--and there are lots and lots of ways to be a functional, loving family (a more productive way to think than imagining all the ways possible to screw up your kids).

Finally, it's a life project and you're not alone in it. And just like your child will model a few less-than-ideal habits, he'll/she'll also model working on doing things better just by watching mom and dad try. Modeling the effort and the journey goes a long way and passes on lots of great tools, too.
posted by rumposinc at 6:22 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yelling at a football game seems like no big deal, but yelling at Mom could be bad. If you find it frightening, I guarantee you a one-year-old finds it terrifying.

A question for you: do you change your behavior in order to avoid setting off his temper? I mean, everyday things, like you just keep certain things to yourself so that he won't get mad; or you don't walk through the room where he's watching TV because you think maybe if he sees you he'll get mad about something you did or didn't do around the house.

I think what you want is for everyone in your household to feel safe saying what they think, and knowing that it may be met with disagreement, but not feeling like they'll just keep quiet and tiptoe around Mr. Temper. If you think the yelling is beneath that threshold, I'd just figure it's within the realm of healthy-enough family life. If you think it's beyond that threshold ... yeah, I'd see a therapist, and see what the therapist thinks about the extent and severity of the temper-showing here.

Just as a final point, if he starts yelling at your kid anytime soon, that's a definite problem. Never, never should a grown man yell at a baby, and an under-two-year-old is a baby.
posted by palliser at 6:27 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think growing up in a emotionless world is pretty unnatural and outside of normal. Regular people get angry, and do it in front of their kids. Most of us turn out fine.
posted by floam at 6:29 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I look back on my childhood, there's one negative thing that pops out that really bothered me. It wasn't growing up poor and having to wear hand-me-downs and eating beans a lot for dinner when I hated beans. It was hearing my parents argue, mostly about money. It never got violent and they never cursed but it would get heated. Even if I couldn't hear what they were saying, it still freaked me out. If they argued during the day, I would go out to the creek or to the farthest corner of the yard and stick my fingers in my hears and hum, even being able to hear shouting from outside put me in a state of panic. I didn't know what it was then, but I would verge on having a panic attack every time they argued.

My parents never knew how much it bothered me because I would hide or go outside. I think if they had, they might have tried to change things. To this day, I still can't stand to hear people argue as it still gives me a slightly panicky feeling. If you aren't able to resolve issues with your spouse without shouting at each other, then I would suggest therapy.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:31 PM on October 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

And obviously, I assume everybody is on the same page about the difference between getting pissed off in front of a kid and getting into horrible hurtful ragings in front of a kid.
posted by floam at 6:32 PM on October 12, 2009

I think your sensor is, as you put it, out of whack. My parents never showed any affection towards each other in public, where "in public" includes our house outside the bedroom. To this day I am uncomfortable seeing other couples kiss, even if it's just a peck. I tend to look away. I know my sensor is out of whack as well. There must be a happy medium.

Additionally, you can't ask someone who did not grow up like you did to never raise his voice in front of your (and his) child. It happens, people have strong emotions. I don't think yelling alone is a problem.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:34 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

And obviously, I assume everybody is on the same page about the difference between getting pissed off in front of a kid and getting into horrible hurtful ragings in front of a kid.

The tags are arguing and yelling, so this isn't just about raising their voices in front of the kid, it's also about arguing in front of the kid. And if your comment is directed towards me, I wouldn't call the arguments my parents had "horrible hurtful ragings." My parents never raged at each other and they never cursed, name-called or threw things or hit things. Those would what I would include in a "horrible hurtful raging."
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:43 PM on October 12, 2009

No, they weren't directed towards you. Your post occurred while mine was being typed.
posted by floam at 6:49 PM on October 12, 2009

Sorry for the follow-on posting, but I wanted to add that your hope that your child will fix this, by showing how upset it makes him ("When kid is a little older and reacts more strongly to yelling may this do the trick to show my husband that this is a bad thing?") is not a great way to deal with this. It's really not his job to get his parents to be kind to one another. I sense a little bit that you don't like the yelling, and have never liked the yelling, but -- maybe as part of a general tendency toward conflict-avoidance? -- are using kid as a proxy for your opinions.

