Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: I’m Tired of Screaming at My Kids — Help!

Posted May 29, 2009 by

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“I hate screaming at my kids, but they make me so crazy, and I just lose it!” — If this sounds like you, trust me, you’re not alone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say this on 1-on-1 Coaching. As James Lehman says, kids watch us for a living — which means they become really, really good at pushing our buttons. By the teen years, your child is probably an expert!

Many parents fall into the screamer role when they start taking their child’s behavior personally.  While that’s very easy to do, it really goes against what you want to accomplish. And parents often magnify this by adopting an outlook that the behavior isn’t fair or right.  This can sound like, “I do so much for my child, why can’t they just do what I’m asking?,” or “It won’t take them much time to do this, so what’s with the horrible attitude!”  Parents who personalize behavior don’t think it’s right for a child to have a poor attitude when they’re being told to do something.  That’s the thing with personalizing your child’s behavior: somehow you make it about what you’re doing as a parent or the values you hold as a person.  You take your child’s choices and directly tie them into  your own skills as a parent or your worth as an individual.

What’s important to realize is that being a screamer is ineffective because it’s extremely destructive to your parental authority. If you’re yelling, throwing things, slamming things, or name-calling, then your child is getting the message that no one is control. The flip side of this type of behavior is the silent treatment.  You may be avoiding your child and refusing to communicate with them because you’re angry and want to show them that you’re hurt or mad.

Just like your child may have a low tolerance for frustration, you may be learning that as a parent, you have a low threshold for experiencing anxiety and frustration. But I think it’s vital to share with your child — verbally — that you you are frustrated when your child behaves a certain way. (Listen to this month’s One Minute Transformation where James talks about this technique, called “Self-disclosure to the Child”.)

It’s not necessary to scream or ‘shut off’ your feelings when it comes to parenting struggles.  An error that some parents fall prey to is thinking that if you share how tired, angry, frustrated, or confused you are then your child will change their behavior out of empathy.  Not so.  James Lehman emphasizes that the most effective way to get the behavior to change is to teach your child the skills they need to be successful.  Expecting that your child will change either out of gratitude for your parenting efforts, or because they see you struggling is setting yourself up for disappointment. That feeling will just complicate the emotions you’re already experiencing.

Instead, try sharing with your child how their behavior affects you and your ability to help them solve their problems differently; the simple act of putting a voice to how you’re feeling can help to take quite a bit of steam out of emotions so they don’t crescendo to a fevered pitch.

If you’re viewing your child’s behavior as a personal attack, you will most likely respond to the situation and behavior by retaliating and fighting back.  Whether or not you think it’s right or fair, the reality is that your child is acting out. Fighting back only takes you further away from the original problem and how to help your child solve it.  The best way to combat personalizing behavior is to develop a positive way to talk to yourself — and a plan for dealing with the behavior.  Try coming up with a list of things you could say to yourself when you’re frustrated or anxious about what’s going on with your child.  That could be, “I’m working really hard at this and I can get my point across without fighting,” or “This is not about me being a failure as a parent. My child just needs more practice at this.”  Remind yourself that you can take some time to yourself to calm down before you deal with a situation!!!!  It’s okay to leave the situation and take some space. It doesn’t mean you lose, it just means you have to cool off so that you can communicate effectively and prevent it from turning into “who’s going to win this fight” instead of asking your child “How are you going to solve the problem differently next time?”


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. ShannonStaudt (Edit) Report

    I definitely feel like it is a personal attack. I have spent limitless time trying to teach them good manners, they are choosing to be rude and inconsiderate.   When I ask my 7 & 8 year old to do something simple like put their dress up clothes away they cant figure out how to manage it with out  screwing off for an hour and getting in fights I take it very personal. If they were 3 – I would understand , but they are just rude and inconsiderate. 7 & 8 is an age where they are capable. Teddy Roosevelt had his own horse at the age of 8 and he went out all day with it, but my kids cant take a bath without getting water all over the floor, they cant put away the clothes I washed for them, they are basically very inconsiderate of everyone and everything and it’s not from lack of trying to teach them. I don’t scream anymore. I simply say- I told you and you ignored me, now I am setting a timer and what ever isn’t done when it goes off is going in the trash. Surprise, surprise they suddenly figure out how to get something done. If they don’t I get to clean house and have less crap to clean up. I am strait up brutal when it comes to it. They won’t get extensions in real life, and raising them to think they are the worlds most special snowflake above and beyond all of society is absolutely wrong. They need to adhere to the way things work. No one likes chores but – thats life, get over it.

