We had minutes until the carpool van arrived at the house. It was time for everyone to get dressed, four lunches to be packed, seven people fed breakfast, and maybe a word of encouragement or prayer before we all parted ways. As I stood by the counter, furiously trying to make eggs, toast, and coffee while discussing the day’s plans with my wife, I heard one of my kids hit another. Two seconds later, he said something disrespectful to his mom. Without hesitation, I whipped around and yelled at my son, warning him to knock it off or else.
The whole house quieted. I don’t raise my voice often, and when I do, it is clear that Papa Bear has lost his cool. The roar is loud, and the other bear cubs scurry to avoid getting in trouble themselves.
But I felt pretty convicted about lashing out. I ended up having to apologize for my tone and words. While my son’s actions were uncalled for, so was my response.
Yelling at children activates their limbic system, the part of the brain that’s responsible for your fight, flight, or freeze response. This is God’s built-in system that helps us avoid harm. When someone yells at us, “Head’s up!” or “Watch out!” we immediately respond by covering our head or putting our hands up by our face.
I offer this medical perspective to prepare your mind and heart for the answer to your question, “Does yelling make me a bad or unfit parent?” The short answer is, “Not if your heart is in the right place.”
As a follower of Christ, there are specific things you can do to create peace in both your heart and your home. If you find yourself raising your voice frequently, it may be time to evaluate where your motives lie, what may be causing you to fear, and how you deal with stress. A biblically minded parent can leave a legacy that is void of yelling and anger.
Shift Your Perspective
When we lose our patience with our children, we sometimes respond by raising our voices because we think that’s the only thing that will make them listen to us. This is likely a momentary loss of perspective. While our child may have lost his or her self-control, we shouldn’t lose ours. We must remember that showing them Christ is more important than pounding on their eardrums.
We know that raising children is not about the day-to-day grind of getting chores done and ensuring they don’t disobey. So what is the real purpose?
Our purpose as parents is to turn them to Christ. We do this in our words, through our example, and by preaching the Gospel to ourselves daily. If you find yourself turning to the emotion of anger instead of patience, perhaps you need to remember the calling of a Christian parent; we are not here to make perfect little “Christians” who have excellent behavior; we are here to show them Christ in the short time they are entrusted to us.
Be an Example
In John 13:15, Jesus says, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus modeled how to live, in addition to teaching us how to live. And your kids will follow your example before they follow your words.
Have you ever yelled at your kids to not yell at each other? Yeah, me too. It even feels silly at the time, as if we are trying to TELL them what to do instead of SHOWING them what to do. (Because we are.)
Before you start feeling defeated, worrying about the emotional damage your yelling might have on your kids, or feeling like you can’t change, remember that Christ’s example is one of love.
God offers you grace but still calls you to repent. You may have to tell your child it was wrong of you to respond the way you did. I did—and telling my son I was wrong didn’t come without angst. If you sinned, ask for forgiveness and commit to striving to be more like Christ in the future.
In the same way, offer your children the grace they need when they have failed or sinned. Rebuke the action, but be quick to extend love, teach them a new or correct way, and show them the power of Christ that is available to them by faith. Following this example of love will create an atmosphere of love in your home. This means you must live in authentic grace, repentance, and love.
Parenting Can Be a Blessing
I know that parenting can be challenging, and long days in the trenches can be wearisome. Make an effort to change your perspective: remember your children belong to God first, and be willing to change how you approach your parenting. You may not be a bad parent if you have yelled a lot, but the truth is that there are better ways to reach our children’s hearts than by raising our voices.
Instruct their hearts by showing them Christ. Let your life and reactions be steadfast, longsuffering, patient, and kind. Taking the time to look your children in the eyes and share a Scripture with them, pray with them, or lovingly instruct their hearts will prove more helpful in the long term. Let’s not be parents who only focus on behavior modification; let’s help form hearts for God and His way of living.
I hope this parting Scripture gives you the hope and strength to follow through on your desire to become a godlier parent. “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights that you desire.” (Proverbs 29:17)
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