The Bad and Not-so-bad Sides of Yelling at Kids

Yelling at Kids
Lately, it seems to be a trend in parenting to consider yelling a big mommy no-no. People prefer to try reasoning with their children, or explaining things in gentle voices. As the adult child of a very yell-prone mother, I suggest that yelling might not be so bad.
My Mother the Yeller
When I was a kid, my mother did a good deal of yelling at my sister and me. Don't misunderstand - she was a good mom, and I wouldn't trade her for the world. (I might make a few changes to her if I had the chance, but that's a different story!) Yes, I had a mother who did her best for her children, but there is no denying that she was a yeller. Sometimes, she would yell at us about the things you would expect. If we didn't do our chores, she would yell. If we watched TV all day, she would yell. If we didn't come home on time, she would yell. Where my mom really earned the title of a yeller, though, was in the realm of unexpected yelling.
Do it Right!
The incidents that have really stuck with me, even into my adult life, are the times when my mom yelled at me for not knowing how to do something. This happened quite frequently, and it was always a little bit shocking. When you're a kid, and you do something for the first time, chances are not good that you will get it right on attempt number one. This simple fact of childhood didn't dissuade my mother from her signature howl, however. If she was teaching me how to cook something, and I added too much flour or didn't stir the sauce enough, I would get yelled at. When I was learning to drive and I asked when I should merge onto the highway, I got yelled at. To be honest, I'd say that getting yelled at for these things was a little traumatizing, but I can't say it was altogether bad.
Memory and Emotion
It's commonly known that emotional moments in our lives stick in our memories much more readily and vividly than run-of-the-mill neutral times. If you ask people what their oldest memory is, they almost always have a story that involves great emotional distress or great joy. (In my case, my first memory is of falling down a flight of stairs at 2 years old... I had been on a mission to locate something, and I felt brave enough to try descending the stairs the "adult" way, rather than my usual warming-down method. As I mentioned, it's rare to succeed at anything the first time!) By yelling at me to get things right, my mother was creating ineluctable learning experiences that might just have benefited my sister and me in the long term.
How I Learned to Change a Flat Tire
Let me explain what I mean in a little more detail. There are some things in life that I just simply know how to do. I didn't have to go through a laborious process of trial and error, I didn't have to ask for instructions again and again, and it didn't take me long to master these important life skills. Besides stirring sauce, here are some other examples: cooking coconut shrimp, installing a light fixture, changing a flat tire, driving on winding mountain roads. The procedures for doing all these things are forever burned into my memory for one reason: because my mom yelled at me about them. Her yelling created the strong emotional reaction that I needed to make lasting memories out of her lessons.
Yelling is Not All Bad
Of course, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I advocate yelling at your children in order to teach them things. Mom's yelling did make my childhood slightly tumultuous. I would say, however, that if you feel the urge to yell a little bit, you shouldn't feel bad about it, and, within reason, you shouldn't necessarily hold back. Sometimes kids don't know what's important, and a little bit of vocal emphasis can make them pay attention like nothing else.
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