How to Motivate Kids Without Yelling

Every parent yells at their kids once in a while, but when yelling becomes your go-to method of communicating your expectations, it can end up leading to negative results. A child who is yelled at frequently will start to tune out what is being said and will begin to use yelling as a way to express themselves as well. What is the best way to motivate kids without yelling? Here are some ideas:

Establish Clear Expectations

To avoid yelling in the future, establish clear rules and expectations and make sure your kids understand what those are. “Remain consistent in applying the consequences so that it is known that rules have value,” says mom and preschool teacher, Kara Thomas. For example, if mornings are difficult, set rules that everyone in the family can follow to make things run smoother. Create a routine so kids know what to expect and what needs to be done next. Set rules such as: everyone needs to be dressed, done eating, have shoes on, and bags packed before playtime or using electronics in the morning. A natural consequence for not following this rule is loss of electronics for a day following the event. A similar routine can be set for bedtime. Let kids know what behaviors are not acceptable in the home like hitting, fighting, and being disrespectful and what the consequences are for breaking a family rule. When a rule is broken or a morning isn’t going smoothly, the kids will not be surprised by the consequences because they have been discussed calmly in advance. There will be no need to yell because once a rule is broken, the consequence is put into place and the day goes on.

Give Positive Reinforcement

It won’t come as a surprise that someone who receives negative feedback may start to feel negatively about themselves, while a person who receives positive feedback, understanding, and encouragement may have more self-confidence and a better attitude overall. Take the opportunity to encourage and give as much positive reinforcement as possible when dealing with your kids. “If you are trying to find the balance, the two positives to every behavior correction can be a good model to try and follow,” says Thomas. When the time comes for correction, try to give advice or ask for things in a positive and calm way. This will likely have better results than yelling.

Examine Yourself

If you have noticed that you yell at your children more than you would like to, think about the cause of your behavior. Are you rushed? Frustrated? Do you need a break? Sometimes we don’t realize how often we are yelling. Consider asking a co-parent or friend to be an accountability partner and let you know when you need to cool down and approach the situation differently. If your children are older, you can also ask them for help in changing your behavior by allowing them to point out when you are yelling. In advance, come up with some ideas of what you can try instead of yelling. If your child will not put on their shoes, ask them to race to see who can do it the quickest. If you feel the urge to yell, walk into a room where your child can’t hear you and mutter out whatever you want to say. This should allow you to return to the situation more calmly and direct your child in a more positive way. Let your child know in advance what the consequences of bad behavior will be and warn your child what will happen. If the behavior occurs, follow through with the consequence you set without yelling.

Give a Warning

There are times when simply giving your child a warning can save you from an argument later. Calmly saying, “We are leaving the park in 5 minutes,” or “Please stop screaming or you will have a time out,” gives your child a chance to prepare themselves and make a choice on how to respond. When the time comes to leave the park or give a time out, follow through on your warning. If you give multiple chances or end up staying at the park another 20 minutes, your child will not take your warnings seriously in the future and you may find yourself frustrated and yelling once again. “Consistency is key in your children knowing that the rules have meaning and consistent consequences for breaking them,” says Thomas.

Ask for Help

One way to avoid yelling is to ask your child to help you solve the problem you are faced with. If you are expecting company and the house is a mess, you could yell at the kids to clean up their rooms or you could present the situation as a problem that you need help solving. “Our friends are coming over in 30 minutes and there are toys all over the floor. What should we do?” You may find that when presented this way, your child will come up with the solution that you were wanting in the first place. If they don’t come up with the solution that you were looking for, make sure to tell them what you need from them and give them clear guidelines on what you expect to happen. 

Be Understanding

As parents, we often forget that our kids are just that—kids. Their behavior is not going to be perfect or rational all the time. They may have something going on that they haven’t shared with you, they may be overtired, or they may be frustrated or worried. All of these things can cause them to act out or forget to do what is expected of them. Try to be understanding, validate their feelings, and listen to what they have going on at school or with friends and siblings. Simply talking about their feelings and strengthening your relationship with them will help motivate them to listen and obey you in the future. 

Everyone makes mistakes—even mom and dad—and we will occasionally yell at each other. The key is to try to discipline in a positive and calm way. Our kids will follow our lead as they face conflict and frustrations.