Keeping your cool

Local parents challenge themselves to stop yelling

It’s 7 a.m. You’re running late to get out the door, but your 5-year-old won’t get out of her pajamas to get dressed. Meanwhile, your 12-year-old is following you around the house rattling off a long list of reasons for skipping school today — the same day his big presentation due, one you’re aware he hasn’t completed. Your nerves are frazzled and you start shouting at them about how they need to grow up and take responsibility. You know it’s not the solution — it just escalates the problem — but you can’t help yourself.

Now your youngest is sobbing and your oldest is angry. You’ll probably feel bad later, and even apologize when you pick them up from school, but it’s likely that the next time you’re faced with a similar situation, you will have the same response.

For many of us, whether in the morning rush or the bedtime struggles, dealing with toddler tantrums or teenage power struggles, yelling is our automatic response. It allows us to express our anger without resorting to physicality, which all parents know is harmful.

Model behavior

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, however, suggests that yelling is just as detrimental to teens as hitting. This study, which focused on over 950 adolescents and their parents, found that children who were reprimanded harshly by their parents had a higher incidence of depression than their peers who were not treated in this manner. They were also more likely to exhibit aggressive or violent behavior themselves.

Jennifer Powell-Lunder, an adjunct professor at Pace University and a clinical psychologist who maintains a practice in Katonah, says the results of this study are not surprising. A parent to teenagers herself, she says children learn primarily by observing, and when they observe aggressive and harsh verbal exchanges they will model that in their own behavior, having perceived that this is how one is supposed to interact with the world around them. These behaviors will lead to trouble at school and cause them to be more isolated from their peers, in turn leading to depression.

Telling our children that they shouldn’t behave in a certain way isn’t enough, says Dr. Powell-Lunder, co-author of the book “Teenage As a Second Language: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual”and creator of the websites and

“As parents, we must practice what we preach, modeling the behavior that we expect,” she says, stressing that constant communication with our children is key.

The Orange Rhino challenge

More and more parents who are concerned about their own yelling have been participating in “The Orange Rhino Challenge.” The movement traces back to a mother to four boys who found that she was yelling at them far more often than she would like. She made a pledge to refrain from yelling at her children for 365 days straight, and issued a challenge to the readers of her blog to also stop yelling for 30 days in a row.

On her website,, this anonymous mom provides many alternatives to yelling and tips to calm down a building outburst, including walking away and counting to 10 (or 100) and putting post it notes around the house, especially where one is prone to yell.

A group of Hudson Valley parents were inspired by this website and formed their own Orange Rhino group on Facebook to encourage and problem solve with one another. One member of the group, Erica Chase-Salerno of New Paltz, says that she realized her yelling had become problematic when she was hiding it.

“I began to realize that I selectively yelled only at home when I was alone with the kids and not when other children or adults were around,” says Chase-Salerno. “As a member of a few inspiring parenting groups, I learned how I was creating distance and divisiveness from my children by yelling. Yelling limited me, and I want more from my relationship with my children.”

Erin Bertholf of Kingston, another member of the group, says she never thought of herself as a yeller by nature.

“Yet here I was with two young kids, and suddenly, what felt like out of nowhere, I was yelling at my kids a few times a week,” says Bertholf. “I wanted to nip it in the bud before it became a daily habit.”


Why is it called the Orange Rhino?

Tips to stop yelling

The importance of self-care

The group members says the most crucial thing to help them refrain from losing their temper verbally is to take care of themselves, something that we as parents often put on the back burner.

For Chase-Salerno, this means maintaining daily personal mental health practices whenever she can.

“I do something almost daily to help center and ground myself to be a loving, stable, thoughtful, and good-natured parent,” she says. “This includes exercise, like Pilates, walking, and hiking, weights, yoga and meditation.”

For Bertholf, self-care includes getting enough sleep — “even if that means going to bed super early.”

“I make the time to do activities that lift me up and de-stress me, and I make sure I see friends on a daily basis,” says Bertholf. “These are all simple self-care things that make a huge difference in my day, and in turn make a huge difference for my kids.”

Self-care, while crucial, is not a magic wand, however, and these parents stress that resisting yelling is a journey. It is something that they consistently work at. Chase-Salerno says that her journey has lasted nearly 10 years and counting.

Bertholf adds, “It's not something that, once you make it past 30 days, you don't have to think about it anymore. It's a choice made every moment, every day.”

Empower your kids

So what if you slip up and yell out of anger? Or what if you realize you’ve been doing it for years? Is all hope lost? Dr. Powell-Lunder says absolutely not.

“What’s beautiful about children is that they’re resilient.”

She says that the first step is apologizing. Being honest with your children and acknowledging that you made a mistake, she says, is good modeling. Second, she suggests asking your children what they think you could have done differently in the situation instead of yelling. This empowers kids to problem solve.

“Every day is a new opportunity,” says Dr. Powell-Lunder. “It is never too late to turn things around.”

Dawn Green is a freelance writer and mother to two boys in Saugerties.