Also, with small children, yelling can have a reinforcing effect, where the child thinks of the yeller as the scary one, and withdraws -- hides behind Mom, say, when Dad reaches out -- and thus drives more distance between Dad and the rest of the family. So I wouldn't hope for a strong reaction by your child; I'd hope for the opposite, that he doesn't think it's a big deal, and it doesn't affect his relationship with Dad.
posted by palliser at 6:49 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

You two will be setting the standard for what the kid thinks is normal.
The amount of, and triggers for, yelling, rage, coldness, etc are also going to be indicators of how SAFE the kid is/feels at home. (Too quiet, icy stares? It's not safe to talk or to feel. Spontaneous untameable rages? I never know when someone's going to explode, so I should just walk on eggshells all the time because maybe it's my fault.)
I think if you're two normal people, you're going to get normal angry, and have a normal kid.
And if one of you tends to be more shouty than the other, that's normal too -within some reasonable range- kids learn that people are different and get it quickly.

So unless you think that you're scary abnormal with your emotional displays, you're probably fine. Actually, you're probably better off if you're a little worried about it.

And although consistency is good, weirdness can be instructive too. I learned a deep lesson about personalities and appearances when I discovered over time that my always appropriate hat-and-white-glove-wearing Aunt Trudy turned red and swore like a fuckingcocksuckingmothershitfucker when she was driving and someone was slow ahead of her or cut her off.
posted by bartleby at 7:04 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Random incoherent thoughts on the matter:

Temper is ok. Losing your temper is ok.
Scaring your kid is not.

Kids need to see disagreement so that they can learn how to resolve disagreement.
Snapping at each other now and then? Fine.
Constant bickering? Not fine.
Screaming and sobbing at each other? Not fine.
Letting your kids see that you can work out a problem with your husband? Golden parenting.

My parents never argued. The first time I saw them mad at each other I was 13 and thought their marriage was over.
The first time I heard my husband and his Dad snap at each other I thought they would come to blows. His mom said basically, "Don't worry, they'll work it out." And they did.

For a long time I didn't kow how to argue without taking everything personally and getting hysterical over it. My husband and I, over the years, probably scared the kids a few times. We have learned how to NOT fight like that. Now our grown kids hear us argue, and hear us resolve our problems. And they do it in their own relationships. Ithink we've done well by them.

Side note: Your child will have to make his own relationship with his father. You can't control it. But help them to have their own bond. My kids relationship with their Dad is a joy to see sometimes. He gives them ideas and help and love that are very different from mine.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:10 PM on October 12, 2009 [5 favorites]

Another point of anecdata from the child of angry screamy parents: My folks interacted with each other, and with me, mostly by enraged vitriol-soaked yelling for the best part of 25 years.

I lost all respect for them from my early teens onward and today, at 36, have a very, very low tolerance for them arguing or raising their voices toward each other or toward me, at all. I'm big enough now to walk away when they start up. But I wasn't then and (in answer to #1) it really, really left a mark in the form of constant low-level anxiety (when was the next meltdown coming?), a near complete inability to confront anyone directly for fear of apocalyptic showdown, worldview that recognised verbal and emotional abuse as the norm and a hair trigger temper of my own. When I was old enough, I screamed back twice as loud. Because it was the only way I'd ever seen anyone handle anger or unhappiness. It was not a happy scenario. I've worked on all of those things and I'm OK now, but I still occasionally, especially around happy families, find myself wishing I'd had a different upbringing. One where not everything was twisted by rage and fury. It's so good that you recognise the possibility that this is not OK and are prepared to work on it. I truly hope your husband does too.

