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‘I have become a shouter, and I am worried it is damaging my children’

John Sharry: Learn to press pause when you find yourself getting angry with your son

I have become a shouter as a parent and now I am worried it is damaging my children. Last week, my wife pointed out that the youngest was terrified of me.

He had broken something in his room and he was crying terrified to my wife that I would be really angry when I came home. This upset me that I have such an impact on him.

My wife is saying I have to change. I do get frustrated with my children a bit. For example, my youngest constantly leaves his room in a mess (dirty and clean laundry all mixed up) and I do end up ranting and raving at him to tidy. But this is only after asking 10 times politely. Maybe I should just back off and leave him live in a sty in his room, but then there are loads of other things he does that I can't just leave (for example, he doesn't do simple chores like bringing his plates to the sink after dinner).

My own father used to shout at me a lot when I was growing up, and I don’t want to handle things like him. My wife comes from a much quieter family so we are quite different.


What can I do?

It is great that you are aware of your anger and shouting and have the honesty and empathy to understand how this might be impacting your son. Parenting is inherently stressful and all parents get frustrated at times with their children. We want the best for our children and when this does not happen frustration and upset can follow. Then it is easy to resort to shouting and rowing.

Whether shouting does damage depends a lot on how often it happens, how sensitive your child is and whether the shouting is counterbalanced by apology, and making up later. However, shouting is usually an ineffective way to resolve problems and always has the potential to damage relationships especially when it is repeated frequently.

The good news is that there is a lot you can to reduce anger and shouting and there are far more effective strategies to manage problems.

Press pause

The most important thing you can do is learn to "press pause" when you find yourself getting angry with your son. Take a breath and notice how you are feeling and how you are responding. By taking a pause and giving yourself space you allow yourself a choice in how you will respond next. Learning to pause is reported by parents as the most valuable idea in the Parents Plus programmes. Techniques such as mindfulness, physical exercise, deep breathing and meditation can all help with this.

Talk about your feelings

Talk about your feelings to your son rather than vent them at him. Rather than shouting, get in the habit of calmly explaining your feelings to your son: “Look I am getting annoyed about how you are mixing up your dirty laundry … can you sort it now please?”. Acknowledging your son’s feelings can be helpful too: “I know you don’t like cleaning, nobody does but it will be done in a minute”.

Make a plan in advance

Think through in advance what you will do in conflictual situations. Rather than resorting to shouting what else can you do if your son refuses your polite request to tidy his room? For example, rather than getting angry you can simply warn him of a consequence. “If you don’t sort this out in the next 20 minutes, you will lose some pocket money”’ or “No screentime until the room is tidy”.

Prevent problems

Rather than letting the problem happen over and over again, think how can you prevent it happening in the first place. How can you more effectively teach your son to take responsibility for keeping his room tidy? For example, it might be a good idea to sit down with your son to agree a plan together. In my experience, many children need to be taught step by step how to do basic chores.

This might mean creating a list with your son of all that needs to be done in cleaning his room and then coaching him step by step through the list. You might also set up a reward chart for your son to motivate him.

For example, he gets points or a tick on a chart for each day he keeps the room tidy, which can be converted into tangible rewards at the weekend (such as a new movie or favourite dinner etc). If you agree a positive plan with son that you both successfully follow through, this will be a major breakthrough in your parenting.

Bring fun back into parenting

Make sure you have fun “play” times and relaxed “chatting” times with your son on your daily basis. The specifics depend on your son’s age and what he and you like to do together but make sure you have a daily time for connection. This is the most important part of parenting and is more important that tidy rooms. In fact, if you keep a time of connection, then all discipline problems become easier. You and your son will understand each other better and it will be easier to teach and enforce rules.

Seek your own support

In your question you talk about your own childhood and how this was different to your wife’s. As a parent it does help to understand where your feelings come from and to understand how your reactions might be more about your family of origin than the behaviour of the child in front of you. Lots of parents benefit from talking through these issues with a counsellor or friend. Alternatively you may be interested in attending a parenting course where you can meet other parents dealing with similar issues.

Check your local primary care health centre or family resource centre for details of local services.

Dr John Sharry is a social worker, founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD school of psychology. See