Did you yell at your kids over the holidays? Who didn’t??? If you are one of those parents (I am with you), you may feel awful reading recent news headlines such as: ‘Adults shouting at children can be as harmful to a child’s development as sexual or physical abuse” (CNN);  ‘Shouting at children may be as damaging as physical or sexual abuse’ (The Guardian). These headlines are two examples of many articles that came out recently based on a new study considering verbal abuse a form of child abuse. 

Let me be clear: I totally think that verbal abuse is a form of child abuse. But what I don’t agree with is with those headlines. In my opinion, this is an example of scientific research being misinterpreted and parenting advice missing important nuance, not only failing to help parents but provoking parental shame and guilt. What this study really found is that HOW we speak to our children matters. The tone of voice we use is important but WHAT we say is more important. There is a big difference between occasionally yelling at your child: “BRUSH YOUR TEETH, NOW!!!” and “YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT!!!”. Not all yelling is equally negative. There is no scientific evidence supporting that occasional yelling is negative for children. 

Am I advocating that it’s good to yell at our children? Not at all, it is clearly much better to talk to our children in a calm manner. But let’s be honest: who hasn’t yelled at their kids? Unless you have nerves of steel, it is almost impossible to raise a kid without at least yelling occasionally at them. So, let’s be realistic and instead of aiming to never yell, let’s try to do it as rarely as we can, and when we do it, not to say things that we will regret. 

Let’s consider some relevant aspects of yelling. 

The content of the yelling is more important than the volume. Yelling is always wrong when we insult, belittle, demean, degrade, shame, ridicule, threaten or name-call our child. We should never use our words to cause distress to our child, no matter the volume of our voice. 

Frequency matters. If the family’s ‘normal’ is yelling, chances are that the household is probably not a warm and caring environment. There are families when parents are ‘always yelling’. If this is your case, it would be a good idea to address this issue.  

Watch your child. If your child looks scared when you yell at him, you need to stop. You never want to scare your child. When that happens, your child cannot really process what you are saying, and it is negative for their development. 

Why may yelling be negative for our children?

Children are predisposed to believe the important adults in their life. So, when we say things to our child such as “you can’t do anything right”, “you’re useless”, or “you’re stupid”, they are likely to believe us and to internalize those messages. A recent survey in the UK found that children aged 11-17 considered these three messages the most upsetting they hear from their parents and carers. Worryingly, 51% of children reported hearing at least one of these messages weekly and 1 in 10 said they heard such messages daily. Children who are treated this way have more chances to experience low self-esteem, and are at higher risk of experiencing anxiety, depression and substance and alcohol abuse. 

Julien L via Unsplash

Why do we yell? 

Often yelling is not a discipline strategy but an emotional response. We feel overwhelmed, frustrated, impatient, tired and we may end up saying things that we regret. 

To stop yelling it is important to know your triggers. It could be a messy room (definitely mine), having said the same thing over and over, being slow at getting ready, not listening, or picky eating. 

Your yelling might also be influenced by how you were raised. Was yelling the norm for your parents? If that is the case, think how it made you feel and consider whether you want it to be the norm for you children. 

So, if you never yell at your children: amazing! But as a parent and a psychologist I would say that it is almost impossible to never yell at your child. It will happen. The important thing is that it doesn’t become the norm. Let’s try not to, but if on occasions we do yell, let’s not blame ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we are bad parents, and it won’t harm your child irreparably and forever. And remember, you can apologize to your child. Saying “I am sorry, I’m very stressed tonight and I lost my temper” goes a long way. 

If you want to learn more about this topic, watch the recording of a webinar we held in early 2024. Note that you have to be a REC Parenting member to access it. Join our community now!

I hope you have found this article useful. As always, do get in touch at hello@recparenting.com if you have any queries or comments. And remember that our parenting experts are available to support you. 

Much love,


Dr Ana Aznar

To mark the end of Black History Month we would like to reflect on why we should talk about race with our children and how to do it. 

We are all increasingly living in multicultural societies and therefore we must give our children the tools to understand, embrace and celebrate different races, cultures and religions. One way through which children learn about these issues (and many others) is through conversations with their parents

I feel a bit uncomfortable discussing race… Am I the only one? 

You are certainly not alone! It is mostly white parents that do not discuss race with their children, indeed only about 10% talk about it. In contrast, about 60-80% of non-white parents discuss it with their children. 

Why? Some parents feel anxious because they are worried they may not do it ‘right’, others want to shield their children, whereas others think that it is not relevant for their family. Some parents think that if they never discuss it, their children will never show racial biases. 

Some families favour a ‘colour blind ideology’. This is the idea that we shouldn’t pay any attention to race because we are all the same. This may be problematic because children don’t know what their parents think about it, and they may end up thinking that they are racist or that it is a taboo topic that shouldn’t be discussed. There is also evidence showing that when parents don’t discus race, children begin to think that racism doesn’t exist. 

It is important that we talk about racial differences with our children because as we are going to see next, children perceive race differences from a very early age. So, we are not doing them any favour by simply ignoring it. 

When and how do children perceive race?

Children pick up on racial differences from a very early age. Indeed, 3-month-old babies prefer to look at photos of white babies if they are white and black babies prefer to look at pictures of black babies. This is because they prefer to look at what they are used to. Interestingly, babies raised in mixed communities don’t show this preference. This preference continues through development. Three- and 4-year-olds prefer to sharetheir resources with children of their same race than with children who don’t look like them. White children show this in-group bias more strongly than other race children. 

Count Chris via Unsplash

Children as young as ten years old do not like to talk about race. In a study, researchers asked children to play Guess Who. They found that 10- and 11- year-old children did worse than 8- and 9-year-olds because they did not ask about race even when asking that question was the key to win the game.

As you can see, children perceive racial differences almost from birth, so it doesn’t make sense to ignore it. We must consider race as a ‘normal’ topic of conversation.  

OK, so I get that I should discuss race with my child… But how do I do it? 

First, consider that how you approach this topic is different depending on your background. White and non-white children have very different experiences with racism, so conversations need to be different. 

If you are white and live in a mostly white community, your child will be noticing others who look different to them from a very young age. They will notice different skin colours, and different ways of dressing. When your child asks questions about why someone is black or Asian or why a woman is wearing a head covering, try to answer them by celebrating and embracing differences. Be factual about why we are different: “That child has dark skin because a long time ago his family came from a place where the sun was strong and dark skin is more resistant to the sun” or “She is wearing a hijab because of her religion; she is a Muslim”. Celebrate differences and note that the fact that we are all different makes life and our experiences much more interesting. 

Reframe what children may consider as “weird” as being different and interesting. Doing this will help your child to understand other cultures and other perspectives. As much as possible try not to ignore or hush your child when they make these comments (even if they happen at awkward places like the bus or the supermarket queue). Remember that if your child senses that you don’t want to discuss that topic, they will perceive it as being taboo. 

Another good idea is to expose them to stories about people from different backgrounds. Read books about people who look different and are friends. Draw attention to these differences (e.g., “Look, these children look different and they are friends”). Be explicit about it. Take the opportunity to talk about it when you are listening or watching the news. 

For non-white families it may be a good idea to discuss your own cultural strengths and resilience. Help your child to develop pride in their background. 

Don’t ignore the fact that we are all different. Discuss it with your child. Be factual about why we all are different, celebrate and embrace those differences.

This masterclass is based on Professor Harriet Tenenbaum’s masterclass. Have a look at it for more information and resources. At REC Parenting we support ALL parents and children. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at hello@recparenting.com. Also, don’t forget to contact your REC Parenting therapist should you need support. 

Much love,


Dr Ana Aznar

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