In answer to #2, I think some display of anger is normal. It's part of the range of human emotions. So, swearing in shock if you drop something on your toe, or if someone cuts you off in traffic, sure, as long as it's not an hour long diatribe. But I'd be very wary of having massive screaming matches in front of junior. He's listening and learning.
posted by t0astie at 7:11 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have a little info for you regarding anger directed at the kid, which I know isn't exactly what you asked, but may be part of the overall picture.

I sat in once on a video presentation by the author of this book: 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. He strongly believes it is counterproductive to get angry -- or, really, show any strong emotion at all -- at a kid who is misbehaving. Not because he is all hippy-dippy about it, but because he thinks that showing emotion essentially shows the kid that he/she has a certain amount of control over you (and because children are largely powerless, this provides them with a tremendous amount of subconscious validation). He says you should administer discipline in an extremely cool, unbothered, matter-of-fact way.

Might be worth a read.

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 7:22 PM on October 12, 2009

There is a happy medium between yelling and cold emotionless parenting.

I think yelling is scary, especially for a little one. You can express anger without being scary.

It is also important that he see you making up, kissing and hugging and showing that you love each other anyway.
posted by kathrineg at 7:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a household with lots of yelling. Adults yelling at adults, adults yelling at kids, kids yelling at kids. To this day I still cringe and get an instant stomach ache if I hear raised voices from any source, even TV.

I'm sure there's some happy (?) medium between no emotions and too much yelling. In my experience I believe it would be better to err on the side of less yelling.
posted by deborah at 7:23 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think if you offset yelling with big hugs, explanations when the time is right and genuine love and interest your kid will probably turn out OK.
posted by priested at 7:23 PM on October 12, 2009

Yes, it's bad to yell at each other in front of a child. Please don't do it. It's scary. It's also not an appropriate way to communicate for anyone, regardless of their age. Kids need lots and lots of security and mom and dad screaming at each other is not secure. It doesn't mean you can't be angry. I'm angry around my daughter (age two) I'm angry at my daughter sometimes, but always in a safe way. I always tell her when I'm getting upset for example, so she isn't taken aback by me suddenly losing it.

This question makes me really sad - how can anyone think it's safe to yell at another person in front of a child, especially the child's other parent? Outbursts are frightening. Yelling means things are out of control and when things are out of control kids dont' feel safe. Neither do grownups, I think.

And children don't always show they are upset, you can't guage your behavior solely on whether or not your child reacts. Please find a way to be more gentle with each other.

Reading anything by John Gottman migh help. The way you are treating each other is not good for you, the child or the marriage.
posted by orsonet at 7:26 PM on October 12, 2009 [4 favorites]

If my childhood had a sound-track, it would be the sound of adults yelling and slamming doors. My parents fought loudly and frequently with each other about everything. Later, when us kids got above pre-school age, disappointments and disagreements were voiced through yelling. Since my family functioned through yelling, us kids also yelled back and expressed our anger in the way our parents showed us. As you can imagine, this set the scene for major chaotic family drama that continues to this day. It took me until I was a married adult to learn how to communicate my anger without yelling, raging, belittling and making other people feel worse than necessary.

Some questions you need to ask yourself...If it is okay for adults in your house to express their anger through yelling and screaming, how will you feel when your children begin expressing their emotions this way too? Are the children in your family allowed to express emotions the same as the adults? Do the adults in your family lose their tempers and yell in public or at friends?
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:38 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Reading anything by John Gottman might help

I agree with this. And when you read John Gottman you'll see that successful couples and successful families find all kinds of different formulas for success; some yell a lot, some seldom express emotion at all, some believe it's important to communicate about your feelings and dreams, others mostly talk about sports. Gottman's books offer some data about which practices are actually unquivocally bad for family happiness. Yelling is not one.
posted by escabeche at 7:44 PM on October 12, 2009

I don't have kids, but I imagine part of the job of being a parent is acclimatizing your kid to The Great Wide World of emotions. I mean, there's weird and tantrummy, which is gross and dumb for a grown ass person to be, but regular anger and appropriate reactions to that are normal, and I imagine necessary for your kid to experience.

