You know it’s not kind, but why should you stop yelling when it’s the only thing your kids respond to?
Yelling is sort of the “go to” parenting move, isn’t it? Parents have been yelling at kids and kids have been yelling back for centuries, haven’t they? Your mother or father yelled at you; it’s just what parents do, even though we hate doing it. To stop yelling would seem like a bad idea – how will they pay attention to you if you’re not yelling? How will they know you’re serious if you’re not yelling?
Here’s why you will WANT to stop yelling!
I’m going to give you 3 reasons why you need to stop using yelling and nagging as parenting tools, and one tool to use to replace yelling – now, today, and forever. When you understand how yelling and nagging affects the ADHD brain (or any brain), you will want to stop.**
Yelling isn’t just that thing we just can’t seem to stop ourselves from doing. Yelling is harmful.
Reason 1 – Yelling may be giving your child’s brain a “drug-like fix”
The ADHD brain thrives on repetition. By “thrive” I mean that it attaches itself to repetitive behaviors. Most brains learn by repetition but the ADHD brain gets deeply dependent on it. That’s the good and the bad news. The typically under-stimulated ADHD brain gets a “buzz” from certain kinds of repetition. It’s awesome when the brain is attaching itself to positive action and productive behaviors. We call it “being in the zone” when it’s a positive or productive behavior, but it’s the same zone when it’s a disruptive behavior, except now the zone looks like a pit of lava – relentless and destructive.
Which means your children are getting a brain buzz from yelling, if you do it a lot. You are programming your child’s brain to WANT to be yelled at for the buzz. Changes in the environment tend to wake up an ADHD brain and yelling is a jolt that kick-starts your child’s alertness. If your child has trouble with inattention, they may urge you to get angry so that they can feel more alert. Frightening, isn’t it? An alert brain is good, but there are better ways to perk up a brain. It’s like saying that cocaine is good because it perks up the brain. We want our children to be alert but not at the expense of everybody’s health, sanity, and happiness.
Reason 2 – When we yell we’re not teaching our kids to obey; we’re teaching them to get angry and yell back
Mirror Neurons are a class of neurons that “respond to actions that we observe in others.” It’s why we laugh when there’s a laugh track on a TV show. And it’s why we yell when someone is yelling at us. Mirror neurons take the tone of our interactions and mirror them back. The Hebbian Theory, named after Donald Hebb, asserts that when two people’s cells are firing the same, they strengthen each other to keep firing the same, in a nutshell.
When an axon of cell A is near enough to excite a cell B and repeatedly or persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or metabolic change takes place in one or both cells such that A’s efficiency, as one of the cells firing B, is increased. The theory is often summarized as “Cells that fire together, wire together.” (The Hebbian Theory, 1949)
As many times as we’ve yelled at our kids, they’ve been learning how to yell back. It starts slowly, of course. Most youngsters don’t yell back at their parents. But it increases, as parents of teens will tell you!
We have literally trained them to yell and we can un-train them too, because if we can respond calmly, we can calm them down. When they erupt, we can react with a gentle voice and/or a gentle touch and their mirror neurons will start to mimic this as well.
Reason 3 – Yelling slowly wears down your child’s Sympathetic Nervous System
Yelling/nagging is the #1 thing that kids hate. It makes them afraid. Yes! It scares them when we yell. Yet another reason that kids yell back is because when we yell, we put them into a FLIGHT, FIGHT, OR FREEZE state. And here’s the deal with that: Fight or Flight is our body’s way to protect us from danger, like saber-tooth tigers or avalanches, or stepping off the curb when a car is coming. It wasn’t designed to alert us when a child talks back! If you’re yelling when a child talks back, you’re in an unnecessary state of Flight or Fight and you’re pulling your child in for the ride as well. What are you protecting yourself against?
When our body is under the stress of Fight or Flight, cortisol is released.
Cortisol is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”, as it is released in response to stressful situations, but is also a normal and healthy part of our hormone system. However, when people experience high stress [regularly] their cortisol levels become chronically increased and we see negative impacts on their health.
What happens when cortisol levels rise? Well, if we’re running from a lion or tiger, the effects of elevated cortisol make perfect sense. But they’re rather extreme if we’re talking about family relationships.
- Redirects circulation to muscles and the heart (“Run, Forrest, run), and away from digestive and detoxification organs
- Proteolysis, or breakdown of muscle (burning muscle for energy)
- Counteracts insulin, causing insulin dysregulation and increased abdominal fat storage (storing energy to run from the next lion)
- Suppresses the immune system (who cares about bacteria when a lion is chasing you?)
- Reduces bone and collagen formation (developing osteoporosis and looking young isn’t as important as getting away from a lion!)
- Damages brain cells responsible for learning and retrieval of memories (however, short-term emotional memories are enhanced to remind you to avoid the lion pit in the future)
- Prevents deep, restful sleep (okay, you don’t need an explanation – staying alert means staying alive)
and prolonged dysregulation can lead to depression and anxiety and, certainly, compromises brain activity.
We are not helping the ADHD brain when we yell. In effect, we wear down our kids’ bodies and our own when we yell.
When we stop yelling, it is easier to build healthy hearts and healthy brains
This is truly painful information. We know we shouldn’t yell but it often feels like we’re trapped in this ineffective cycle, that we don’t have another choice. We parents have been led to believe that yelling and nagging is the way to get kids to do what they won’t do otherwise, so stopping the yelling and nagging sounds like bad advice.
But we simply must stop yelling and nagging. There is nothing your child would rather do than please you. To get your approval would mean everything to the sensitive ADHD heart. It’s that sensitivity that contributes to a brain that reacts so quickly and so intensely to yelling and nagging. If we’re serious about being ready and willing to transform your family relationships, if we’re serious about raising loving and resilient and compassionate and wise young people, we must start behaving the way we would want them to behave.
Parenting an ADHD child is more than tweaking the way we parent our other kids. It’s more than picking and choosing techniques from various parenting theories and using what seems to make sense. When we have an ADHD child or teen, we need to create a system, from the ground up, that works for his or her “Big Heart and Noisy Brain.”
Just remember, yelling is for emergencies. A daily dose of cortisol – whether we are an adult or a child – is like a slow drip of nicotine or cocaine. In the long run, it may kill us, but even in the short run, we experience damage that is too serious to risk.
Copyright 2020 Yafa Crane Luria All Rights Reserved
About Yafa Crane Luria
Yafa Crane Luria specializes in helping families who are new to ADD/ADHD, who are facing a new stage in ADHD parenting, or who have tried nearly everything and are still frustrated and confused by their child’s or teen’s Blocked but Brilliant brain. A true ADHD trailblazer and fierce advocate, Yafa is a 35-year veteran teacher and school counselor, a certified Positive Discipline trainer, and an award-winning author. In 2018, after decades of working with ADHD kiddos and families, Yafa designed an ADHD- and neuro-divergent brain-specific behavior program that is customizable to individual families in every way. It addresses the unique challenges of parenting a child/teen with a “Big Heart and a Noisy Brain™.”
Fun fact: Yafa’s nickname growing up was “Mountain Goat” because she climbed EVERYTHING. You can listen to Yafa’s personal ADHD story and get more information on her website: BlockedtoBrilliant.com
To read about the other types of ADHD view all posts by Yafa Crane Luria here.