You know that feeling — the one where you just want to burst, to explode, to erupt like Mount Vesuvius, the one caused by “Why can’t he/she just do what I asked for once?” or “How dare you say that to me?!” The one that sets your body on fire and puts it on automatic pilot, hijacking your brain and your mouth so that — without you having to make it happen — a great roar pours out of you. That’s the feeling I’m talking about.

And you know, when that feeling happens, how hard it is to send it home. It doesn’t want to calm down. It wants to rant and rave and have its say. It doesn’t care who might get hurt in the crossfire. Nothing will stop it now that it’s unleashed.

And that is very unfortunate because it can cause so much damage. When children hear it (either addressed directly to them, or to a spouse, or someone else), the damage can have lifelong consequences. Although we all know this, when we really, really know it, we can often find the strength to keep our mouths shut when that feeling courses through our veins.

So here’s what we need to know about the developmental effects of yelling:

● Yelling around or at a child causes his body to enter a state of alarm. Fight-or-flight chemicals pour through his bloodstream, causing changes that — when triggered frequently enough — can permanently harm his physical and mental health. 

● Fight-or-flight chemicals also negatively impact cortical functioning; people in chronic states of alarm do not learn well. Children’s academic, behavioral, and social performances can be severely impacted by living in a yelling environment. 

● Yelling at a child instead of speaking to him respectfully programs the child’s brain to yell under stress. Since stress occurs regularly over the lifespan, children exposed to yelling often become adult yellers. 

● In our current society, adult yellers have a much higher rate of divorce than non-yellers. Children of adult yellers often live in difficult situations (i.e., with stepparents and stepsiblings, or in any other challenging post-divorce situation). In other words, your yelling can cause harm to your children, your children’s children, and even your children’s children’s children — who knows how many generations may be affected by it? 

● Yelling at a child instead of speaking to him respectfully robs him of the model he needs of healthy family communication skills. Even if he resolves not to do what you’re doing, he hasn’t experienced the caring and respectful way in which loving people speak to each other. He is thus handicapped as he embarks on his own adult family relationships. 

● Yellers run the risk of seriously harming their bond with their child. They may lose the opportunity to positively influence their youngster, with the result that the child becomes less than he might otherwise be. Moreover, children often distance themselves emotionally (and physically) from chronic yeller-parents. This can leave the child deprived of parental support throughout his lifetime (and, of course, leaves the parent deprived of an enduring parent-child relationship as well).

Chances are very good that, if you are a yeller, you are a child of a yeller or two. You are yelling now for all of the reasons described above. Of course, some yellers have non-yelling parents — their genes are the dominant factor in their behavior. But these people constitute a tiny minority of those who yell as adults. Far more yellers are made than born.

How to Use This Information

Yelling frequently around or at children provides short-term emotional relief at long-term serious costs. If yelling is an issue for you, review these costs weekly, if not daily. Make sure you know what you’re doing to your child. 

While it’s true that one yell a year isn’t going to cause any of the problems described above, ask yourself how often you can yell before these effects kick in. Once a month? (What happens when your spouse yells at you once a month? Is everything fine?) Once a week? (If your spouse blows up at you once a week, is your marriage affected at all?) Once a day? (If your spouse screams at you once a day, is your marriage, your health, your happiness the same as it would otherwise be?) 

Your children are far more vulnerable than you are — so how many yells can you yell?