If you can be healthy with the expression of anger, I would think that would be good for your kid. Respectful disagreement and the display of the fact that one can be angry and still reasonable (if that seems impossible, then yeah, you're fucked, I don't know what to tell you) seems to me to be a hell of a valuable life lesson in productive conflict resolution.

Being angry is not de facto bad. Letting anger make you an asshole is.
posted by mckenney at 7:51 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I mean, little kids get scared by things like the toilet flushing or friendly dogs or an elevator door. Mom and Dad yelling or losing control is probably going to be frightening too!
posted by kathrineg at 8:02 PM on October 12, 2009

Thirding Gottman, specifically "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child." It's based on solid research.
posted by moira at 8:05 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just heard this interview by Terry Gross of Po Bronson about his new book NurtureShock, about new research on child rearing, and there was an interesting part about parents fighting in front of kids. The gist of it was that fighting can be a good thing for a kid to see, as long as the fighting isn't cruel or violent, and most importantly, includes kids seeing the parents work through the problem and come to a satisfactory resolution. Might be worth a listen.
posted by tula at 8:23 PM on October 12, 2009

The gist of it was that fighting can be a good thing for a kid to see, as long as the fighting isn't cruel or violent, and most importantly, includes kids seeing the parents work through the problem and come to a satisfactory resolution.

Actually, I think he was specifically asked whether fighting in front of the kids was a good thing, and he said the researcher he was citing would "never say that"; the point is that kids will sense that their parents are having conflict, and taking it upstairs in the middle prevents them from seeing any resolution.

This is truly irrelevant to the question of whether a 1-year-old should see one parent yelling at the other. He's talking about school-age kids and about staged arguments (for the sake of the experiment) that ended with a resolution. It's like advanced good-arguing -- that once you can really do it productively, constructively, and relatively kindly, it's better to model that in front of your kids than to take it out of their sight in the middle.
posted by palliser at 8:36 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, here's a few of anecdotes for you.

1. My ex-wife's parents were very even-tempered people who made a point of never arguing in front of the children. This had two interesting consequence: if I expressed any sort of negative emotion to her, even in the most mild and reasonable of tones and expression, she would say "stop shouting at me!" We also had a hell of a time reaching compromises. Eventually I realised, after talking to her and observing my in-laws, that she had grown up never hearing adults disagree, and never hearing them resolve differences. So she had no model for conflict, and no model for solving quarrels -- as far as she knew, people agreed by telepathy or something. (She might have a different version of this but she can get her own account...).

2. When I was a kid, breaking crockery and glasses and stuff was a big deal. My parents had grown up poor, and my mother was sentimental about wedding presents etc, and if you broke a glass, IT WAS A DISASTER. Years later, in our house full of cheap easily replaceable crap, my daughter was 3 or 4 and she dropped something and it broke and she was inconsolable, and it happened again, and gradually it dawned on me that I had transmitted this anxiety about breaking things -- I made a fuss, because my Mum had made a fuss, and my daughter in turn was learning it from me. So I made a really conscious decision to stop modelling this behaviour, to laugh or sigh and say "ah well, we'll get another one" and move on. And gradually, my daughter stopped doing it too.

3. My dad was a pretty typical stoic unemotional guy of his generation. I always tried to demonstrate a little bit more. You know, life springs disasters on you, it's ok to be sad (but not fall to bits) or angry (but not throw a screaming fit). Yet the offspring seems to be very even-tempered indeed -- more so than me. I think there are limits to modelling, and inborn temperament is one of them.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:58 PM on October 12, 2009

There's a chapter in Nurtureshock about this. A study was done that watched families where parents fought in front of kids, versus parents who would choose to take an argument to another room, or outside, or postpone it, etc.

The study found that kids were much better off in the first case, where they witnessed the argument and, most importantly, its resolution. Kids are perfectly aware of your emotions. What seemed in these cases to cause the most problems was not being able to learn problem resolution skills, as well as the anxiety of not knowing whether the parents had resolved the issue when they attempted to hide their argument or emotion.