  2. Mags (Edit) Report

    We have created a generation of kids who think that they can do and say whatever they want. They seem to be parenting us as we are so concerned with their feelings and albeit, at the same time, they are not being taught the importance of our feelings. So I see this as the hippy-generation’s kids being outspoken and standing up for their rights and not too worried about their family’s or parents’ feelings or rights. When are we going to cut through the crap and just give them consequences that stop them from making stupid choices of disrespect. Disrespect does not seem to be of concern. I am a neuroscientist and I don’t see a lot of reality in my studies. I have a neighbour’s 22 year old daughter who has no problem mouthing off to me. I think psychologists have really really screwed up this generation of kids.

  3. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    Hi KARITTA: It sounds like you are feeling pretty frustrated and overwhelmed with your son’s behavior. When you are feeling overwhelmed with his behavior, we recommend first taking a step back, and focusing on 1-2 of the most troubling behaviors. For example, you might decide to focus on his doing homework. One of the authors on this site, Debbie Pincus, talks about the concept of boxes; that is, what is your son’s responsibility, and what is your responsibility. Your son’s responsibility is to get his homework done, and it’s your responsibility to hold him accountable for his choices and follow through on any consequences. For example, you might tell your son that until his homework is done, he is not allowed to use electronics. If he chooses to do his homework, he can have that privilege; if not, it’s your responsibility to follow through on not allowing that privilege that night and giving another chance the next night. I am attaching some additional articles by Debbie that I think you will find helpful: Irresponsible Children: Why Nagging and Lecturing Don’t Work & Unmotivated Child? 6 Ways to Get Your Child Going. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

  4. KARITTA (Edit) Report

    I am having problems with my eight year old boy. “he is pushing my bottons” he is not doing his homework, he is getting in trouble at school, I work all day, I try talking to him but it is not working, I try punishing him nothing works, I am to the point that I want to send him to millitary school. His father tries counseling both of us, he thinks I yell too much. But his calm maner and instructions are not working either. WHAT TO DO? HAVE I LOST MY SON ALL READY?

  5. Marie McMullen (Edit) Report

    OMG, my daugther upset me so much last night. I asked her to come of the computer at 2am in the morning. she would not listen and then i took the network cable away to give a clear message that was enough. she started get angry and pushed every button she could even grabbed me and i asked her repeatedly to stop and leave me alone. she carried on for about 1/2 hr screaming at my bedroom door..By this time it was 3am and i need to get some get some sleep because i had work in the morning. I tried breathing, keeping quiest
    she came in my room with out my promission throw herself on me until I would get out of bed..I tried not to give in but i really need to get some sleep. I got out of bed and came out to the living room to explain to her I need to get up for work in the morning can we discuss later tommorrow. she would not give up until i gave back the network cord for the internet. I was in bed and i didn’t feel or having her surfing the net while there was no supervision. After i walked away she ran infront of me guarding my bedroom door not letting me go in to i moved her and then she through her self to the floor. OMG it was crazy. I don’t trust her and i dont’ feel respected by her in any way shape of form. what would your advice be?

  6. Tina Wakefield (Edit) Report

    Mom of many,

    Wow, I had to read “3 three-year-olds” several times to make sure that I understood your situation — your house is definitely a happening place! I’m sorry to hear that you’re having difficulty and I do think being part of our Empowering Parents newsletter will be a valuable resource to you. You stated that you were interested in some behavioral modification techniques in your comments, and you will definitely find plenty of that information here! From your comment, the phrase that stood out the most was when you mentioned that “nothing seems to make a difference in the long run.” In the Total Transformation, James Lehman talks about how essential repetition and rehearsal are when it comes to learning skills. It is a process; children don’t come into the world knowing how to be responsible. What we’re shooting for is a lot of little successes as we go, because that repetition is key.

