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Can the Damage Caused by Yelling at a Child Be Reversed or Fixed?

by Amber Canaan, studioD

Most parents find themselves yelling at their children occasionally. Yelling is often an unintentional reaction in an attempt to regain control of a circumstance, hoping a child will listen better if the volume is louder. Unfortunately, yelling doesn’t always accomplish the goal of improving behavior or getting children to listen. Depending on the words used and the frequency of the yelling, yelling might have emotional consequences that outlast childhood.

All Yelling is Not Equal

A difference exists between speaking loudly, yelling commands and hurling insults or name-calling. The Women’s and Children’s Health Network explains the regular daily volume of some families is louder than others. Some parents naturally use loud voices in their daily conversations, but that isn’t anything to worry about. Yelling occasionally to get a child’s attention also might not create a long-term problem. Yelling creates damage when parents use insults or derogatory names in fits of frustration and anger.

The Desire for Love

Aside from the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, children need to know they are loved, protected and safe. When a parent yells, the sense of love and safety can be taken away. A study published in the "Child Development Journal" in September 2013 noted that subsequent parental warmth after episodes of yelling does not diminish the effects of yelling. Repeated yelling at children followed by apologies and displays of affection won’t undo the damage. A permanent change needs to occur for the yelling to stop.


Yelling can negatively affect a child’s self-image. Yelling at your child can lead to depression, behavior problems at school, poor grades and even fighting at school, according to a September 2013 article in "The Wall Street Journal." If the yelling continues throughout childhood and adolescence, a child might feel worthless and useless. The effects are worse when a child’s safety and security are threatened, or if the words used cause a child to not feel loved.

The First Steps

Years of yelling, insulting and name-calling might not be able to be reversed. Each child is different and it's impossible to know how one person will react or respond to such stimuli. It is critical for parents to understand that they need to change their own behavior and learn ways to cope with problems without yelling. It does not matter whether parents have been yelling for two months or five years, an article on the Empowering Parents website explains that it’s never too late to stop the cycle. Behavioral therapists, child psychologists and family therapy are all options for parents who feel out of control.

Restoring Confidence and Trust

Once parents discover new ways of reacting to their children without raising their voices with insults and name-calling, it’s time to restore the trust and confidence that yelling stole from the child. This might not be fully possible if the damage is extensive. Still, parents should admit their mistakes, letting their children know despite the yelling, they are loved. Spend time with your child and if tensions arise, step away for a breather before yelling erupts.

About the Author

Amber Canaan has a medical background as a registered nurse in labor and delivery and pediatric oncology. She began her writing career in 2005, focusing on pregnancy and health. Canaan has a degree in science from the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences and owns her own wellness consulting business.

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