It's a wonderful book, a very quick read.
posted by odinsdream at 9:17 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

My dad was a yeller when he lost his temper. Disadvantage: I'm a yeller too, and that sometimes upsets people. Advantage: Other people yelling doesn't upset or intimidate me.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:36 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think yelling CAN be a healthy way of solving disagreements, so long as both parties are on an equal footing with it, and so long as they quickly use their yelling to come to an amicable solution and then demonstrate that they're still happy and loving. By "equal footing", I mean the yelling doesn't serve to intimidate one party into always giving in, or upset one party out of proportion.

This kind of "healthy yelling" was something I never saw as a kid, and I wish I had. Sometimes it really is OK to express that you are angry, which is a thing girls in particular can have difficulty learning. It's taken me years to learn not to melt down in the face of other people's yelling.

I also think the kid needs to see other ways of coming to agreements about things, so I hope you're not ALWAYS yelling when you don't agree!

IMO, the "silent treatment" or the week-long sulk or snippy passive aggressive comments are FAR worse behaviour to model to a kid than a quick yelling session.
posted by emilyw at 11:44 PM on October 12, 2009

We have tempers. Our goal is not to fight in front of the kid. That'll probably happen now and then, but in general, we plan on setting conflicts aside and mostly manage to do so. We want the baby, and frankly, ourselves, to be able to clearly articulate our feelings in a respectful manner and for the other to listen generously, and to not crap up the family atmosphere with soul crushing arguments like my family did when I was a kid.

That's the goal, anyway.

Everybody screws up now and then, though.

I don't think it's so much whether or not yelling is bad for a kid to be exposed to, but what it means to disagree with someone you care about and how to navigate through those things. It's an opportunity to learn how to consider multiple viewpoints, and is useful in a lot of ways.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:46 AM on October 13, 2009

There's a big difference between shouting (volume) and shouting (rage). I come from a delightfully loud family, where everything from someone taking the car without warning to political debates can result in lots of shouting matches, but it doesn't mean that we hate each other. One of my best friends, on the other hand, is from a very proper midwestern family where shouting is the last thing you do before you murder someone, and the proper response to being mildly annoyed with someone is to give them the silent treatment. It was interesting to see how our different ways of dealing with things played out; there were definitely a lot of misunderstandings. He'd freak out if anyone raised their voice, and I'd be really creeped out by the cold ignoring stuff.
So, I think yelling is just fine as long as it's not always associated with serious anger (yelling at your sports team on the TV, for instance, seems totally fine to me). A no-yelling-ever rule can leave your kid with some kind of strange issues. On the other hand, if there's some kind of severe anger management issues going on or big relationship fights, those should be dealt with separately.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:07 AM on October 13, 2009

It is ok to argue and to disagree. It is NOT ok to have a screaming match in front of the kids. Focus on modeling the positive emotions. Let them see you laugh together, hug, kiss, and joke around. Let them see you apologize and take responsibility for your actions. Additionally, apologize to the kids too. If you make a mistake, you need to apologize to the kids so they understand that adults make mistakes too and that being grown up doesn't always make you right.
posted by onhazier at 6:11 AM on October 13, 2009

My people are loud. Very loud. Most of the time. We yell when we're happy, we yell when we're sad...about the only time we don't yell is when we're really angry. Then we get quiet. It's sort of spooky if people in my family get really quiet.

That said; our kids have grown up hearing me yell, and generally just go "pffft" and ignore it. They know if I'm having a serious talk with them, we sit down, usually with food, and talk it over. They know if I'm yelling, it's probably not that important.

My husband and I rarely argue, but when we do, if it starts in front of kids, it usually ends in front of kids. We can generally solve any disagreement fairly quickly, as they are almost always a missed communication cue, rather than an actual policy disagreement. On those topics where we will never agree, because of philosophical differences, we have debates, where kids are welcome to join in and add their opinions, but they are never couched in emotional terms. Certain policy decisions are made "off-line". If one or the other of us disagrees with a parenting decision, for example, we discuss it when the kids are not in earshot, so as to avoid the "playing parents against each other" game. (Say, for example, whether to let the boy play football, or the girl to join cheerleading. Those conversations we have with each other, then present a unified front, even if one or the other of us is persuaded to a position we don't agree with.)

