The Problem with Yelling

mother scolds daughter

What is the problem with yelling?

“The problem with verbal abuse is there is no evidence,” Marta shared. She had come for help with a long-standing depression.

“What do you mean lack of evidence?” I asked her.

“When people are physically or sexually abused, it’s concrete and real. But verbal abuse is amorphous. I feel like if I told someone I was verbally abused, they’d think I was just complaining about being yelled at,” Marta explained.

“It’s much more than that,” I validated.

“The problem is, no one can see my scars.” She knew intuitively that her depression, anxiety, and deep-seated insecurity were wounds that stemmed from the verbal abuse she endured.

“I wish I was beaten,” Marta shared on more than one occasion. “I’d feel more legitimate.”

Her statement was haunting and brought tears to my eyes.

Verbal abuse is so much more than getting scolded. Marta told me that there were many reasons her mother’s tirades were traumatizing:

  • The loud volume of her voice.

  • The shrill tone of her voice.

  • The dead look in her eyes.

  • The critical, disdainful, and contemptuous facial expression that made Marta feel hated.

  • The long duration — sometimes her mother yelled for hours.

  • The names and insults: You’re spoiled, disgusting, wretched, etc.

  • The unpredictability of that “flip of the switch” that turned her mother into someone else.

  • Perhaps worst of all, the abandonment.

Being frequently yelled at changes the mind, brain, and body in a multitude of ways, including increasing the activity of the amygdala (the emotional brain), increasing stresshormones in the bloodstream, increasing muscular tension, and more. Being frequently yelled at changes how we think and feel about ourselves, even after we become adults and leave home. That’s because the brain wires according to our experiences — we literally hear our parents’ voices yelling at us in our heads, even when they are not there. Marta had to work hard every day to push away the onslaught coming from inside her mind.

Attachment and infant-mother research confirms what we all intuitively know: Humans do better when they feel safe and consistently loved, which means, among other things, being treated with respect. What is news to many of us is that we are born with fully mature core emotions, like sadness, fear, and anger. When fear, for example, is repeatedly triggered by a harsh environment, such as one where there is lots of yelling, automatic physical and emotional reactions occur that cause traumatic stress to a child. The stress in their little brains and bodies increases from anything that feels attacking, including loud voices, angry voices, angry eyes, dismissive gestures, and more.

Children do better when they are calm. The calmer and more connected the caregiver is, the calmer and more secure their child will be, and the healthier it is for the child's brain and body. 

The following are some things we can remember to help young brains develop well and make our children feel safe and secure.

  • Know that children have very real emotional needs that require proper tending. In general, the more these needs are met, the easier it will be for the child to be resilient in the face of life’s challenges.

  • Learning about core emotions will help you teach your child to successfully manage emotions.

  • You can affect your child’s self-esteem by being kind, compassionate, and curious about their mind and world.

  • When a break in the relationship occurs, as often happens during conflicts, try to repair the emotional connection with your child as soon as possible.

  • You can help your child feel safe and secure by allowing them to separate from you and become their own person, welcoming them back with love and connection, even when you are angry or disappointed in their behaviors. You can calmly discuss your concerns and use these opportunities as teachable moments.

As a parent, it is not easy to control one’s temper or realize if we’ve crossed the line into verbal abuse. There is a slippery slope between being a strict disciplinarian and what will traumatize a young brain. A little awareness goes a long way: Being aware of one’s behavior, listening to our tone of voice and choice of words, and watching our body language all help keep us in check. Little children, who can act tough, defiant, or even indifferent to our actions, are still vulnerable to trauma. Our own childhood

Texperiences — wonderful, horrible, and everything in between — need to be remembered and honored. And we can all strive to help our families evolve, and to pay forward more of the best, gentlest experiences we received as children rather than the painful ones. 


* Adapted from Circle of Security International. For parenting workshops and other resources, visit their website at

This article was written by Hilary Jacobs Hendel LCSW and can be found on Psychology Today, May 2018.

Why isn't Proverbs a How-To Book on Parenting?

Why isn’t Proverbs a how-to book on parenting?

Why isn’t Proverbs a how-to book on parenting?

Why isn’t Proverbs a how-to book on parenting?

In two previous blogs, which you can find here and here, I pointed out several important things about the biblical Proverbs to show that Proverbs is not a how-to manual for parents of children. Here are some additional reasons:

First - Proverbs is not mainly for parenting young children

In the strictest sense, Proverbs is not mainly for parenting young children. Its primary purpose was to train royal young men how to lead God’s people in faith and obedience to God’s Word, and to urge them to follow wisdom’s way and reject folly’s way.

Second - Proverbs shows how we all make choices between wisdom and folly 

By implication, Proverbs shows how we all make that choice between wisdom and folly, and the consequences that may occur through those choices.

Third - The main hope of Proverbs

The main hope of Proverbs is not that a young child would become an obedient, moral and faithful Christian because a dutiful parent taught him the way, but that God the Father sent Jesus, his begotten and royal Son; Jesus the true Wise man, who, by his Word and Spirit, gives to his believing, covenant people insight and knowledge for righteous living. In Christ, believers have true righteousness and by the Spirit live out that righteousness in the world.

So, is this saying that Proverbs is not for parenting or that it has nothing to say at all about parenting?  Not at all.  Let’s look at a few more points about Proverbs before seeing how it applies to parents and children.

