“It just gets very cold right away”. What do children feel when their parents yell at them?

And why do adults snap at their children?
Ekaterina Sivanova | 09 August 2020
“It just gets very cold right away”. What do children feel when their parents yell at them?

There is no point in yelling. Children do not get better after being yelled at. There is always the possibility of talking calmly”, – my 11-year-old son said so. And gave me an advice on what to do if I cannot control myself – tell the child that you will talk later and then scream into the pillow. He is right – we are yelling not at our children. Conversations with raised voices happen because of exhaustion, grudges against other people, bad mood. Why is the child at fault here? They were just passing by.

Ekaterina Sivanova

I am turning into a bug and I realize that I am going to be crushed”.

I am just as scared as when I saw my grandmother dead”.

I feel like a huge toad immediately comes to life within me and starts eating my insides”.

I become dead and do not let any sounds or sensations pass through me”.

This is how my clients from 11 to 18 years old describe their condition, when their parents yell at them. And what happened to you, my dear readers, when you found yourself in the shoes of someone, who was being yelled at?

Close your eyes. Transfer your thoughts to the room, where a little girl or boy is standing or sitting at the desk. Do you remember what it feels like?

I do. 

However, no one asked me back then how I felt when my mom or dad yelled at me.

How else could I feel? I died a little each time.

There was no adaptation with my degenerate level of sensitivity. This “yelling makes them stop” is not my case neither when I was 7, nor in my current 47 years of age.

It is just that as a child I could not stop this terror, but now there is no such thing in my life. It is not because my parents are already dead, but because no one in the world has had the right to raise their voice at me for a long time.

Here’s the paradox: now I am the one who can scream.

Although, what kind of paradox is it? This is a well-known fact: we do the same things to our children that our parents have done to us.

How does it work? 


From birth, a child is like a sponge for absolutely everything that their parents do.

Mom and dad cannot be changed

Alexander Shirvindt once said that his grandmother once wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy asking him how to raise children. The writer replied, “Be perfect yourself – the children will also be perfect”.

What is my inner perfect parent like? They are calm, they never get tired, they always have the time to talk to me and go for a walk with me, they know a lot and live their interesting life, in which there is a place for me.

My perfect parent is athletic, healthy, easy-going, able to pull through a difficult tourist route to the mountains, they are ready to get up early in the morning to go fishing and go to bed late at night, because we watch movies together. This person knows how to bake pies, likes to eat delicious food and is a people person.

I was writing down this set of qualities of the inner perfect parent and I did not think about myself – a mom, I was immersed in myself – the child, who had to form this parent inside, because in reality, my mother and father together had at best fifty percent of what I wanted them to be.

I wonder what my children are missing. What kind of image are they putting together? I will have to ask.

Every person has an image of a perfect mom and perfect dad inside.

Any child under the age of 8-9 is convinced that their parents are perfect regardless of their actions. Older children already understand that it would be good if their parents did not have some trait but had another instead. And since it is impossible to change their mom and dad, a person develops this image of the ideal parent.

The last statement concerns the inner knowledge of the impossibility to change them. In real life, most of us (I am no exception) know well how to fix our parents for them to be perfect.

The ideal parent: who is it?

There is good news. Having written the list of qualities of my ideal parent, I can see what I can improve in my own parenting.

However, the first point (about being calm) already makes everything inside me boil, and the second one (about never getting tired) makes me want to break something heavy. What am I? A robot?! I have feelings! I have the right to get tired! I am very much alive, actually!

That is what it is all about: about the talent to be both a normal person and a perfect mom.

My children will never have a perfect mom, until I, as a person, take care of myself as a perfect parent.

I understand that the equation is complex, but it has a solution. I know it.

Though, I solved it not so long ago. My older children (they are 18 and 21 now) were less fortunate than my younger son (he is 11).

There is more good news: even if you solve your complicated equation with three unknown variables (a perfect mom, a person, and a perfect inner parent) long after your children are born, they (your children) will still be fine.

This good news is formed not from my own experience, but from a hundred of client stories, in which women and men have learned to solve similar problems.

The mother screams because of exhaustion, but the child is not at fault

The next time you find yourself exhausted, drinking water, after grandly yelling at your child, do not get overcome with guilt right away: “I am a terrible mother/ I am a worthless father”, and having calmed down, turn back the time: what was happening an hour, a half a day, or a day before the incident?

Yet, remember all the events of your life, not just your relationship with your child.

By doing this, you will realize that the statement “it was the child who drove me mad” is completely baseless.

For example, I am totally exhausted (I will not even list all the things that I manage to do and have to do in a day), my physical state is awful, my husband is not at home (he is always on business trips), my seminar sales are unsuccessful, while social networking I read a comment that had me unsettled, my apartment smells because of my neighbor who smokes on the balcony in our stairwell…

Is my child connected to this?

They are not.

They were just passing by at the wrong time.

And even if they really did something wrong, we scream not because of them.

We scream out of helplessness.

Because no one in this world understands how tired I am…

My son said, “Children do not get better after being yelled at”

They say that people scream when they are not heard. And when people hear that they are screamed at, they do not listen to what exactly is yelled at them…

I think that you know very well that if you talk to a child without raising your voice, the result will be much better than if you try to make the same point by shouting.

No, of course, in this situation, your child will shrink and do as you want. However, this story will be about fear, and not about understanding some necessity, for example, the necessity of never lying.

I was writing this article for a couple of days on vacation, while my son was sleeping in the morning. When my son woke up, I would stop working and we would go to the lake. Once, when we were on our way there, I asked him, what happens with him when I scream at him.

Ivan thought for a while, looked me in the eyes (probably assessing how ready I was to hear what he wanted to say) and said, “I feel very angry. And a lot of fear. And in a minute, you start annoying me”.

I asked him to explain the last point. It turned out that the first minute of shouting brings him to his senses (and to anger and fear at the same time). All that happens next could be described as “pushing his buttons, boredom, and a waste of time”.

Of course, my son asked me why I was asking this. I told him that I was writing an article. And then the 11-year-old said, “It should be a very short article. There is no point in yelling. Children do not get better after being yelled at. There is always the possibility of talking calmly”. Of course, I asked him about how a parent should deal with their anger in such a situation.

It is simple, – Ivan said, – you need to tell the child that mom is angry right now, she needs 10 minutes to recover and that you will talk later. Any child at this moment will understand all their wrongdoings. And the mom needs to go to another room and find something to beat there. Or scream into a pillow”.

And then my son told me that he knows why I rarely scold him, and that it is necessary to distribute between all parents and teachers a list of phrases, which a child should hear every day since birth.

The following phrases are important for my son (I am writing them according to Ivan’s rating):

I love you.

I believe in you.

I am proud of you.

You are my treasure.

What a joy it is to be your mother!

You are an incredible person.

I am grateful that we are together.

The stories about how happy I was when Ivan was born are on a separate pedestal. This includes a whole series of stories, which starts with my prayer to the Bogolubskaya icon of the Theotokos asking for the birth of the third child, about how we found out that I was pregnant with Ivan and many-many other stories about “the joy of our meeting”.

What are your children’s important phrases?

What are yours? What helps you gain confidence and strength for new achievements?

Those are not the words that we scream out of helplessness…

Translated by Julia Frolova

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