    I would like to point you to some articles that focus on dealing with younger children. (In one of the articles, I like how James explains that if you’re dealing with younger kids, it’s definitely okay to join them and help them to complete a task.) Hope this is helpful to you. Please keep in touch and let us know how things are going!

    Stopping a Temper Tantrum

    Why Kids Avoid Responsibility and How to Hold Them Accountable

  7. Marsha (Edit) Report

    Thank you for this reminder!!! No wonder everything in the house falls apart when I’m not at the top of the game, it’s too easy for me to personalize everything when I’m feeling overwhelmed or depressed…and how unfair that is to my children.

    Also, certain personalities push buttons easier. My oldest for instance MUST make everything personal. My younger has her mad, it’s her business, she might want my input or sympathy but doesn’t REQUIRE it, so it’s easier to not take her personally.

    It’s hard being the adult sometimes. 🙂

  8. Mom of Many (Edit) Report

    Ok I have 3 three year olds, all with in 6 months of each other. One raised from birth but had Birth mom’s influence for a year , 1 from 3 months (no birth family influence) ; the last one we got at 2 (almost 3), memories from first years; patterns already established.
    SO very different personalities. They are 5-6-7 of our children (yes, we should be the grandparents). We have 3 adult children; one 14 year old son.

    The 3 year olds are all so defient, regardless of what I ask they either ignore it; don’t do it or whine that they can’t. But I know it is a task they can do even if it is a 3 yr old job. Mostly their first words are NO! I have tried reward, a swift swat, yelling, natural consequences. Nothing seems to make a difference in the long run. It may coherce them into compliance every once in a while but I need something that works so it is not a fight every time we need or want to do something.

    My parening that I used on the others seems very ineffective and is definatly NOT working on these 3. I only have 2 more years to train them or I think I am headed for trouble when they go to school. I feel like all I do all day long is correct them, yelling time out. They are not happy; neither am I or the others in my house. Many nights I hate my reactions and feel like I have failed again. Now that it is summer i hate opening the windows cause the neighbors can hear the constant fits and crying. We also do emergency placement foster care so alot of coming and going, controled chaos. Taking in children birth to 12 yrs old. often see escalted behaviors with additional child placement or when they get to leave ?? Any help any behavior modification for me to teach them they are safe secure and loved yet require realistic expectations of 3 would be appreciated by the whole family. thanks.

  9. Tina Wakefield (Edit) Report


    I’m am very glad to hear that you’ve had success with the program. Your energy and excitement about what your learning is a wonderful thing to share and I hope it inspires other parents out there to keep working on their own goals. Keep up the great work!

  10. Lucy (Edit) Report

    Excellent!! This couldn’t be better timing for me- actually I knew about this 20 years ago, but we are working on this now and that’s important. We have 3 boys, ages 21, 17 and 15. Both my husband and I take our children’s behavior personally which leads to anger and frustration when we can’t get them to do things. We would see their reaction to our requests to pick up their room, get up in the morning, starting homework, going to visit relatives, etc as a personal attack on us rather than seeing it as their problem. One of the biggest things I have learned from the TT program is that my kids’ behavior is not my fault, I can only deal with it and show them how to handle their own frustration better. I would get caught in the trap of always trying to figure out another approach but at the end of the day getting angry and screaming at the kids because I couldn’t get through to them. This program gives me real hands on tips to use immediately to break the cycle. For example, the paragraph above about letting your child know you are frustrated and then letting them know that there needs to be a different way to solve their problem. This strategy has been a big relief to me and it works!! I used to dread asking the kids to do anything because of the reaction I would get. Now I feel I have tools to get my message accross and if they don’t like it and act up that’s their problem to work out. Thank you TT!!

  11. stanver (Edit) Report

    A comment or small advisory.After being caught up in shouting at my teens I coldly realized a trauma cold be taking place at that second.I relate their minds to clay that needs emotional hands to form them. I micro manage their emotional states as often as possible and give them liittle doses of reality. I hope a switch willbe turned on and reality bulb will light.I will never give up though.



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