Fourth - Proverbs is not a collection of absolute promises

Often times people will read a Proverb and expect that if one does just as the Proverb says then it will come true.  For example, parents read Proverbs 22:6 that if they “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  For some, the children grow up, become godly young men and women, and remain faithful to the Lord.  Many parents who are blessed with such children conclude that it was due to their good training that their children continued in the way of the Lord.

However, what about those parents who were faithful and diligent, but whose children reject the things of Christ?  I’ve known many who became deeply discouraged or depressed because they attribute the foolish choices of their children to be their fault, not the children’s guilt (a book worth reading is When Good Kids Make Bad Choices by Fitzpatrick and Newheiser). I’ve been told many times and have heard from “professionals” in the Christian child-training business that it is indeed the fault of the parents.  The argument is that since Proverbs 22:6 is God’s Word and God’s Word is never wrong, therefore the only conclusion is that the parents failed.

I’ve heard such accusations and reasons for wayward children, such as:

  • “If you had read the Bible to your children and made them memorize Scripture, they would not have rebelled.”

  • “If you had used the rod (stick, whip, belt, spoon) more than they would not have rebelled.”

  • “If you had homeschooled your child, then they would have turned into wonderful, upright and moral people.”

  • “If you had them involved in more church events or made them get involved in wholesome activities and kept them busy most of the time then they would not have turned out so bad.”

Many times parents had done all those “right” things and their children still left the faith or had become rebellious to one degree or another.  But a frequent rebuttal from those “perfect parents” is “Well, you must have done something wrong!”

The problem with that mindset is it assumes rearing children to come to and grow in faith in Jesus Christ is by works.  Scripture rejects that whole notion, and yet the majority of what is purported to be “biblical” child training is based on that works premise.  Another problem with that is the false assumption that this Proverb, or any other Proverb for that matter, is a conditional promise, when in fact it is not.

Take a look at Train Up a Child: What Does Proverbs 22:6 Actually Mean?

Fifth - Proverbs is a collection of observational generalities about life

Proverbs is a collection of observational generalities about life, especially from the perspective of how life will probably turn out if you are wise or if you are foolish.  As Dr. Sam Storms points out, Proverbs gives us pithy statements or concepts of compressed experience. “Its principles are timeless and therefore applicable and relevant to all people in every age.”  He also says, “Proverbs give expression to general maxims concerning life. The exceptional, unusual and unprecedented are beyond the range of proverbial wisdom.”

Dr. Tremper Longman in the Baker Commentary (2006) on Proverbs states that this book “Does not teach a universally valid truth…Proverbs is only true if stated at the right time and in the right circumstance.”  He gives examples, such as Proverbs 15:23 compared with 27:14; and Proverbs 26:4-7 compared with 26:9.  Further, as he shows from the research, Proverbs 10:1 to 31:31 is an assortment of advice, observations, and warnings.

Sixth - Proverbs does have principles for parents

Proverbs still offers to believing parents principles that will inform how to apply God’s Word to life. They are derived from the book even though they are not the main points of the book.  I’ll save this for another article.

Seventh - Beware of the ways we can misuse Proverbs

Finally, as Dr. Futato, an Old Testament Hebrew scholar and my former professor taught us in seminary, there are three admonitions for us about the book:

  • Don’t moralize. They are not merely promises for the here and now but are covenant observations, pointed truths, which time will often prove true.

  • Don’t isolate. In other words, Proverbs must be read in the context of the whole Word of God and is to be read with the theological glasses of the New Testament. The New Testament shows us how to properly understand the Old Testament, including the book of Proverbs.

  • Don’t absolutize. By this, he meant that we ought not take individual proverbs as little golden nuggets of advice in order to make our personal lives better.

Proverbs is not primarily a how-to manual for parents of children, especially little children.  Nevertheless, we can find some concepts and principles that can be applied to parents and their children.  At the same time, we make a mistake to view the book as anything other than for what God intended. 

What do you think?  

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Dr. Don

Proverbs is not a child training manual (Part 2)

Proverbs is not a child training manual (Part 2)

In the previous post, Proverbs is not a child training manual (pt 1), we answered the question, Is Proverbs for parenting?  The answer is no and yes.  There are a number of books and materials available that use Proverbs primarily as a textbook or manual for parenting young children.  While I often wish children were born with a foolproof manual for child rearing, there is no such thing; not even Proverbs.   

Everything you think you know about disciplining kids is wrong


Everything you think you know about disciplining kids is wrong? Yes. 

Leigh Robinson wasout for a lunchtime walk one brisk day during the spring of 2013 when a call came from the principal at her school. Will, a third-grader with a history of acting up in class, was flipping out on the playground. He'd taken off his belt and was flailing it around and grunting. The recess staff was worried he might hurt someone. Robinson, who was Will's educational aide, raced back to the schoolyard.

Will was "that kid." Every school has a few of them: that kid who's always getting into trouble, if not causing it. That kid who can't stay in his seat and has angry outbursts and can make a teacher's life hell. That kid the other kids blame for a recess tussle. Will knew he was that kid too. Ever since first grade, he'd been coming to school anxious, defensive, and braced for the next confrontation with a classmate or teacher.

The expression "school-to-prison pipeline" was coined to describe how America's public schools fail kids like Will. A first-grader whose unruly behavior goes uncorrected can become the fifth-grader with multiple suspensions, the eighth-grader who self-medicates, the high school dropout, and the 17-year-old convict. Yet even though today's teachers are trained to be sensitive to "social-emotional development" and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

To read the rest of the article, go here.