TL;DR: Yelling isn't that big of a deal, if it's just a cultural thing and not an emotive "aimed at you" sort of thing. Yelling "at" people, more problematic. (Yelling *at* babies...not at all good, and a bit of a danger sign.) If the yelling makes anyone feel unsafe, then there are bigger issues at play than just volume.
posted by Peecabu at 6:14 AM on October 13, 2009

Yelling in front of your child teaches two things 1) fear and 2) that it's ok to be an asshole and you'll start to see your kids yell--at you, others, etc. If you both can remember and really think of those affects on your children, I think it would have a significant effect on how you handle your behavior.

I used to fly off the handle. But I also grew up in a house of screaming and fear. I never, ever, EVER want my child to be afraid and all of the other lovely effects it had on me, so I don't yell. If I have something to yell about, I do it away from his presence.

My husband, however, had a horrible temper with yelling at me in front of our son. I told him to knock it off or it's over. Now he's on antianxiety meds (for other things) and we're in marriage therapy. Since the meds, I noticed a difference for the better.
posted by stormpooper at 6:59 AM on October 13, 2009

It's the tone, not the content of the yelling. People (including kids) can sense the difference between happy and commiserating types of yelling (like football games), and angry yelling. As well as the advice that yelling at nobody in particular is way different from yelling AT someone.

I would definitely say that losing ones temper is NOT OK, ever. Doesn't make you a bad person if it happens, but it should also not be ignored. If a kid sees you lose your temper, you should make an age appropriate effort to correct or apologize for the situation. There is a big difference between exposing your kids to the range of emotions and just letting your shit hang all out. Make sure the kids see the other side of the emotional outbursts- the pain they cause in others.
posted by gjc at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2009

I think it depends on what he's angry about, at what he directs his anger, and how proportionate the anger is.

- If your child learns to yell at sports, that doesn't seem so bad.

- If he learns to yell at women, that's a different story.

Also remember that every time your husband acts up in front of your kid, you have a chance to tell him to cut it out. Your child may learn to deal calmly with irate fools, rather than learning to raise his voice in anger.

posted by General Tonic at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2009

Yelling in front of your child teaches two things 1) fear and 2) that it's ok to be an asshole

That's a fascinating comment.

It assumes that yelling causes fear, and that yelling means you're an asshole.

So I guess it comes down to your opinion: Is yelling a sign of being an asshole? Or is it a reasonable expression of anger? Are you afraid of people when they are yelling? Is your child? Who is it appropriate to yell at? What does the balance of power look like when one person is yelling at another? What about when they are both yelling?

What's the alternative to yelling when you are angry? Which of those alternatives are also fear-making, and which of them constitute being an asshole? What does your partner think? What does your child think?

Does your child have a temper? What does (s)he do about it?

I think whatever you end up doing, the important thing is to talk about it with the child as (s)he grows up. Talk about the different things that can make people angry (including being tired, or hungry), talk about the different ways to handle it, talk about how it makes you all feel. Tell them that hitting people when you're angry is NOT acceptable. Then tell them when hitting people really is acceptable!
posted by emilyw at 7:24 AM on October 13, 2009

My parents had a policy of never fighting in front of the kids. My mom strongly believed that while the world could be a crazy, brutal place, it was absolutely essential that home always remain a sanctuary. So when she and my dad had a disagreement, they would take it behind closed doors so as not to disturb the peace of the household. I am extremely grateful my parents made the active decision to maintain the home as a "safe place" and I intend to do the same with my kids someday. If your kids can't feel safe at home, where can they?

