Children can be infuriating, can’t they? They do things that don’t make sense, create huge messes at exactly the wrong time, and sometimes they’re just downright defiant and disrespectful.
Yep, parenting is tough.
Parenting also highlights for me areas of depravity in my own heart. It’s like a spotlight shining through the cobwebs of my sin, revealing the spiders hiding in the shadows. Because, let’s face it, I’m redeemed and bought by the blood of Christ, but I’m still a sinner. And when I’m irritated, inconvenienced, or attacked, it’s easiest for me to revert to thinking this whole parenting thing is all about behavior modification rather than teaching to the heart of my child. When I’m angry, it’s also my default to yell.
Here are five things that occur when I yell at my children:….
1) I damage our relationship.
Proverbs 29:11 in the ESV says: “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” The HCSB uses the word “anger” rather than “spirit”, and the NASB says: “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.”
When I’m yelling, I’m angry–and I’m not controlling that anger. No, I’m giving full vent to it. My children are younger and smaller than I. They’re submitted to my authority and placed (by my heavenly Father) in my care. When I yell at them, it’s tyranny. I’m a bigger, meaner bully. I’m oppressive.
Ouch. I hate that.
When I yell at my kids, it hurts them and it damages our relationship. The Lord has placed these precious souls in my life to be stewarded by me, to be loved and guided… and instead I raise my voice and create fear and resentment in their young hearts.
I’m not willing to go so far as to say that yelling is always emotional abuse. Sometimes we yell to stop our kids from running in front of a car, to call them home for dinner, or to cheer them on in a basketball game. But sometimes, yelling is abusive. Sometimes in giving full vent to our anger, we say things that are harmful, and an abuse of the power that comes with being bigger and stronger and in charge.
I’ve seen the pain in the eyes of my children when I yell–and I hate it.
2) I stunt my own spiritual growth.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ” ~ Galatians 5:19-23 (ESV)
Fits of anger? In the same list as sexual immorality, sorcery, and drunkenness? Sigh.
I think Scripture is clear that I cannot be habitually engaging in sinful acts–the deeds of the flesh–and be growing in Christ. Galatians 5:20 identifies those who do the works of the flesh as people who are in a very dangerous position spiritually: they “will not inherit the kingdom of God”.
John Calvin said this of Galatians 5:20 in his Commentary:
But in this way, we shall be told, all are cut off from the hope of salvation; for who is there that is not chargeable with some of those sins? I reply, Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God. The saints themselves often fall into grievous sins, but they return to the path of righteousness, “that which they do they allow not,” (Romans 7:15,) and therefore they are not included in this catalogue. All threatenings of the judgments of God call us to repentance. They are accompanied by a promise that those who repent will obtain forgiveness; but if we continue obstinate, they remain as a testimony from heaven against us.
I thank God I can repent of my sin, that I am drawn by the Holy Spirit to turn toward Christ and His righteousness.
Still, engaging in outbursts of anger on a regular basis is just a recipe for disaster. How in the world am I to display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control while I’m yelling at my children? It’s a behavior that displays a heart in complete opposition to God’s plan for me as a believer.
Now, I’m not talking about my I-mean-business firm voice. I’m not talking about raising my voice level a bit to call everyone to attention. I’m talking about yelling.
I’ve come to believe (through continual, painful conviction) that yelling does nothing to help me abide in Christ (John 15:1-17). No, yelling is a quick fix–a way to by-pass patience and self-control, and get straight to expressing my own frustration and anger. Yelling harms my relationship with my kids, but it also harms my relationship with Christ. Thankfully, I’m able to repent before Christ, and likewise I can humbly ask my children for forgiveness.
3) I harm my witness.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:34-35 (ESV)
If I’m claiming the name of Christ, and letting loose my anger and frustration on my children, where is the love? Where is the self control? What testimony does this bear to the Holy Spirit in my life, to my relationship with Christ?
Even if I lived far out in the country where no one could hear me yell at my children (which is not the case), even if I was always controlled in public, what kind of witness is yelling to my kids? Let me never forget that I am mentoring my kids. That my behavior before them testifies to my relationship with Christ. I’m teaching them what a relationship with Christ looks like.
Yelling is detrimental to my testimony to the love of Christ in my life.
4) I lose a teachable moment.
I don’t usually feel tempted to yell when my kids are obeying, well-kempt, and doing their chores without being asked. Their fabulous displays of love and affection don’t usually irk me. No, it’s generally the moments when I need to get on my knees, look them in the eyes and lead them to Christ that I feel tempted to yell. And in yelling, those are the moments I lose the opportunity to disciple my kids. To teach.
In 2 Timothy 1:5-7, Paul reminds Timothy to guard the faith he was taught by his mother and grandmother. I want to be like those ladies! I want to patiently guide my kiddos in the way of faith in Jesus Christ.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
5) I condition my kids to yell and/or to be yelled at.
Ouch. (Again with the ouch.)
The last thing I want to do is train my children to yell–or to accept being yelled at–as adults. Yet, if I am yelling at them on a regular basis, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Ephesians 6:4 says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
As a mom, I too am able to provoke my children to anger. Likewise, I am able to cause them to accept yelling and rage as something they deserve and seek. What a sobering thought. May it never be.
* * *
When I yell at my children, it accomplishes nothing I hope to accomplish in my parenting, and it does a great deal of harm. The Lord has done a good work in my heart as I turn to Him in repentance. I don’t have to yell at my kids–in fact, I’m a lot more effective as a parent when I don’t raise my voice in anger.
“No matter how just your words may be, you ruin everything when you speak with anger.”
~ John Chrysostom (347-407), Early Church Theologian
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~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.