I think it's worth adding that even behind closed doors, my parents' disagreements were settled calmly and respectfully. Screaming and intense rage have no place in working through relational disputes in any healthy or normal manner. If your conflicts can't be discussed without introducing those elements, I'd say you have other issues that need to be worked out with a marriage counselor. The home should also be safe for you and your spouse, not just for your kids.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:33 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Recently my 20-yr old daughter told me that she tended to do what I asked as a child because she was "afraid of me." My heart is still breaking. My temper made my child afraid of me. Please please keep your temper even around your children.
posted by nax at 7:37 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

How often are you yelling? And when you finish the fight, do you go find your kid and yell at him for something?

My parents probably had a screaming fight about every other day or so, and then one of them would come find me to yell at me for something so they could feel better. I really really really loathe screaming and have all kinds of issues with that now. If you asked my parents, they were "just having a discussion." Right, at the top of your lungs all the time?

If you have a screaming fight once in a while, fine. If you are doing it more than half of the week....
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:08 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Balance. Seek balance.

Yelling is not an acceptable everyday behavior, nor a wise one -- it pushes hard-wired behavioral buttons that are there for a good reason. Go yell at an animal... it's scared, sudden loud noises often indicate danger. A child will react the same, and only the most hardened adult won't at least immediately focus attention on who is yelling to determine why. You don't want to short-circuit that behavior by desensitizing your child to it. Yelling at or in front of your child only when it's really warranted can make a serious impact when teaching life or death lessons; do it all the time and you're usually accomplishing nothing more than terrorizing them.

A state of high-tension, held in emotion isn't a good thing for anyone either... it isn't healthy to internalize everything, and children do need to learn how appropriately deal with emotions (their own, as well as the emotional displays of others). Keeping quiet has the benefit of being more socially acceptable, however.

There's a big difference between expressing emotion and having no self control. If you're doing it right, that's what your child will learn.
posted by Pufferish at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2009

I had a wonderful upbringing, great parents, all that jazz. However, my mom does have a temper, and my dad is as cool as a cucumber.

When my mom was mad (at us, my dad, her parents, whatever), she would storm around and slam doors, cupboards, plates on the counter. To this day, if someone is slamming cupboards in the kitchen (even in the course of normal food preparation) I tense up, get all on the defensive, and generally get quite anxious. Obviously, not a good thing.

On the other hand -- my dad never yelled at anything. So on the rare occasion he did raise his voice (probably about once every 2 years or so) dear god did you shut up, drop whatever you were doing, and pretty much stand at attention.

In the end, I think the combination of the two extremes was helpful. Not every couple can pull this off, however. But just something to keep in mind -- anger, like everything else in life, is an okay thing *in moderation*.
posted by cgg at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2009

What most people have been saying, and which I agree with:

Expressing emotion in a loud voice is ok. It’s a good idea to expose your child to some degree of yelling, because they will have to deal with it in the outside world as they grow up. You don’t want them to be so frightened of loud voices that they can’t handle normal disagreements.

But, belittling each other, disrespecting each other, is NOT ok.


The most important thing about losing your temper is how you handle it after the fact. If you yell at each other, make sure your kid sees you making up. As your child gets older, make sure you explain to them what happened - that you disagreed on something and lost your tempers but you apologized to each other and worked it out.

I sometimes lose my temper in front of my young kids – like yelling at a driver who has cut me off. They usually get very quiet and tense what that happens, but they relax after I talk about it. I’ll say something like “Mummy got mad at that other driver [stating my emotion]. She broke one of the rules of driving and that wasn’t right [explaining what caused the emotion]. But it’s ok now, I took a deep breath and calmed down [teaching them that these things happen and we can let them go].” I find this to be very positive, because when they lose their tempers (and they do, especially with each other), it’s a good opportunity for me to use my own example. They are really able to relate when I say “I know you’re angry. Mummy gets angry too sometimes. But remember when I got angry in the car? I took a deep breath...” etc etc. It’s important that kids learn anger is a normal emotion. And it’s important that they learn how to HANDLE it.
posted by yawper at 8:19 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do not yell at each other. Yell at the television when your team loses, yell at the bus for being late, yell all you want at the computer when it freezes and loses your document. But don't yell at each other. It's bullying, and it's mean, and you shouldn't do it.

Yelling at each other teaches your kid not only that it's okay to yell at other people, but also that it's acceptable to be yelled at. Your kid should not learn to accept being yelled at, and s/he especially shouldn't learn that it's okay for someone who loves her/him to yell at her/him. Just as kids who are hit or witness parents hitting each other often grow up to think both that it's okay to hit others and that it's okay for others (for example, future partners/spouses) to hit them, kids who are yelled at or witness parents yelling at each other grow up to think both that it's okay to yell at others and that it's okay for romantic partners and others to yell at them. You do not want your kid thinking that's okay.

Notice that I didn't limit it to "don't yell at each other in front of the kid." First of all, if you're in the habit of yelling at each other out of the kid's earshot, the kid will know. Second, you may slip up and yell in front of the kid. Just don't do it. And if your spouse does it, do not tolerate it, just as you wouldn't want your kid to tolerate being yelled at by her/his spouse.
posted by decathecting at 8:55 AM on October 13, 2009

Anecdotal data: My dad was a big guy who yelled a lot. I was so scared of my dad as a kid that I would hide under the dining room table when he came home from work. Yelling adults frighten small children. Your child is 1 and probably can't tell the difference between yelling at the TV and yelling at Mom. Your kid just hears that Dad is LOUD. If your kid is already showing signs of startling and fear around your husband's yelling, then your kid is starting to associate your husband with fear. Maybe save the lessons on how to express anger in a healthy way until your child can process those lessons and stop yelling around the kid.
posted by blueskiesinside at 10:08 AM on October 13, 2009

For me, yelling at anyone is perfectly ok, in the seconds before they are about to be harmed, or harm someone else. I grew up with yelling for other reasons, and it left me with an icy contempt for people that do it. I guess that's the opposite of the modelling that others have mentioned. It also left me with real issues expressing anger.

I wish I had been brought up to deal with emotions more openly and constructively, and I think that would be partly "make up after yelling" and mostly "find other ways to handle disagreement".
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:53 AM on October 13, 2009

There's an excellent book called "Between Parent and Child" (Ginott) with a section that describes how to state your anger without doing damage to the child (or your partner or whoever you are mad at).

The point is that you should teach your child that people CAN feel angry and give voice to it, and the world doesn't fall apart. Many of us are taught that it is "bad" to feel anger, and that position turns us into liars, whether you are hiding your true self, or just lying to yourself about how you feel.

I know I am not doing it justice here, but please read the chapter. I grew up in a very angry house with lots of yelling and emotion flying around, and I wish we could all have been counseled by Ginott's wise explanations. He describes how to avoid evaluative statements and work toward, "I feel mad about X. Here's what I think would be a good solution." Again, the way I am saying it sounds cheesy, but it is not cheesy in the book. It's very helpful.
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:27 PM on October 13, 2009

I'm going to suggest you read some Deborah Tannen, particularly her book, You Just Don't Understand.

I typed out my long anecdata, but as this involves my siblings, and my real email address is attached to this, I'll just talk about me.

I grew up in a very screamy house. I cannot handle yelling of any sort, not even in movies.

Hearing parents yell in front of their children still makes me cry, and I've been in therapy for 3 years. This isn't healthy and I'm working to change it.

Regarding the NurtureShock book: the point was, don't argue in front of kids. If you break that rule, resolve the argument in front of the kid. Disagreeing in front of kids is different from arguing.

Learn how to resolve disagreeing without arguing. WHile you do that, learn how to table your disagreements for later. Sometimes just coming back to a discussion at a later time can take most of the heat out of the problem.

It's clear that you love your child and want the best. But loving and wanting are not enough. You will both have to work at this. But you can succeed. And I think you will.
posted by bilabial at 2:54 PM on October 13, 2009

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